Whiteface aflame: an Adirondack autumn

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Fall Color Guide

Whiteface aflame: an Adirondack autumn
By Jim Gould
Outside Online correspondent

oods and water, rock and red leaf--that's what the Adirondacks offer in fall, the only season here without snow or blackflies.

And it also offers remarkable contrasts. When I woke early the other morning, the pre-sunrise temperature was 26 degrees Fahrenheit. By mid-afternoon, the early fog had burned off and naked blue skies let the sun warm the high peaks into the mid-60s. Paddling across a pond in a T-shirt, I could see hoarfrost still covering the rocky summits above yellow and orange stands of birch, beech, and maple.

My favorite day trip this time of year is to combine a short paddle with a summit hike. With more than 2,500 lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks, finding the right combination isn't hard.

Take Whiteface Mountain, for example, which lies just outside the village of Lake Placid. After breakfast, you can paddle the length of the lake at the mountain's base (Lake Placid Lake, the locals say, as if suffering from Acquired Redundancy Syndrome) and hike up the mountain's steep south face on a marked trail by lunchtime. It's one of the best views in the Northeast. On most clear days, you can see Boston to the east and San Francisco to the west. Or maybe it just feels that way.

The public landing on Mirror Lake Drive, adjacent to the village marina, offers a nice put-in for canoes. Lake Placid is a big lake; on windy days there are white caps and paddlers may prefer to stay on terra firma for that extra cup of coffee. Otherwise, the trip begins on what locals call "East Lake," a four-mile channel in Lake Placid that runs southwest to northeast along Buck and Moose islands. (There's a wonderfully secluded campsite with a lean-to at the northeast tip of Moose Island. If no one's there, it's yours at no cost; thank your state tax dollars.)

Paddlers tie up their canoes at Whiteface Landing, a small dock on the far reach of the bay, just below the mountain. The straightforward up-and-down trail begins behind the landing and heads northeast, ascending rapidly over rocks and roots.

Whiteface is the fifth tallest in the Adirondacks at 4,867 feet. You'll feel it on this trail; it ascends more than 3,000 feet in less than two and a half miles. In other words, this is the original Stairmaster. It takes two hours for those who are in shape, more for those who have been riding the couch lately.

The summit is a bare rock dome with a 360-degree view; a state weather station sits just below the top. Extra clothes are handy for the summit; there's a reason why the hoarfrost lives there in October.

Rental canoes are available at Mirror Lake Boat Rentals (518-523-2514) or Jones Outfitters (518-523-3468), both in Lake Placid. For other outdoor supplies in the village, see High Peaks Mountain Adventure Center (518-523-3764) and Eastern Mountain Sports (518-523-2505). For information about accommodations, restaurants, and travel to the area, contact the Lake Placid Visitors Bureau (518-523-2445).

Jim Gould is a professor of writing and literature in the Environmental Studies Program at Paul Smith's College in the Adirondacks. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and other publications.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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