The long stretch of intense cold this winter has kept my hiking partner and I indoors for far too long. We had become stir crazy as we longed to get back to the mountains. The bitter cold temperatures had dipped to an unsafe level for hiking. In the past Month the wind chill temperatures at the summit of Whiteface Mountain had dipped as low as -110. Always considering safety first, we bowed to natures way.
This past Sunday Mother Nature was promising an end to those dangerously cold temperatures. With mid thirties forecasted in the valley and a mostly sunny sky, the time had come to strap on the snowshoes and get back out to the mountains we love.
For this Weekend we set our sights to Esther Mountain. Esther is often climbed in conjunction with nearby Whiteface Mountain for those aspiring to be Adirondack 46ers. I have hiked to the summit of Whiteface in the past, but never took the side trail to the treed summit of Esther. I suppose this was because at the time I had never thought that hiking all 46 high peaks was in the cards for me. Of course I do not intend to ever reach the summits in record time, but I do imagine that over the course of the next few years I too will be able to claim my place on the honor roll of Adirondack 46ers.
At 4,240′, Esther sits at number twenty-eight in magnitude on the list of Adirondack high peaks. Esther also lands as the northernmost high peak sitting just north of the famous Whiteface Mountain. History tells that Esther McComb was the first to summit the speak at the age of 15 back in 1839. A plaque commemorating her assent “for the sheer joy of climbing” is placed at the summit.
We started our day early from the trailhead by the Atmospheric research center in Wilmington. The trail from here is shorter than the alternative trail, and much steeper as it climbs steadily up the flanks of the old Marble Mountain ski area. The trail is not marked, but the ascent up the ski area is clear and easy to find. This first .9 miles is a consistently steep climb through a very young mixed hardwood forest to the top of Marble Mountain. As I climbed up, I was kicking myself for not carrying a lightweight sled for the trip back down. This old ski slope would have been a fantastic spot to sled! My inner child and I were certainly at odds over the sled situation. Each time I turned to look back down this magnificent I could feel that little kids heart breaking.
At 0.9 miles the trail reaches the junction sign indicating that Esther’s summit to be another 2.5 miles away. The forest had quickly changed from the young mixed hardwoods of Marble Mountain to a thick evergreen forest as we made our way up Lookout Mountain. The early morning clouds had begun to disperse opening up to a magnificent blue sky. Warm sunshine began streaming through the clouds and for the first time in months I could smell the sweetness of the pines as they thawed.
The trail to Esther is an unmarked and unmaintained herd path. There is a cairn and a small sign at the start of the Herd path indicating the start of the Esther Mountain trail. The Herd path cuts narrowly through the forest along an easy path that climbs a long ridge to the summit. The summit of Esther Mountain is wooded and marked by a simple hand written yellow marker high in a tree or, if not covered under a few feet of snow, there is a plaque commemorating Esther Macomb’s ascent.
We stayed for a while looking back toward the direction of Whiteface. The view of nearby Whiteface Mountain is the only view to be had from the summit, but clouds had worked their way in and had the mountain completely obscured. We waited in hopes that the clouds would blow off and give us a nice view, but we weren’t so lucky. Well nourished and ready to begin our descent, we gathered our gear and headed back down the herd path.
Whiteface Mountain never did pull its head out of the clouds for the big photo opportunity we had hoped for, but the thick layer of hoarfrost, light snow, and incredibly blue sky still created another beautiful Adirondack day. The only thing that could have made this a better day would have been a sled.
For our trip back down to the trailhead we were greeted with more sun and more blue sky than we had for the hike to the top. Although oddly Whiteface Mountain never came out of the clouds, we could see far enough to the east to make out miles of a frozen Lake Champlain. Another perfect hiking day. It took quite some time for this day to come, but it was worth the wait.