In March of 2014 my hiking partner and I set out with great intentions to reach the 4,715 foot summit the Mount Colden. Colden is number 11 in height and sits just south of Algonquin. We managed most of the six-mile trek breaking trail in the fresh snowfall from the prior evening. Thwarted by powerful wind and a large recent snowfall, we were forced to turn back after reaching the false summit and losing the trail beneath deep snow drifts.
Fast forward 9 months to the last weekend of 2014 and we were gearing up for another approach to Colden’s summit. The setup was dramatically different than one would expect of the northeast for late December. The temperatures were hovering in the high thirties and low forties and raining. Certainly not the ideal conditions for hiking, but the old adage of, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes” generally applies to any day in the Adirondacks. The conditions cannot always be ideal for sweeping panoramas from the summits, but my experience has proven to me that some of the most magnificent sights of nature have come at times when the sky was not a crystal clear backdrop. My hiking partner and I packed up our gear early for our one-hour drive with intentions of reaching the trailhead at the Adirondack LOJ by sunrise.
We have seen very little snowfall this season. The heavily traveled trail to Marcy dam had been packed down to a solid sheet of ice and only patches of snow remained in the surrounding woods. The rainfall remained steady for the 2.3 mile trek to Marcy Dam and while there was no sunrise to speak of through the thick cloud cover, Mother Nature had a different plan. As the sky brightened it cast a beautiful glow through the wet trees emphasizing the deep orange and many shades of green of the surrounding birch and pine trees.
The trail to Colden is a fairly straight forward approach that does not require much strenuous activity before reaching the junction for the 1.5 mile climb to Lake Arnold and beyond. From this junction the trail becomes steep at times with very little flat space to relax for an extended time. The snow at this point was well within the depth requiring snowshoes in the Adirondack High Peaks (eight inches or more) so we took a moment to switch out our microspikes for snowshoes for the final 2.9 miles to the summit of Mt Colden.
The false summit of Colden is certainly a reward with incredibly close up views of nearby Algonquin and the summit of Mount Colden. Unfortunately for us, our view of Algonquin from the false summit was completely obscured by the heavy cloud cover. When we reached the treeless false summit in March, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the views for a brief moment before we were turned back by high winds and snow drifts of 6+ feet obscuring the trail between the two summits. We chose then to avoid being headlines in the local newspaper, and turned back. The unseasonably warm weather and lack of snowfall in the region did not obscure the trail as it had months earlier. With no view to enjoy and the summit of Colden so close, we carried on without stopping.
The trail descends slightly before beginning the final steep push to the summit. I paused for a moment to look back toward the false summit to see how far we had gone when I noticed the first real break in the clouds. An incredible palette of color had opened up behind me. I scrambled for my camera to snap off as many photos as I could before the view was again obscured by the swiftly moving clouds. A layer of clouds were sandwiched between a bright blue sky and the greens and browns of the valley below. In the foreground was the magnificently bright white of the frost covered trees and one ecstatic wanderer in awe of the splendor of nature.
We were only steps from the summit when the sky began to give us fleeting glimpses of the surrounding mountains and valley below. My hiking partner and I tried to capture as much of the view as we could between the swiftly moving clouds. The opportunity was a matter of seconds between seeing the slopes of Algonquin to having no visuals at all. I could carry on describing the beauty that this rainy day in December had brought us, but I will leave that to the photos I captured.
It only took two tries, but we had reached the summit of Colden. We made the 2850′ ascent over six miles through rain, freezing rain, snow, and clouds to be given an unforgettably brilliant show of nature from the summit. It goes to show that even though a Bluebird day in the Adirondacks is beautiful, days of rain and snow bring with them their own beauty. The views were not of distant vistas filled with mountainous silhouettes or crisp clear views of the nearby high peaks, but here among the clouds atop the 4,715 ft summit of Colden we were still in awe of the majesty of the Adirondack Mountains.