Ok, today was a "do over". I had hiked Whiteface in 2007 (see report below) as my 4th High Peak. But, since we caught a ride down, I only recently learned that to be an "official" 46er you have to ascend and DESCEND the Peak for it to count... Which meant climbing Whiteface again. I hadn't yet climbed Esther, so this was a good chance to do them both.
This time it was a much smaller group (not everyone could be convinced to do this one again) - just me, Hiking Buddy, her youngest son (doing a hike of this length for the first time) and my youngest, who is also working on his 46. We left from the Atmospheric Center trailhead, which is to the left of the beginning of the toll section of the Memorial Highway. When we took off at 7:20, the day looked promising. The forecast called for temperatures in the mid-70s and no rain.
The first 9/10 of a mile after you leave the area immediately around the Atmospheric station is quite steep and very rocky - the loose, annoying kind of rock. It was like climbing in a dried up streambed. Not a great way to start a hike, especially when you're trying to convince a 10-year-old that this is a fun thing. We made a lot of "this is the worst part" promises. We reached the Marble Mountain lookout in 45 minutes. It was a nice spot to take a quick break for some water and snacks.
At about 8:15 we set off from the spot where our trail hooked into the one from the Reservoir (where we started the last time). It took us until 9:30 to reach the start of the Esther herd path, which was very clearly marked with a large pile of rocks right in the middle of the trail. It would have been hard to miss. To the left is our group resting on the rock pile with the herd path to the left. (I took this from the uphill side; as you're coming up the trail, the herd path is actually to the right). I had heard Esther was wet but it hadn't rained recently so we hoped for the best. We also picked up a hiking friend here named Tom from outside of Watertown. He was working on peak #41 and joined us. He reported that it was 1.03 miles up the path to the summit.
Luckily, we didn't encounter much wetness at all. In fact, the herd path was in great condition and we cruised right along. It was a moderate climb at best that only took about 35 minutes until we reached the top. There isn't much of a view and in fact, if there was anything to see, we weren't going to see it anyway. Serious clouds had moved in and we were right in the middle of a big one. The sky beyond the trees was just white. We were really hoping they'd blow over by the time we got to Whiteface.
The summit of Esther is marked by a plaque dedicated to Esther McComb, a 15-year-old girl who made the first recorded ascent. Humorously, the plaque says she climbed for the "sheer joy" of it. The story that may be more accurate is that her father was over on Whiteface surveying and she got lost trying to find him. In any event, we took a few photos, restored our energy supply with some munchies, and moved on. We were back at the junction with the Whiteface trail by 11:05. We bid farewell to our new friend Tom, who had already summited Whiteface, and moved on.
For the next 20 minutes, we enjoyed a fairly flat section of trail. We did have to do some rock hopping in spots, but it wasn't bad. At 11:30 we came to a wide swath of cleared land. I don't recall this from the last time. Very shortly after crossing it, we spotted the stop of a chairlift on our left. I'm guessing the clearing was a newer trail for the ski area and the chairlift may have been fairly new also.
We popped out onto the Memorial Highway at noon, only to find clouds blowing by rather quickly. One minute you had a view of the top of the gondola building and another chairlift, the next you were enveloped in white and the wind was blowing. Actually, as I look at the pictures below from the last time we hiked Whiteface, it was much the same weather. The difference is, this time it cleared up! Anyway, we didn't pause long - we were eager to get past the final push. So back into the trees we went. The trail for the last part of this hike is nice because you're not entirely in trees, but you're not entirely exposed. Most of the time you're climbing in scrub about up to your knees. The annoying thing was that there seemed to be a lot of bees, particularly on our way down when the sun came out. Just before the summit, we were passed by a group of about 8, lead by "Mike Osborne" who was finishing his 46 while his friends videotaped it and cheered him on. He must be so psyched!
We climbed the last bit of rock at 12:30, in time to watch the Mike Osborne group taking lots of pictures next to the Whiteface sign. Young son and I peeled away from the group to take some pictures. At this point, the clouds were still pretty thick (almost like a ceiling), but they seemed to be on the move. While we sat and ate, the sky began to clear. We took a ride in the elevator which descends some 27 stories through the granite center of the mountain to..wait for it... a gift shop, snack bar and restrooms! How very strange to see on a High Peak but I'm not going to lie - indoor plumbing was a nice change of pace!
