I tackled my first trailless Adirondack High Peak today! Esther Mountain is one that I’ve seen on the drive to Lake Placid hundreds of times, but somehow, I never paid it much attention with its busier neighbor, Whiteface, right there to the left.
One thing I’ve learned from reading guide books & others’ trip reports is that the “trailless” peaks aren’t just vast wilderness. The herd path up Esther Mountain looked a whole lot like a trail to me – just without the signs and trail markers, so it was more important than usual to pay attention and carry a map and compass. The only time I had difficulty with this trail was at the very beginning, in part because my guide book made such a point to talk about how the trailhead isn’t marked – not at all. So when I got to the parking area near the Atmospheric Research Center in Wilmington and found this, I was perplexed.
There’s a simple sign there now, pointing hikers in the right direction, down the trail into the woods. After a short hike, that trail opens up to a dirt road that my book hadn’t mentioned.
The right path leads back up to the research building, so I went left and found another left turn into the woods, flagged with an orange marker. I could see down the trail that additional blue markers identified it as a snowmobile path. I thought maybe this was another new “unmarked trail” development – like the sign on the bench – so I turned down this snowmobile path and hiked about half a mile before I figured out it was wrong and turned back. If you are climbing Esther Mountain, you should not go this way. 🙂
Instead, you’ll want to continue along the dirt road. This goes to the base of Marble Mountain, which was a ski area a long time ago, before the days of Whiteface Mountain and ORDA. Here’s an interesting article about that history.
If you’re going the right way, you’ll see this:
And then this:
The right path is blocked off. The left path goes back to Wilmington. The middle path is the one that you want. It goes straight up Marble Mountain. My book described it as a long and steep. That part was right.
This goes on for almost a mile, and it was my least favorite mile of the hike, both on the way up and on the way down (which makes it my least favorite two miles, I suppose). The rocks are loose and gravelly, so you have to be careful with your footing. I’d only brought one of my trekking poles and wished I’d brought them both.
At the end of this climb, the top of Marble Mountain has a lookout area with what I thought were the best views of the entire hike.
After this lookout, the trail climbs just a little more before there’s a sign…
…and then another fairly long and steep-but-not-super-steep climb. As a relative beginner in the High Peaks, I found this mountain to be kind of challenging because of the loose gravel, but there were no real rock scrambles or climbs like the walls on Wright, which I did last week. Esther just felt long sometimes. But even though there weren’t waterfalls or stream crossings to break it up, there were cool red mushrooms and friendly toads.
Eventually, the trail climbs up to a junction where one path goes straight to continue on to the Whiteface summit and the other turns right to climb Esther Mountain. This junction is marked with a big heap of rocks in the middle of the trail, so it’s pretty hard to miss. There’s a sign now, too.
For an unmarked, unmaintained trail, this was fairly easy to follow.
The trail gets narrow at times, which means some scratchy, grabby tree branches may snatch your reading glasses off your head if you tend to wear them as a permanent accessory like I do. But it’s a pretty walk through interesting woods that change as you climb and then descend into a boggy area between Lookout Mountain and Esther.
The opening in this tiny shed is less than two feet tall. Shelter for gnomes or fairies? Actually, I think it may have been an old emergency toboggan shed for mountain rescues.
Esther Mountain has a small false summit with a view that’s a little better than the glimpse of Whiteface you see at the real summit. It’s cloudy, but you get the idea…
After a few quick photos, I continued on to the summit, which I had been warned would be anticlimactic. It was.
There were no sweeping views like I enjoyed on Wright and Cascade, but there’s a plaque here with a great story about how this mountain got its name.
Actually, Esther McComb is believed to have made the first recorded ascent of this peak not “for the sheer joy of climbing” but kind of by accident. As the story goes, she was trying to climb nearby Whiteface, got lost, and ended up on this other mountain instead. I wish the plaque included this part of the story. I chose this mountain today because of Esther, and I especially love the story of her mistake. As a writer, I can relate to climbing and climbing in one direction, only to find myself somewhere else at the end of the day.