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A World of Ice on Whiteface Mt. Lake Placid Slide: 2014 January 12

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  • A World of Ice on Whiteface Mt. Lake Placid Slide: 2014 January 12

    Disclaimer or "How to Avoid Death by Slide Climbing"

    Duration: 8.5 hours
    Mileage/elevation gain: 10 miles/3,850 feet
    Weather: 20-25F ambient with 0F windchill (about 40 m.p.h. wind speed)
    Partner: Anthony Seidita (DeepForest)

    The weather has been a roller coaster over the last week as many of us are well aware. I’d been studying the photos from various reports over the past weeks and trying to anticipate where the backcountry ice might be best…anything but open rock. I’d narrowed my target to a few choices and planned to simply make the best of whatever situation I found myself in—let the mountain define the terms and adapt. The rain on Saturday narrowed my choices further as I didn’t want to deal with multiple stream crossings. I’d all but given up when my wife and I went to Lake Placid for groceries. Through the pouring rain and mist I saw the Lake Placid Slide standing out against the forest—a gray-white line that I interpreted as heavy ice. There’d likely be no need to scratch my way up 1/8 thick verglas during the outing. At 6:00 p.m. that evening after checking the forecast, I made the final decision to give it a try. DeepForest was on standby and fine with the 12-hour advance notice.

    Kevin on some ice along the streambed of Whiteface Brook.

    Our adventure began from Route 86 near Connery Pond. Crossing Lake Placid, our first choice, seemed ill advised since it was covered with an inch of water on Saturday. Ground conditions were sure to be easy on the jeep trail given the thin snowpack so we started around 9:30 a.m. Microspikes balled up pretty quickly in some areas as we crossed the various rivulets that turned the path into a slushy mess on occasion. We’d reached the north end of the lake within an hour and hiked to the jump-off point for the bushwhack (about 2,850 feet in elevation) by around 11:30 a.m.

    The route wound upward among the loosely spaced trees high atop the stream. Hiking in Whiteface Brook was out of the question as it was open. The wind whipped through the trees hinting that it would make the climb interesting once we were on more open terrain. The lay of the land tried to ‘push’ us toward the brook a few hundred vertical feet below the slide so I took a slightly different tact than during my 2012 trip with ‘Nangaparbat’. Anthony and I stayed farther to the right which led to a house-sized erratic—the perfect place to have a snack.

    Shortly thereafter we exited the woods and onto a snowfield below the first of two small slides on the right. There we changed into climbing gear. After a short bushwhack upward (and under some blowdown), a wall on the right caught my eye. It was thick with yellow ice and perhaps 70 degrees in slope. About 3 feet of snow had collected along the base, the most I’d seen all year (and the most I’d see for the rest of the trip). The wall was about 20 feet high; we climbed about halfway up and traversed across which led closer to the slide proper. It was enough to warm my cold hands—a normal and annoying problem that happens each trip when I stop to change gear.

    After crossing a larger ‘pre-slide’ slide on the right, we stepped onto the small area of snow preceding what would be a walk up a 1,600 foot long sheet of thick sustained ice (the top wasn’t all covered or it would have been longer).

    Autumn and winter comparison photo of the bottom of the slide. Anthony is heading for the first large overlap.

    A walk up the Lake Placid Slide quickly leads to an 8 foot overlap during the summer (see comparison photo below). This day it was an icy dream. Since the slide is easy compared to many others (low exposure and slope), I made it my goal to augment the difficulty by taking the path of greatest resistance—aim for as much near-vertical ice as possible. I considered it practice for harder objectives later in the season. Or perhaps, I was just compensating for the easy approach conditions.

    In any case, I mentioned it to Anthony and could see his mind working. Out came the quip--“I’m just looking around for a good place to leave you with a down jacket while I get help (and have a beer) after you break you ankle.” I laughed, but it brought up an excellent point—don’t fall victim to complacency, injury can still happen and we were standing on solid ice miles from help in near zero wind chill conditions.

    Anthony on the overlap.

    He led the way and we climbed carefully up the first obstacle. The ice was good in some areas, soft in others and brittle in yet others. Occasionally our axe would cut a hole to relieve pressure on the water dammed just beneath. The entire slide was refreezing from the heavy rains the day before. Obviously it never lost its ice fully during the melt. Beyond, it was an ever changing landscape of ice flows in subtle shades of blue, green, brown and clear. Larger ledges about halfway up continued to present more ‘interesting’ pitches, though simple ramps were always nearby if we wanted opt out and walk around.

    The subtle colors of ice--God's watercolor painting.

    Kevin picking a route near the middle of the slide (above). Autumn/winter comparison below.

