This tends to be a yearly endeavor of mine and this year is no exception. However this season the cold has been brutal and being exposed on the side of Whiteface probably wasn’t the wisest of choices, but we were prepared for Mother Nature’s fury.
The day started with a ski and would end with a ski, with a bit of snowshoeing and bushwhacking in the middle. Starting from Route 86 at the winter parking lot we had to first make our way down Connery Pond Road, which is closed off in winter, and when it isn’t it can be a tough drive. The road was a bit icy in spots, more so than I thought it would be, but not too bad. At the first gate we signed in and kept a solid pace along the Whiteface Landing Trail.
Before we knew it we had worked up a good amount of heat under the massive layering system we created, so we had to strip a bit so as to not overheat and totally freeze once on the slide. The outer shell came off and the fleece got unzipped a bit, you could almost see the steam rising from our bodies. Because of the lack of a deep base of snow, we could hear our skis scraping some of the taller rocks along the trail, but all in all, I was pleased considering the last thaw we had. Our time to the Whiteface Landing Spur Trail was quite quick and we looked forward to the almost entirely downhill ski out. We opted not to visit the landing but instead keep a steady pace toward the lean-to where we would stash our skis. This section was a little trickier than I remember it, possibly due to the re-route, which I had never skied before, only hiked.
The Whiteface Brook Lean-to is the perfect spot for an extended stay in the area, in winter it is well sheltered from the wind and no matter what season it base camps you perfectly for Whiteface, Eagle Eyrie, Moose Mountain if you are really adventurous, or an off-trail journey into Sunrise Notch. We removed our skis, locked them to a solid tree, and donned our snowshoes for the next leg of the trip. Flat for just a bit farther, we would soon get right into it as the trail steepens. The trail follows nicely above the brook but eventually moves away and climbs steeply to a flat spot along the trail, this is my designated exiting point and the start of the bushwhack. The trees are not too closely knit in this area making for a somewhat easy passage. The ever-increasing fallen trees and brush, now hidden beneath the snow, seem to be what slows us down the most, but this spot does kick us out into a nice spot on the brook. The final few feet to reach the brook is always the worst, it's thick and with snowshoes and a large pack on, it’s pretty frustrating.
The Lake Placid Slide on the south side of Whiteface is possibly one of the best slides in the park for winter mountaineering. The conditions are always great with solid ice and snow that isn’t typically too deep, due to being windblown. We hit the brook a bit below the slide, as usual. This area always has the most snow of the entire trip. I believe it gets windblown from all sides creating this deep layer of fluff. We kept our snowshoes on for this section and the next as we passed by the boulder that chokes off passage. On the opposite side of the boulder we could see the slide developing in front of us. How much longer do we keep the snowshoes on, we asked each other? We waited a bit longer but eventually the snowshoes seemed to be less effective - especially in areas windblown to bare ice. It was time for crampons.
After a bit of fussing around, our hands were very cold, so we also decided to use some chemical hand warmers to help out our digits. The real climb now began as we meandered our way from ramp to ramp and ice section to bare rock, then back into hard-packed snow. Slowly we made our way to the base of the low clouds and all we could see was the steep slope ahead of us. Eventually we saw the handrail on the steps to the summit from the castle; we aimed for them as an exit point. We ended up walking beneath the staircase until we could find a decent spot to get up on them. Once we did we were only about 200 feet from the summit.
The summit was a brutal force of wind, one that could only be tolerated with full skin coverage and every piece of layering we could produce. If you were to happen upon us, you wouldn’t know a thing about us, other than our odd fascination with high elevation in arctic temperatures. Not a speck of skin was seen, not even a gap on our forehead. We actually lounged around for almost 10 minutes, happily taking pictures and playing around.
We then decided to remove ourselves from the exposure and start our descent back down to the car. On our descent we used the trail, mainly because it’s safer, but also because it is much quicker to get to dinner that way. The trail was a piece of cake and a bit of butt-sliding quickened our progress. Eventually we put our snowshoes back on, so we wouldn’t posthole the trail for the next group to have to deal with. We were quickly back down to our skis and gliding our way back along the trail and to the car. We had gluten-free pizza and wings on our mind and a couple brews with that would be just the ticket.
Interested in a guided trip of the Lake Placid Slide, an intro to mountaineering course, or maybe other High Peaks Adventures? See what a local guide service has to offer! Need a place to stay while you are in the Whiteface Region? We can hook you up! Want a hot breakfast before you go out or an outstanding dinner once you get back? Wilmington’s got you covered!