(Wilmington, NY) Whiteface Mountain (Cirque)

Whiteface Mountain as viewed from entrance of Whiteface Mountain Ski Center (44.3532, -73.8566), Sunday Apr. 7, 2024, in Wilmington, NY.  Credits: Geo Field Report

As part of our 2024 solar eclipse trip, my family visited the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York state.  The Adirondack Mountains are a collection of mountains, called a "massif", that tend to move around together and maintain the internal relative structures.  In fact, the Adirondack Mountains are still growing in present days, rising by around an inch every year.

It's difficult to capture the grand-scale movement of the Adirondack, but we can appreciate some of the finer details like how glaciers shaped these mountains.  From the entrance of the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, one can get a clear view of the east side of the impressive Whiteface Mountain.

The red dashed line shows the amphitheater-shaped valley, called a "cirque", on the east side of the Whiteface Mountain.  Credits: Geo Field Report

One clear geologic feature is the amphitheater-shaped valley of the east side of Whiteface Mountain, called a "cirque".  If you drive farther south toward Lake Placid, you should be able to see also the west side of the Whiteface, and the "ridge" dividing the two cirques.  I was not able to find a good spot to take a photo due to the crowd, so that'll be a future visit.  The wikipedia entry on Whiteface Mountain has a very nice picture though.

The blue dashed lines show the amphitheater-shaped valleys, called "cirques". Multiple cirques are divided by ridges called "aretes", marked red.  Credits: wikipedia 

The cirques are formed through glacial erosion: as each glacier flows down the slope, it digs and removes the rock underneath to form the bowl.  Glacial erosion is different from river erosion, glaciers move much slower than rivers, so at the same flow rate, the width of a glacier would be much wider than that of a river.  This slow movement then allows a glacier to open up and form the amphitheater-shaped valley that takes up an entire side of a mountain.

Extended reading:

(NY State Adirondack Park Agency) Geology of the Adirondack Park

(National Park Service) Cirques


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