Change in Elevation:
Quote from the Past
I’ll begin this report with a direct quote from the book, The Adirondack High Peaks and the Forty-Sixers
(edited by Grace L. Hudowalski). The following quote is from a chapter on guides of old and the advice given by the guide Charlie Roberts to A.D. Mayo while climbing Whiteface.
“This slide is bare rock, inclined at an angle of an ordinary house-roof, broken into sharp precipices, and skirted by dwarf bushes. It is equally disgusting to wade through the treacherous mud and moss on the border, or clamber up its steep and slippery face. Charlie gave excellent advice, good for all difficulties, “Walk right up, and don’t mind it.”
Down the Slide
The Whiteface (Placid) Slide on Whiteface Mountain was the first slide in what Rico and I called “The Great Traverse”…a traverse of the traditional 46 high peaks in 2007, done in nine days. It runs southwest from the summit and bends south where it eventually empties into Lake Placid at Whiteface Landing several miles later. The traverse didn’t go as planned (maybe next year), but the slide is a story of its own in the middle of a day that ended with 26 miles of hiking over 16 hours.
Our day began at five a.m. with a hike up Esther from the Atmospheric Center and subsequently Whiteface. The most memorable moment was a family of blue and black clad folks (I’m assuming Amish) on the summit. This is not something I’ve seen before though I see the Amish every day on my commute to work. We didn’t waste much time on the summit, but descended slightly along the railed walkway and, to a few onlookers’ surprise, hopped over the rail and began studying a way down the headwall. Yes, as is non-traditional for most slide hikes, we descended yet again! The wall of stone is only about twenty feet high, but it was steep and I took no chances with a sixty pound pack on my back.
I opted for a descent on the western side which Rico later followed after attempting a more direct approach. An ascent would have been much easier. A man on top told me to be careful. I immediately tripped and went to a knee as my first official act after I jumped into the light rubble at the base of the wall. It was not intentional as many of my on-the-spot-humorous antics are.
The grade of this slide was easy and a mix of rubble/slab on the upper portion. I descended a hundred or so feet to find a comfortable boulder as I gave Rico some space, took my pack off and relaxed. I contemplated his comments about the lower portions being slippery; “Adirondack Teflon”, he called it; exacerbated by our favorite red algae.
As we began the descent in unison, the rubble was loose and we took care to stay rooted to the ground as we quickly traversed the upper and mid portions. Views of Lake Placid were constant as we descended. Occasionally, we watched as others viewed our progress down the wide scar on Whiteface. Finally, we were out of view except to those looking down the length of the slide. I can remember driving up the Memorial Highway as a small child and seeing the rocky landmark. Never did I envision myself walking down its center.
The most interesting items were lengths of cable and other metal pieces that can be found scattered at random every now and again. Occasionally, some unique boulders created an obstacle for both water and human. As we got closer to the drainage, the slide began to close in slightly and more slab was exposed. We navigated several small, but steep sections of the slippery rock…carefully. Constant water flow kept the rock covered in algae and mostly smooth. In one such place, I got myself in a precarious position on a tapering slab that continued to increase in grade until it ended vertically with a fifteen foot ledge…not a fall I wanted to endure. I asked WWBF for help, but he was not in a good position either. I could feel my fingers loosing traction in the water. Holding with my hands was the only thing that kept my feet in place. I didn’t panic, but could feel it welling up below the surface. Rico loosened a log while coming to my aid…a large log. It created a surreal scene as it slid downward with the water, seemingly in slow motion, came to the ledge and launched into the air. It landed with a loud crash like a bull in a china closet. I just squinted at WWBF and said, “Thanks for the boost of confidence!” He laughed and finally gave me a hand out of my predicament.
As it closed in tighter and tighter the spruce on either side became dense below the cliffy terrain. The stream also became more directed and dry footing choices were few. The lower we hiked the more water/algae slick it became. Our average movement forward, inversely, decreased. My quick dry clothing came in handy as I slid with the water in several locations and plunged into pools up to my knees more than once.
We tried an exit a bit too high and became entangled in the spruce and cliffs. Finally, a small cairn and herd-path marked an exit (or entrance if you’re going up) to the east. We took it although we could have followed the stream and several probable gravity checks along the way. The herd-path led into a maze of other paths within a softwood forest. It was easy hiking and we followed the most defined path until it disappeared. We simply found another from there. The farther east we trekked, the more the woods opened until we set foot on the trail and began our walk to Connery Pond. We hiked a total of 26 miles that day. Unfortunately, I did it with a 57 pound pack.
The bushwhack at the base.
In retrospect and on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate this slide as a 2.5, mainly because it lacks the character that so many others display. It has a spectacular view of the Lake Placid area, however, and it’s easy to get to compared with many other areas (if you start from the top). If I’d been a “slide virgin”, perhaps it would rate higher. There are many slides my feet have not trodden upon, but Blake Mtn. harbors the only other slide that, at this point, I’d rate lower and avoid more passionately. When we inevitably retry our “traverse”, I doubt this slide will be in our route as an ascent or descent…but you never know.
WWBF on the moderate decline or incline depending on your perspective...
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