Esther & Whiteface Mountain

Intense conditions near the summit of Whiteface
Intense conditions near the summit of Whiteface

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.

Trail from Marble to Esther began to get snowy
Trail from Marble to Esther began to get snowy

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.

Trailhead for Esther
Trailhead for Esther

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.

Andrew catching his breath on the summit of Esther Mountain
Andrew catching his breath on the summit of Esther Mountain
Summit marker for Esther
Summit marker for Esther
Myself on the summit of Esther
Myself on the summit of Esther

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.

Approaching the summit of Whiteface Mountain
Approaching the summit of Whiteface Mountain
Andrew making it to 20 peaks of Whiteface
Andrew making it to 20 peaks on Whiteface
Making it to 21 peaks and my final climb of 2014 on Whiteface Mountain
Making it to 21 peaks and my final climb of 2014 on Whiteface Mountain

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

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Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw & Lower Wolfjaw

Late October and it seemed like forever since the last time I got to hike with my girlfriend, but we had the day to ourselves so we planned an epic hike in the Great Range in which we would conquer Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw, and Lower Wolfjaw.  Previously this year I had done 3 of the 4 but did not include Lower Wolfjaw for reasons that I am still unsure of.  We left Sarahs home together a little after 6 am to get to the St Huberts trail head before the parking lot filled.  We made good time through Saranac and Placid and got to the trailhead at 8am.  At this point the sun was shining which was a welcome sight after a week of lousy weather.  We got to the check-in after a quick 10 minutes down the golf course road and signed in.  We headed down the dirt road for the 2 miles until we got down to the Beaver Meadow Falls trail and from there we made our way together towards Gothics.  After about a half hour we made it to beautiful Beaver Meadow Falls which I was looking forward to seeing with Sarah since I had seen it during the summer.

Sarah and I at Beaver Meadow Falls
Sarah and I at Beaver Meadow Falls

After getting a quick drink and admiring the falls we headed up the ladder near the falls and got going up to Gothics.  The trail gave us a pretty steady increase in elevation for a little over an hour until we finally began to plateau which told me we were approaching the trail junction between Gothics and Armstrong.  After going over a few ladders and working our way through patches of mud we reached the junction at which point the skies became threatening.  We began the last .4 miles towards Gothics until we passed a hiker who warned us of an icy spot along the trail.  I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect until I came to an area where there were massive chunks of ice falling out of trees about .1 miles from the trail junction.  I was quite nervous at this point as the last thing I wanted was a 15lb slab of ice hitting Sarah or myself while in the middle of the Adirondacks.  I took one ice chunk off the arm but avoided any major damage and finally we reached the summit only 3 hours after we had started.  The view from the top was close to non existent as once again the clouds and wind were a major factor.

Falling ice chunks on the way to Gothics
Falling ice chunks on the way to Gothics
Sarah on top of windy  Gothics
Sarah on top of windy Gothics

Due to the intense wind and chilly conditions Sarah and I did not spend too much time on top of Gothics, instead we quickly headed back down to get to Armstrong which we hoped would give us a little bit better view.  We made our way through the dangerous area of falling ice before getting back to the Gothics/Armstrong trail junction.  It was only another .4 miles from this point to get to Armstrongs summit and at this point I was pretty cold especially my feet which were soaked in ice cold water and mud.  After about 25 minutes we reached the summit of Armstrong for me it was my second visit of the year and Sarahs first.

Looking down the side of Armstrong
Looking down the side of Armstrong

We sat and enjoyed the view for a little bit which because of the improved weather was better than Gothics.  After eating we headed down Armstrong to take on Upper Wolfjaw.  It was only a mile long stretch to get to Upper Wolfjaw however the first half mile proved to be extremely steep and challenging.  It was a little bit more treacherous this time given the conditions so we took it very slow but we eventually made it down Armstrong and made the very quick ascent to Upper Wolfjaw.  By this time the sun had come back out and it was nice to let the rays give me a little bit of warmth and dry my shoes off.  It was also nice to just sit alone on the summit with Sarah.

Sarah and I resting on the summit of Upper Wolfjaw
Sarah and I resting on the summit of Upper Wolfjaw

After a good 20 minute rest we packed up our stuff and prepared to tackle our final peak of the day Lower Wolfjaw and complete what we set out to do.  We needed to make our way down to Wolfjaws Notch before heading up to Lower Wolfjaw which was going to be a total distance of 1.5 miles from Upper Wolfjaw.  We made our way down to the Notch which seemed like it took forever and I swear its more than 1.1 miles as the signs had told me.  After 45 minutes we reached Wolfjaws Notch and headed up the last .5 to Lower Wolfjaw.  At this point Sarah and I were both pretty spent and slowed down on our last major ascent, but we would eventually make it completing our climb of all 4 peaks.

With Sarah on Lower Wolfjaw
With Sarah on Lower Wolfjaw

We sat on the view-less Lower Wolfjaw for a few minutes and headed back down together.   It was a 4.2 mile trek down to the St Huberts trailhead and at this point we had nothing left in the tank.  Just as we reached the bottom it began to rain which was nice considering we were finished and I didn’t need to get drenched once again.  For me adding Lower Wolfjaw brought me to 19 high peaks climbed!

Recommendation to Hikers:  At this time of year I wouldn’t recommend an average hiker attempt this long loop hike and for the aspiring 46er I would recommend trying to go earlier in the year although it was not impossible by any means what so ever.  I also wouldn’t recommend Lower Wolfjaw to anyone looking for a view as the summit was very boring with little to no view at any point.

For my ratings on Gothics, Armstrong, and Upper Wolfjaw see my previous post!

Lower Wolfjaw:  Views-2  Difficulty-4