There’s a wonderful thing about living in the Champlain Valley. We have great restaurants, a magnificent Lake, all of the shopping anyone needs, and it takes only an hour to drive to Montreal or to the high peaks of the Adirondacks! One could easily wake up on the shores of Lake Champlain, travel north for a day trip to Montreal, or south to the high peaks for a day of adventure, and be back in the Champlain Valley for some relaxation.
This weekend I decided to take a day trip up to the Whiteface Memorial Highway for a nice stroll. I could be up early and off to the mountain and still make it back to Plattsburgh for dinner. The weatherman was predicting sunny skies and 50 degree temps on march 12th! First off, this is not your normal march 12th. The old adage goes, ” comes in like a lyon, goes out like a lamb”. This whole winter has been a bit of a lamb, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised about 50 degrees in march.
When I say “stroll” up the Whiteface Memorial Highway, I mean “snowshoe for eight hours”. I refer to it as a stroll because it really isn’t the challenge of back country hiking that I am accustomed to. Hop in the car, drive 45 minutes from downtown Plattsburgh, and strap on my snowshoes for a walk. Whiteface Memorial Highway is a road, so as roads go there are no steep grades or rock scrambles like what I would find on the Whiteface hiking trail.The “stroll” is just over five miles from the toll house on New York State Route 431 to the summit, so even though it is a “stroll”, it may prove a challenge to anyone who feels that walking five flat miles is a chore. If you’re looking for magnificent views without the technical skill needed for the Adirondack Trails, then Whiteface Memorial Highway will serve up all the reward without the risk (or strain). To top it off, getting lost is impossible. The Whiteface Memorial Highway is a road to the top. unless you get off the road, you’ll find your way.
A dear friend and I were equipped with the winter hiking essentials (snowshoes, warm wears, and microspikes). I can’t stress the need for a good pair of traction devices for your boots when hiking anywhere in the Adirondacks. Ice is a part of life above 2,000 feet. You need to be ready to tackle it without risking your person to even minor injuries. Don’t have traction devices, snowshoes, or cross-country skis? No problem. Snowshoe and Ski rentals are easy to find before you ever leave Plattsburgh. call ahead to Wooden Ski and Wheel or Viking Ski Shop to make sure they will have what you need ready for you to pick up the day you choose to go out.
The Whiteface Memorial Highway, and Whiteface Mountain are considered by many of us locals as the Adirondack’s sacrifice to tourism. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to accept for the accessibility of it all. This sacrifice will provide even the less than fit individual with scenery of the Adirondacks that you won’t see from any motorcar in the winter months. there’s no need to hike the entire five + miles to the summit to take in magnificent views of the lower peaks and foothills to the north. Even a leisurely stroll two miles in to one of the picnic tables for a snack while looking down on the foothills is worth the trip. My hiking partner and I had planned on going all the way to the top, so stopping low wasn’t an option.
I’m going to let many of my photos tell the story of our “stroll” to the top. there’s so much to see on the way up, that my camera was rarely put down. The walk is at a constant uphill climb, but again, it is a road, there aren’t any challenges to overcome other than your own willingness to complete the hike. Fortunately, all of the views will make you want to move further up just to see what the view is like higher up from a different angle. At the Lake Placid Turn at about three miles up, is where the views begin to reach their best! The cascading ice formations that we had seen all the way up become larger and more magnificent. The views off in the distance toward the highest peaks of the Adirondack Park will take your breath away. I would easily rename the “Lake Placid Turn” to “ooh Ah” point. that’s all I could muster when I got my first glimpse of the high peaks on the southwest side of the road. From this point on the 50 degree temps were a distant memory. The wind was blowing hard and the deep snow we had been walking on was gone. We chose to leave our snowshoes for a pair of microspikes to tackle the ice to the top. Still over a mile from the summit, our spikes were a welcome addition. At the 0.0 mile marker sits the Castle of Whiteface Mountain. The castle was constructed of the stone excavated through the building of the highway in ______ . Theres a flight of conveniently located stone stairs behind the castle that lead to the summit. I had never seen them encased in ice like this before. I looked down, thanked my microspikes for being there for me, and headed up. Fortunately the stairs had a railing as well because the ice was a treacherous ascent. We had met up with some hikers from Quebec on our way up the stairs who hadn’t prepared themselves with some traction devices for their boots that were certainly stuggling to hold on to the railings for their descent.
In the end, A “stroll” to the top of Whiteface is 100% worth the one hour drive from Plattsburgh. Even if you are looking for a short hike or a longer hike, this wintertime road should be on your to-do list either winter, spring, summer, or fall. I have said before, and now again, that I am not eloquent enough to describe the beauty that you can encounter here along the Adirondack Coast or the close surroundings offered by Montreal or the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. For the Whiteface Memorial Highway, I recommend this trip to anyone looking for the beauty without the work. Be sure to bring along some good traction devices for your feet, snowshoes, or cross-country skis and you’ll definitely find it as rewarding as I did.