August 2013

The Ascendants

Climbing Mount Colden's iconic Trap Dike

The dike’s crux move. Photograph by Leath Tonino

The Trap Dike on Mount Colden, partially climbed in 1837 by the geologist Ebenezer Emmons, is perhaps the oldest mountaineering route in North America. Picture a narrow canyon from the desert Southwest with 80-foot walls. Now tilt it up so that it’s carved into the side of a mountain. Run a waterfall down it. Paint it a gloomy gray. Mottle it with mosses. Fill it with loose rocks and countless angled ledges. Emmons, an adventurous soul, couldn’t pass up the invitation. He deemed the route “steep and difficult of ascent.”

In summer 1849 two nephews of David Henderson, cofounder of McIntyre Ironworks, climbed the dike, exited onto the slabs out right, and proceeded to Colden’s 4,715-foot summit. An eagle flew overhead as if in mockery of the “first ascent.” Though they were only out for a night, the cousins packed along bread, pork, tea, teapot, cups, blanket, compass, spyglass, ax, rifle and a bottle of brandy nicknamed the “Admiral.” They de­scended to Avalanche Lake, at the bottom of the route, where they’d stashed the gear prior to the climb. That afternoon they shot a deer for dinner. The next morning they caught trout for breakfast. More than 160 years later, though their style has yet to be duplicated, the route they pioneered remains the classic Adirondack scramble.

Read about Tonino’s own scamble up Colden’s Trap Dike in our July/August issue, available on newsstands or at

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