Lake Placid is my favorite place for a winter trip for a couple of reasons: I like how these put an emphasis on all winter sports (not just downhill skiing), I like the little downtown area, and the mountainous landscape up in the Adirondacks is something, that try is it might, Pennsylvania simply cannot replicate.
I was thinking about what sort of spin I wanted to put on my Lake Placid post on my ride up, just because I’ve already done two and wasn’t looking to really see anything different, and settled on Lake Placid on a budget, which really was the gameplan, and something we primarily stuck to. The trip was thrown together pretty last minute, with no extensive planning, and no money saved up. I wanted to go somewhere to celebrate my last birthday in my 20’s, and wanted to get in one last round of XC skiing for the winter (although I’m actually about to head out here in NEPA as soon as I post this). I was going to go along, and possibly try out the hostel that’s up there, or maybe couchsurf for the first weekend, just make the weekend about good skiing, but then my sister volunteered to go and booked us a hotel two days prior. We planned on not paying for guides, and limiting our drinking (as much as to detox from our St. Paddy’s binge as to save money truth be told). I’m not going to focus on saving money though. The main thing I’m going to focus on is successfully conquering my first of the Adirondack’s 46 high peaks, an activity that ended up dominating, and dictating our entire weekend.
The Adirondack High Peaks is the name given to 46 mountains that sit in New York’s High Peaks Wilderness Area, and Lake Placid is the community most highly accessible to the largest amount of these mountains. They were given this name because it was initially believed that all 46 of these peaks were over 4000 feet, although it came to surface that in reality, four are under this elevation, and one mountain over 4000 feet was not included, however by the time this came about, no change was implemented. The Adirondack 46ers is a club of people who’ve climbed or plan to climb all of these peaks, and I’d like to at least believe I may have started my club induction. Before we get to that though, let’s start at the beginning.
We left for Lake Placid on Friday at around 10:00Am in super shitty weather. It cleared up by the time we got to Albany, and then the weirdest thing happened: the further north we got, the better the weather was-it got warmer, sunnier, and less snowy. That might sound great to the majority of you, but for two people who’d taken off work for a ski vacation, it wasn’t. In fact, when we drove through Keene Valley, somewhere I’d scouted as a possible snow shoe destination for Saturday, we were both silent, not wanting to be the one to chastise the other for not checking a snow report before we left. The good news: Lake Placid was still covered with the white stuff and as we climbed out of the valley, the temperature dropped back down to freezing.
We immediately went to Connery Pond, somewhere I’d skied briefly on my last trip, knew was free, and wanted to explore further. It wasn’t a bad little ski, but pretty noneventful, with a trail that just kept climbing and climbing, without a real rewarding view. I read today that it would have taken us to the base of Whiteface, but that would have taken more daylight then we had. In retrospect, I wish that on Friday we’d skied Whiteface’s Veteran’s Memorial Highway, an eleven mile ski, but reportedly easy one,which would have at least resulted in some scenic pics.
We arrived at our hotel just about dark. My sister had picked the Pines Motel, which wasn’t a bad choice considering what we were looking for. It was reasonably priced, within walking distance of downtown (we’d stayed at the Northwoods Inn before, which was booked and has a great central locale), and had a hot tub and sauna, something we figured we’d want after all our exercise. The Pines also inexplicably had a German themed restaurant and a concierge in Lederhosen. We’re still unsure why.
For dinner that night we headed to Smoke Signals, a cool new BBQ restaurant with great views of Mirror Lake, an excellent rib platter, and great bacon mac and cheese.
We woke up early with the intentions of snowshoeing this route up Mt. Van Hoevenburg, which I found on the Lake Placid website. We headed to Cunningham’s Ski Barn to rent snowshoes, since they were open at8 -I only mention this because had they been open earlier, we would have headed to High Peaks Cyclery, the venue from which we rented our snowshoes last time, and with which we hiked up Pitchoff Mt. with our guide Jeff. That experience was a blast and is the reason I now own a pair of snowshoes. High Peaks Cyclery is also a cool one stop shop, with guided expeditions, rentals, a store, yoga studio, lodging, and a rock gym. I’m a fan.
