Saturday, December 11, 2010

XC Skiing - Whiteface Mountain Toll Road

Today, a Schenectady ADK chapter trip was skiing up, and then down, the Whiteface Mountain Memorial Highway, near Lake Placid. The road is closed to traffic in the winter, and provides a great route to to the summit and its awesome views. This is another item that's been on my "bucket list" for many years, and the conditions looked good for today to be the day. It's a long 5-mile slog, continuously uphill about 2,200 feet, to the castle at the end of the road, just below the summit. Then, it's a glorious 5-mile downhill back to the car.

We started in Wilmington at the toll house, where the gate is closed to traffic. Though there was very little snow in Wilmington, there was plenty here as we started up the road. Colorful ice flows covered the rock faces next to the road.

Many open views greeted us along the way, though the wind was blowing pretty hard and the summits were socked in.

The higher we went, the deeper the snow, and the colder the temperatures.

Occasional signs let us know our current elevation. Here, we're at 4,289 feet, with the castle at about 4,500, and the summit at 4,867.

Not long after this picture was taken, we reached a point just below the Wilmington Turn, the higher of the two hairpin turns on the map above. We were already in the clouds, and there would be no views from higher up today. Besides that, the road was getting pretty icy and windblown from here up, even more so than the occasional icy patches farther down. By (mostly) consensus, we decided to turn around and start the run back down the road. We'd covered about 4.5 of the 5 miles to the castle.

Snowplowing, and snowplow-turning, down an 8-9% grade for 4.5 miles is quite an experience. Frequent stops were needed to rest the burning quads, and let the trailing group members catch up. There were also crowds of skiers now ascending the road that we had to work our ways around. And there were icy stretches where we needed to hug the edges of the road to find softer snow. By the time we reached the toll house and the cars, we'd probably climbed for about 3 hours, and the trip down took only about 1 hour.

This was a memorable trip, but a tough one for so early in the ski season. I'm going to be plenty sore tomorrow morning.

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