October 30th 2014 Andrew and I set out on our last hike of the season. We left bright and early from Clifton Park around 5 am in effort to get to the trailhead by 8 oclock. The forecast called for sun and a slight chance of morning rain. By the time we arrived to the trailhead we found out the weather man should have been fired. Immediately the rain began to pour down and we were not as prepared as we would have liked to be for such a scenario, but as we had all year we carried right on through. We got going on an unmarked trail on the way to Marble Mountain which is a much smaller peak and the meeting point of the unmarked trail and the marked DEC trail which would have made our trip much longer had we taken it. It was a very steep uphill climb to get to Marble Mountain, it was only.9 miles but the elevation gained was substantial enough to have us sucking wind very early in the hike. As I looked up towards the trail we would be hiking I couldn’t help but notice the white in the trees, for the first time I would be hiking in the snow. Needless to say I was not prepared to deal with the snow with my flimsy hiking shoes that have taken a beating from all of my hikes this year so I was not looking forward to my feet freezing off. We got going up to Esther and before we knew it we were above the snow line.
The climb remained a pretty steady uphill although not to the degree of the first mile, the snow however made it equally difficult as we had to be very careful about each surface we stepped on given our lack of proper footwear. We continued on for another mile or so and the snowfall began to pick up. Before we knew it the weather made the climb feel like a mid January climb instead of an October climb. Needless to say I was quite cold and did not want to stop for anything as the second we would stop I would only get colder. Finally we reached the trailhead for Esther whose trail is unmarked.
The trail towards Esther is not really ideal on a good day so we figured we were in store for a pretty miserable time trying to hike this 1.2 mile stretch to get to the summit. It proved to be challenging almost immediately as the trail was very narrow and muddy in most spots making the footing situation pretty terrible. We found ourselves frequently getting off the herd path just to try and keep our feet out of the ankle deep mud. Finally after passing through frozen bog after frozen bog we made it to the heavily wooded summit of Esther Mountain. For me Esther marked big number 20 on my high peak journey and for Andrew his 19th.
After catching our breath and eating a quick snack Andrew and I headed back down the muddy herd path and on to our second peak of the day. The walk back down the path was equally miserable with Andrew gashing his legs up pretty good on a few occasions. After about 45 minutes of slogging through the freezing cold mud we managed to get back on the main trail towards Whiteface mountain. We figured from the trail junction it was going to be about 1.5 miles to get to the summit of Whiteface. We got going from the junction and it started out as a pretty gradual climb which was a nice break from the steep climb we had experienced earlier. It also made the ice and snow less of a factor for a little while. After about .6 miles we passed a ski trail and saw one of the ski lifts and it was this point where the trail began to get steep again. After about another.4 miles we reached the highway that goes to the summit of Whiteface. We did not take the highway up to the summit because I felt like it was going to be kind of an easy way out and I wanted to experience the actual climb to the summit. We made our way up the last .5 mile stretch on the way to the summit of Whiteface. The conditions were absolutely brutal as the wind and snow made this a hike I will not soon forget. Eventually we made it through the slippery rocks and snow to the summit and quickly took shelter behind the small tower on top in order to get out of the wind. The snow provided a lot of adventure, but I really wish we could have got more of a view from Whiteface as it would have given such a different look of the Adirondacks, but we still made the most of it.
We took a couple pictures and got a quick bite to eat and headed back down to the trailhead. Due to safety concerns Andrew and I decided it might be a better idea to take the road back down to the car even though it was 2 miles added on to what we would have done otherwise. The stretch of trail to get down the road was very treacherous as we found ourselves clinging to the railings that marked the way. If not for the railings Andrew and I could’ve been in some serious trouble as the rocks had zero traction and we did not have proper footwear. Andrew took one fall even with the help of the railing which made me pretty nervous. It wasn’t long before I too lost my footing on the slippery rocks, I had no grip on the railing and my feet flew out from under me. The result was my back taking a direct impact on a sharp rock and my neck getting a hard whiplash which resulted in a serious lack of mobility for a week. I needed to take a few minutes to gather myself as I was in a pretty great deal of pain and couldn’t just walk it off right away. Finally I got back on my feet and carried on, battered and bruised. Much to my relief we made it to the road. From this point it was just a long brisk walk back to the car. For the last hike of the year it proved to be a tough one, but I felt very accomplished, not just for the day but for our successful year of hiking.
Recommendation to hikers: For the casual hiker, don’t do Esther ever…zero views and a trail that is a huge pain. Whiteface is a great climb although you may want to consider making it a summer hike as the snow is not the greatest feature unless you are skiing. For the aspiring 46er both should be done in the same day as they are relatively close together, but you may want to plan a hike during the summer months, or at least be more prepared for the snow than we were.
Esther: Views-1 Difficulty-7
Whiteface: Views-8 Difficulty-7