Anyhow, the guy we rented snow shoes from suggested a trek through Henry’s Woods, a nature preserve he said is where all the locals headed. He was right-the majority of people we passed were solo with dogs, and you could tell were just on their morning jogs or walks, rather than day trips. It was a nice intermediate snowshoe, and the Rocky Knob Trail we chose, would have afforded us some pretty views of the town had it not started snowing.
Initially we were going to spend the afternoon at Cascade XC Ski Center, but Katelyn wanted to continue snowshoeing since she’d paid for the rentals, and I wanted an experience that mirrored last time’s where we felt like we were on top of the world. We got lunch at the XC Ski Center, my favorite I’ve ever been to because they actually have a bar, and decided to map out our afternoon.
After perusing Lake Placid’s website, we decided on Cascade Mountain-since it was near Pitchoff we knew where to park and the website said the hike could be done in 2-4 hours, which was exactly the time frame we were looking for. It also said it clocked in at about four miles, which we thought sounded reasonable as well. We somehow forgot to take into consideration the 4098 foot elevation (for comparison: the Empire State Building is 1454 feet tall).
The hike started pleasant enough, and a light snow made everything look like it should. A few hundred feet into the hike we passed a couple on their way down that looked no worse for the wear, but warned us that it was a different scene on top: freezing cold and windy. It started getting steeper, but still doable, up until the first time I thought we’d reached the top (the first of five times I thought we’d reached the top). Here, the incline increased dramatically, and it started getting windy. What compounded this, is that a steady stream of French Canadians (all the cars in the parking lot were from Quebec) starting coming down the mountain, most of them wearing simple boots (but like the kind I wear to work, not the snow kind), sneakers or jeans, peacoats, and ipods, like they were going out for errands. And none of them looked like they were struggling. Meanwhile, I was huffing and puffing, dripping sweat, and at one point had to lay down in the snow like a slug and just concentrate on breathing-and I swear I’m in good shape.
I realized at one point just how high we were when I was able to catch a glimpse of the ski jumps, what looked like hundred of feet below. About a quarter mile from the top, the treeline breaks and you’re rewarded with your first awesome view. My immediate thought was that all the pain and suffering was worth it. It was also here that we ran into our first fellow Americans, a family from Syracuse, who’d just came down and told us the top was even more worth it. Somehow, the trek up from that vista, to the top got even steeper, and to dismay me even further, when I thought I saw a sign ahead marking the summit, it really just split the trail to Cascade and Mt. Porter’s (another high peak) summit.
The one guy from Syracuse we ran into described the summit as “badass” I term I would normally roll my eyes at, but he was right. Badass was the perfect way to describe it. There was 360 degree views of Lake Placid and the Adirondack park, and the wind made it seem treacherous. There’s a rock scramble for the last .2 miles, unexposed (not because of the elevation, but a fire years ago), and I have to make a confession here. We didn’t make it up the scramble. My sister and I are both afraid of heights, bordering on phobia. She said she’s wait at the start of the scramble, and I attempted to make it alone. When a gust of wind literally picked me up, I was through. It wouldn’t be worth the anxiety, and plus, I already felt pretty badass.
The way down was uneventful, and unsurprisingly, much easier. It also started snowing fairly hard at this point, luckily for us, after we’d taken in the views. After getting back to town, we went immediately to the Lake Placid Brewery to reward ourselves with several pints.
I really like the brewery here. This was my third visit, and while the beer isn’t necessarily my cup of tea (it’s very bitter, so some of you would probably love it), it’s good (I enjoyed their porter), the atmosphere is fun (the table next to us had been drinking since 7:30 and was extremely loud and obnoxious in a way that made me want to be friends), and they have really good food. We ended up flying through several pints, and I don’t know if it was the exhaustion or what, but I was tipsy faster than usual. After staying bout an hour and a half longer than both we and our waitress wanted, we headed back to the hotel to soak in the hot tub. We had intentions of going out after, but instead, I spent my time enjoying watching a new Netflix series, starring my fictional personal hero, Coach Eric Taylor.
Exhaustion also caused us to forgo any activites Sunday morning. In fact, all we managed to do was hobble back down to round two of the hot tub and grab some breakfast before heading out. We considered stopping at Cascade for a quick hour ski, but were so tired and cold, we just took some scenic pictures instead. You know what though? The exhaustion was worth it. I want to get back up as soon as possible and get my second high peak checked off.