    Another large overlap in summer, a place where NP and I had taken a break in October of 2012, was covered with a tangle of contorted icicles slightly covered in rime ice. In fact it looked a bit like a large frozen sea anemone. Parts shattered like glass as I climbed it. Beyond and near the top in the rubble (a few hundred feet (elevation) prior to the summit, the thick ice gave way to much thinner ice. We climbed more carefully in a world of rocks covered in leaves of rime ice. It was hard to believe how harsh it was on the slide compared with the balmy temperatures near the lake By now we were also adorned by some ice as well and the gauntlets of my mitts were frozen solid. Crampons scratched on the rock until catching a convenient hold.

    The arête materialized above in the snow as the time approached 3:00 p.m. We’d climbed into the clouds at around 3,500 feet in elevation, blowing pellets of snow our companion the entire time. Thankfully the wind was at our back. Rather than climb the arête as usual, we took the ramp to the right and followed it up to the summit. I hooked the axe tip on any convenient crack in the rock rather than on ice for stability as the wind tried to have its way with me. Another ramp and short scramble led to the observation deck and summit sign.

    Along the base of the arête.

    The sign, as the rest of the area, was coated in heavy rime ice. The wind whipped around it as Anthony got the ‘bright’ idea to wipe it clean for the picture. Suddenly hundreds of shards flew in my direction. Thanks “T”!!!

    The exit plan was to traverse down the ridge to Marble Mountain and the atmospheric research center where we left my vehicle. The trail was covered in ice with a couple inches of powder. The memorial highway was blown clean, the yell lines in plain view. The ice softened a couple thousand feet lower adding a bit of slush to the scene. It softened each step on my knees which were growing tired of the constant pounding of crampon on hard surfaces…I’d changed into less aggressive grivel 10-points so I didn’t wear down the BD Sabretooths. They’re also easier to walk in.

    The car appeared out of the darkness at roughly 6:00 p.m.—thus ended another short yet fulfilling day in the Adirondacks.

    Last edited by mudrat; 11-27-2020, 11:15 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

  • #2
    Looks better in Winter this outing.

    See ya.
    8000m 0/14


    • #3
      Hoorah! Another slide climbing adventure! Beautiful pictures as always.
      "Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck." -Roald Amundsen

      ADK 46- 35/46


      • #4
        Here's to Mudrats quote "let the mountain define the terms and adapt".
        Pure poetry in motion.
        Mountaineering is a game of chess between you and the mountains. The level of play is both intense and pure. Your knowledge of the game is profound..... Much to be commended on.

        Play on!

        As always.... the climb was exhilirating and my senses are again reborn.

        Quick you tube clip from my Whiteface brook dejection in 2010.

        Redemption is sweet!
        The greatest precept is continual awareness.


        • #5
          Great pics! The "watercolor ice" looks like a cascade of flowing water.

          You two almost make me want to take up ice-climbing. Almost. For now I'm happy to experience it vicariously.
          Looking for Views!


          • #6
            Another fine read....thanks
            What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

            Ralph Waldo Emerson


            • #7
              Love the one shot of the ice which looks like flowing rapids.
              What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

              Ralph Waldo Emerson


              • #8
                mudrat thanks for the trip report and photos that while not an ice climber made me even more excited to get out there this weekend. Planning on Whiteface and Esther this weekend and your mention of Marble Mtn/ARC trail conditions caught my attention. Just reached out on another post re trail conditions saying that I will have crampons in my pack would rather keep them there and not risk user error since I don't have a lot of experience in them. Having covered the route recently and should conditions remain similar could the trail be negotiated in micro spikes? Thanks.


                • #9
                  NP: MUCH better in winter. Ice was probably less slippery than the darn algae in other years. The earliest reference to this slide that I found thus far was 1808 (though I'm sure it's been enlarged a few times) so I guess it should be a bit slippery by now!

                  HRS Nomad: Appreciated!!

                  DeepForest: Thanks for the humbling compliment. It was a mentally renewing day; both low-key and fun. Chess...most days I feel only like a pawn out there

                  Trail Boss: The way you've upped your game over the last year, you'll be out there soon, I'd guess...

                  Ron: Thanks. It's funny how many comments I've had on that single shot--family and people at work as well. The slide certainly wasn't difficult in terms of an ice climb, but it was beautiful!

                  SnowTwiga: Thank you. If all stayed as it was on the trail, they COULD be done in Microspikes--Anthony used them on trail. I used crampons since one rotational slip to the side will mess up my knee. IMO I'd have both handy. I looked at conditions earlier and DEC reported that the rains this week fell as snow above 3500 so snowshoes are now required...again
                  May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.