On a trip through the Adirondacks I had some extra time and I decided to “drive up” Whiteface Mountain. This goes against my grain – I like to conquer mountains by hiking them, but this was another worthwhile way of doing it. Whiteface, at 4,865 feet, is the fifth-highest mountain in New York and the only “high peak” in the Adirondacks accessible by road.
The automobile was a relatively new concept in the 1920s. Even so, Saranac Lake resident M.A. Leonard and Wilmington resident Frank Everest believed that a road to the summit of Whiteface Mountain was a great idea. After much lobbying in Albany, this very ambitious project was endorsed by the powers that be. Then governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, turned the first spade of earth in September 1929. It is said that his personal endorsement was in part a result of the anticipated ease of access for people with physical disabilities.
This was a stimulus project. Funded by bond money, construction began in 1931, creating scores of jobs for engineers, construction workers and stone masons during the early years of the Great Depression.
After four years of construction, at a cost of $1.25 million, the road officially opened to traffic on July 20, 1935. Roosevelt, now president of the United States, returned on September 14, 1935 to dedicate the Highway as a memorial to New York State Veterans of the Great War (WWI).
When Roosevelt, at the summit parking lot at 4,650 feet and being wheelchair-bound could not make it to the very summit, he ordered that an elevator be built to the very top. This took several more years and tremendous effort, not to mention 20 box cars of dynamite to blast through 426 horizontal and then 276 vertical feet of solid granite. So Whiteface Mountain is the only mountain I know that has an elevator to the very top.
I decided to hike up the ridge trail and ride down on the elevator, so I’d experience both.
After parking, I walked a few steps to the famous Whiteface Castle, built entirely from rocks remaining from the road construction.
There are bathrooms, a restaurant and, of course, a gift shop in the castle.
Then I proceeded to climb the ridge trail, which starts behind the castle.
This would actually be a scary and exposed hike, were it not for the big handrails all the way up. I did this in perfect weather. I have been on mountains like this before when I could not see 15 feet in front of me, and being here in those conditions would be frightening.
When I finally made it to the peak, I was able to look down to the Castle again and the parking lot to the right of it.
The views in all directions are tremendous. Here is Lake Placid, the lake and the town at the left tip of the lake, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
The view from the peak to the south shows all the High Peaks in the Adirondacks. The two labeled ones, Mt. Algonquin and Mt. Marcy, I have hiked in previous years. Mt. Marcy his the highest peak in New York, Mt. Algonquin the second highest.
Here is a picture of part of the elevator building at the very top. This is the door to ride back down.
The elevator is a small elevator, perhaps 6 x 6 feet, like the elevator in an old hotel in New York City. It moves quite fast, down about the equivalent of a twenty-story building, 276 vertical feet. I exited the elevator into a straight 400 foot tunnel and exited into the bright sunlight of the parking lot. Looking back at the entry:
Although I didn’t hike Whiteface Mountain, I am glad I went. I assume that any hiking trail would probably not get much use and may be hard to find – like many Adirondack trails.