I married my wife, Anna, on top of the 4,867-foot Whiteface Mountain six years ago, so it was really special to be standing there again, this time without friends and family cheering us on, but instead holding our ten-month-old baby, Lucina. The day of our visit was just like our wedding day: Sunny and warm, with a deep blue sky full of puffy white clouds that drifted by and cast shadows on the mountains below. Anna is as beautiful as ever and Lucina, well, she has my heart and that’s all there is to that.
Our journey began almost ten years ago, with Anna and I traipsing around the High Peaks and falling in love with each other and the Adirondacks, seemingly at the same time. Our recent visit to the summit was a way to revisit some of those memories, and it was fun to have Lucina there, a true addition to the new beginnings this peak represents for us.
Even if you don’t have the personal connection to Whiteface that our family has, being on an open summit, especially one that sits just below the 5,000 foot mark, is something everyone should experience at least once. The Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway stops just below the peak, and there's an elevator that can carry you the rest of the way, making it easy for people of all abilities to experience a summit.
If you go
At the four corners in Wilmington, turn onto Route 431. The tollhouse is about 3 miles up. From there it's about 5 miles to the parking area that's just below the summit.
Before you go, check out these seven tips to make the day more pleasant and memorable!
1. Leave early
The road up Whiteface is popular, so get to the toll booth early. Since there is limited parking near the top (it is a mountain, after all), it’s quite possible the lot will be full if you arrive too late in the day.
2. Don’t worry about the drop off
Yeah, it’s a long way down, and that drop off seems to get more severe the higher you go, but don’t let that stop you from making the trip! The road never gets too steep and it was recently redone so the ride is smooth. Just take it slow and enjoy the view. That goes for the descent, too. Save those brakes by putting your car in low gear.
3. Don’t skip the castle!
Just below the summit there’s a castle that contains a great cafe and gift shop, and there are also restrooms. But even if you don’t need any of those things you should still take a minute to check it out. The stone walls and spiraling staircase do feel like the inside of a castle, and the view from the dining room is a nice tease of what you’ll see higher up.
4. There are two ways up
From the parking area, there are two ways to the summit. The easiest way is via a 400-foot tunnel and brand new, glass elevator that rises twenty-seven stories to the top. It’s about a one minute ride up, and the attendant shares all kinds of cool Whiteface facts during the ride.
The other way is the 0.2 mile ridge line stairway, which begins behind the castle. Not for the faint of heart, the stairs are polished from all the foot traffic they’ve received making them feel pretty slick unless your shoes have soft rubber soles. There are handrails all the way up, but expect a steep climb over uneven terrain, and if the drop-off along the road bothered you don’t even think about the stairway. The ridge becomes quite narrow near the summit, dropping off steeply on both sides.
Anna and I climbed the stairs and took the elevator back down to get the full experience. I highly recommend that, especially if you're carrying a baby.
5. Be prepared
You don’t need to bring as much gear as people hiking up Whiteface, but you can still maximize your comfort by being prepared for mountaintop conditions. In general, exposed summits tend to be windy and temps there can be much colder than in the valleys, so a windbreaker or a light jacket or hoodie are nice to have. It was 15 degrees colder on the summit when Anna, Lucina, and I went, so our 80 degree day dipped to 65. A brimmed hat or sunglasses are also nice to have, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Shade is hard to come by on Whiteface’s rocky crown. And supportive footwear is a must for anyone climbing the stairs, so no flip-flops!
6. Check out the peaks
The view from Whiteface is fantastic for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is the 4,867-foot elevation, but when you combine that with the fact that the mountain is about 10 miles north of all the other High Peaks except Esther, the result is a sweeping panorama and a southern horizon that’s dominated by jagged mountains. My suggestion? Bring a map and learn some of the mountains and lakes! Marcy, our highest mountain, stands out to the south, and a couple of summits to its right is Algonquin, our second highest peak. Lake Champlain lies directly to the east, Saranac Lake and the 6ers are to the west, and on a clear day you can catch a subtle glimmer of Montreal’s buildings far to the north.
7. Relax, you’ve earned it
In my opinion, the best part of being on top of a mountain, besides the challenge of getting there, is the sense of smallness and place that it instills. The world looks so big from a mountaintop, making it the perfect place to gain some perspective. My advice is to embrace what nature can teach us. Treat any little concerns or annoyances like black flies — swat them away with a chuckle and instead reflect on how great life truly is. Relax, watch the ravens pinwheel in the thermals high above, and carry the peace of the mountains with you on all of your journeys.
This week in ADK news: