Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whiteface (ADK 46er x 2) 2011-08-09

I intended to hike all 46 peaks thirty years ago but lost interest four years and 36 peaks later. As a young man, life's many unexplored opportunities drew me in other directions. I left hiking the remaining peaks for a later date. In a blink of an eye, three decades passed. It was not until a medical diagnosis reminded me I could not delay indefinitely. I finished on Allen last summer. The experience piqued my interest to explore the High Peaks in winter. I hiked sixteen peaks and, by season's end, decided to hike the balance before year's end. My second round would present an opportunity to rediscover trails I had hiked long ago as well as improve my fitness. I chose Whiteface to be my 46th peak in order to allow my family to greet me and share in the moment.

On Tuesday, August 9th, I achieved my goal and completed my second round atop Whiteface. On Allen I had raised a glass of Scotch in memory of departed family members. On Whiteface it was a joyous celebration with three generations of my family and a bottle of sparkling wine.

I had originally planned to complete my second round in September. However, my Toronto-based family members could only visit during the second week of August so I accelerated my hiking timetable by one month. The weather forecast for the week of August 8th did not offer the sunniest days of summer. Tuesday was chosen based on a high cloud-ceiling and little chance of rain until late in the afternoon.

I left Montreal a few hours earlier than my family in order to get a head start. The plan was to have everyone on the summit about a half-hour before my arrival. I budgeted a generous four hours to hike the 6.5 miles from Connery Pond to Whiteface's summit. Our cell phones proved very useful for coordinating the summit reunion. Three hours after my departure I was 100 feet from the summit whereas my family was still an hour away! 

I left the Connery Pond trailhead at 8:20 AM and followed the broad, smooth trail to Whiteface Landing. Whiteface Landing was busy with young campers preparing breakfast and a motorboat taking on passengers at the dock.

View from Whiteface Landing.
I continued towards Whiteface lean-to where there were clear signs that a large party of campers had settled in. The most curious sight was a set of three tripods, constructed from tree branches, bearing Sketcher's Pads inscribed with smiling faces. Totems for some sort of backwoods ritual?

Totem at Whiteface lean-to.
I have no idea how many people hike to Whiteface along this path but it is less eroded than the Wilmington trail. On many trails, rocks and tree roots are laid bare whereas here they barely break the surface. Rocks don't appear until the upper reaches where the trail steepens. I reached the first notable lookout at 11:10 AM, paused, and then moved to a higher vantage point about ten minutes up the trail. I heard voices and, thinking a group of hikers was ahead of me, looked up to discover people looking through scenic viewers; I was less than a hundred feet from the summit.

Trail to Whiteface,
I pulled out my cell phone and contacted my sister who informed me she had just passed the town of Ausable Forks. I realized I had at least an hour to while away. Fortunately, I couldn't have picked a nicer 'waiting area'. I stared off into the distance and began identifying the visible peaks.

The sky was filled with layers of gray clouds but, fortunately, they were all above 5000 feet. It was far from being the 'sunny day' they had predicted but at least it was not raining. After an hour, I changed out of my damp clothes and put on a jacket. I called again and learned that my sister and her family were now on the summit and were waiting for the others to catch up. I informed her to walk towards the scenic viewers and look down towards to the open rocks. She said she was already there and could see one person on a rock. I waved, she laughed, and it was time to finish the ascent.

Hugs and kisses from three generations, six years old to eighty-one, made it the best summit experience of all. Whiteface was busy with tourists and hikers but I felt like we had the place to ourselves. As I headed to Whiteface's official summit, I passed a hiker, a winter 46er, who inquired what was the nature of the celebration and then congratulated me on completing my second round. I thanked him but overlooked to get his name; thank you and I hope we meet again.

Summit souvenirs.
After a quick photo next to Whiteface's exceedingly popular and photogenic summit sign, we retreated to an open area of the summit. Folding chairs were set up for the elderly and my brother-in-law began setting up a tripod and camera for a group photo. My wife produced a bottle of sparking wine to toast the occasion. Armed with plastic glasses filled with bubbly, we posed together to commemorate "46 x 2". Afterwards, my wife gave me a souvenir T-shirt, listing all 46 peaks, and my mother-in-law presented me with a wonderful "Yay for you!" greeting card annotated with her well-wishes. I was especially happy to walk around the summit holding the hand of my energetic six year old niece. She fearlessly climbed onto, and jumped off, whatever lay in her path. 
Hugging the youngest member of our clan.
We spent an hour and a half on the summit before a cool wind and darkening sky signalled it was time to leave. The plan was to call my wife upon reaching the Connery Pond trailhead. I predicted I'd cover the 6.5 miles in two hours. Afterwards, we'd meet at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. I dashed off the summit at 2:15 PM and, in my haste, headed in the wrong direction. I could see the slide whereas I ought to see the ski lift. A quick course correction over the boulders among the cripplebrush and I was back on the trail.

By the time I reached the junction at Whiteface Landing it had begun to drizzle. Before long, it began to rain heavily. I saw no reason to stop and don a jacket because I was in dire need of a shower. The rain was peppered with sporadic downpours and they spurred me to pick up my pace. I arrived at the trailhead at 4:10 PM and signed out. I had planned to head to Tmax and Topo's for a shower but there was now little need for it. A few minutes to clean up and change clothes and I was ready for the pub.

After a hearty meal, washed down with plenty of Ubu beer, my wife presented me with a memorable dessert. A simple tray of brownies was adorned with blazing candles that read: 46 x 2. It was a tasty end to the meal and a wonderful finish to the day. 

Dessert fit for a 46er.


See all photos.