The Adirondack 46ers Series: Whiteface and Esther Mountains — For the Sheer Joy of Climbing

Whiteface Mountain, the 5th highest peak is like no other, you can reach the summit by road. Eight years ago we visited as tourists and took the easy way to the top. This time around we visited as hikers by climbing 3,620 ft (1 103 m) from the trailhead to the summit.

We decided to do these two Adirondack 46ers as a pair, mainly due to their close proximity but also to enjoy a relatively easy day of hiking after our recent slogs into Allen, the Santanoni’s and the Seward Range, the real tests of the 46ers quest.

The evening before we lucked out with a wonderful lean-to spot at the nearby KOA Campground in Wilmington, a secluded location next to the Ausable River. We woke up well rested, ready for our climb.

Whiteface Mountain

Ginette had time for her morning coffee before we set out from the campsite by 6:30 and on the trail by 7 am. The first mile out of the Atmospheric Research Centre parking lot was a steady, steep advance up the old Marble Mountain Ski Hill, not much fun, but vertical is always good, it gets you closer to your goal.

After a short level section, the trail resumes at a steady uphill climb to a ridge where you navigate some mud and rocks for a mile or so. On the way to Whiteface, the trailhead to Esther is clearly marked with a large cairn. We elected to go straight on to Whiteface with the aim of reaching the summit before the tourists arrived via the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway.

Large cairn marking the herd path junction to Esther

Where the trail reaches the highway, you’ll be greeted with a stunning retaining wall.

Steep rock wall where the trail connects with the Memorial Highway –  a short scramble and …

…and NO you don’t climb it, but navigate around it!

The last half mile or so to the summit is basically gorgeous views along the open ridge. In the early morning sun, it was a pleasant walk.

Nearing the summit, looking North you can glimpse the winding Whiteface Memorial Highway.

Car climbers reaching the end of the road can elect to continue to the summit by either taking the elevator or walking up the Stairway Ridge trail.

View from the trail with the Whiteface Castle in sight.

We reached the summit, and it was ours, at least for a few minutes when the first car climbers arrived. We quickly engaged in conversation; a couple from Ottawa and gave them a brief run down of the Adirondacks, the places to see, etc. They were grateful, and we hope they enjoyed a UBU ale later that day at the Keene Valley Ausable Inn.

Another High Peak completed.

We made it to the peak just before the first tourist arrived.

Gordon with a view of Lake Placid in the distance.

Gordon eight years ago when we visited the Whiteface as tourists.

Mount Esther 

The descent from Whiteface was good, we retraced our steps, and soon we were back at the cairn leading to Mount Esther. The walk to Esther is a reasonable walk in the woods, very little vertical and within a half hour, you’re on top.

Mount Esther as seen through the trees along the ridge trail.

We shared the summit with a couple of other pairs and had some good laughs while eating our lunch.

Summit plaque which reads: Mt Esther – 4,270 Feet – To commemorate the indomitable spirit of Esther Mc Comb – Age 15 – Who made the first recorded ascent of this peak for the sheer joy of climbing

The descent back down was uneventful, and the last stretch on the old Marble Mountain is tough, stepping over loose rolling rocks is a grind.

7:45 hours later we were back at the car with a half hour stop at Whiteface and twenty minutes on Esther — this is truly a day hike.

Our day brings us to 42 of 46 high peaks.

If hiking is not your thing, we recommend driving up the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway.

From the toll house, the road climbs 2,300 ft (701 m) over five miles with several vista points for photo-ops along the way. Reaching the end of the road, you have the options of climbing the Stairway Ridge trail for a fifth of a mile or take the elevator built inside the mountain.

Stairway Ridge Trail, Whiteface Mountain

Stairway Ridge Trail, Whiteface Mountain

Whether you hike or drive-up, Whiteface delivers spectacular views — well worth the visit!

Update: We became Adirondack 46ers September 2014

One thought on “The Adirondack 46ers Series: Whiteface and Esther Mountains — For the Sheer Joy of Climbing

  1. Pingback: Road Trip: Northern Vermont Hiking | White Postcards

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