We took the elevator back up to get some more photos now that blue sky was present. Below is a great view of quite a few of the High Peaks, from Dix at the left to Marcy in the middle and the McIntyre range toward the right, that we had once the low clouds blew by. Meanwhile, Mike Osborne and his group were still enjoying a nice spread of food and beverages that his wife had driven up for them! After 90 minutes on the summit, it was time to head down at 2 p.m. The temperature had definitely increased from the 58 degrees we experienced on the way up. We were ready for some sun, but with the sun came the bugs. We moved as quickly as possible on the way down. We hit the Esther trailhead by 3:10 and the turnoff back to the Atmospheric center just under an hour later. The last part, which was so steep for the way up, was brutal on my knees on the descent. I almost wanted to cry, but how would that look to our youngest hiker?!
We finished the day in 9.5 hours, which includes the 1.5 we spent at the top of Whiteface. Overall, a perfect hike. So if you go on to read the following information about my first hike on Whiteface, in which I say this hike will never move up my list of favorites, you can just disregard that. I really truly enjoyed this hike a great deal. And my youngest said it's his favorite High Peak so far.
Whiteface - 10/6/07 (1st attempt)
I don't believe this hike will ever move up the list of one of my favorites. We got up very early for this hike and got to the Wilmington Reservoir by about 7:15 a.m. It was Saturday of Columbus Day weekend. My fellow"Mom on the Mountain" hiking buddy and I had two cars because we had 7 teens with us. We seriously toyed with the idea of driving one car up the Memorial Highway and parking it at the top so we could drive down. The Memorial Highway is a toll road and the gate was not yet opened so that shot a hole through that plan.
We waited a little bit for two more hikers who were to join us and got started at 7:45. This was one of those days where I just felt like I was dragging. The hike started smoothly enough but got a bit steep as we drew near to Marble Mountain, which was an old ski area and is along the way. The view from here was pretty nice as the day was still young and the mist between the peaks made the mountains in the distance look like swells on the ocean. The foliage was past peak so the colors were muted. We stopped here for a snack break that really seemed to recharge everyone's batteries. Another neat thing about Marble was that you could poke around a bit and see remnants of the old ski tow equipment.
Hiking Buddy, one of the teens and I seemed to be dragging as we pulled up the rear. The rest of our group was making good time. I really don't know why this seemed like such a chore. The worst part was when we looked up at a sheer wall made of stone and saw our hiking companions at the top of it laughing. They told us we had to climb it but it wouldn't be a big deal. I think you can see from my Hiking Buddy's demeanor in this picture, she was NOT happy with this prospect. A few expletives may even have been uttered. As it turned out, they were teasing us with some "trail humor". This was the foundation of the Memorial Highway and the trail went around it to the left and up.
We crossed the Highway and picked the trail back up on the other side. It had started to rain around the spot where the herd path to Esther splits off from the main trail. We toyed with the idea of climbing Esther on the way down. The rain eventually let up during our ascent, but we were pretty soggy by this point.
When we emerged from the densest part of the woods, we could look down to the top of the ski lifts of Whiteface. That was pretty cool. The clouds were moving quickly so one minute we could see the lifts, and the next they were obscured.
Looking up, we could see the Whiteface castle observatory in the clouds. The funny thing was, the more we hiked, the further away it appeared. It was like it was moving away, teasing us.
Here's the really strange thing about hiking Whiteface - there are other people at the top who did not get there by slogging through mud and enduring the vagaries of Mother Nature. So as we threw our mud-covered legs over the rail at the top of the mountain, Mr. and Mrs. LL Bean Sweaters were there to watch us. It was an odd feeling. Also odd was the fact that we didn't have to eat the lunch we packed because there's a SNACK BAR in the summit building (as well as indoor plumbing; ok, that was a plus). While we were checking out the building, the skies opened. Those dark, ominous clouds that obscured our view were now unloading. And not just a little rain. Thunder and lightening pounded the summit. It was unrelenting. And it couldn't have happened at a better place. Hiking Buddy and I actually hitched a ride down the Memorial Highway, picked up one of our vans, drove back up and loaded all 11 of our group for the descent. It was the safe thing to do. We could have waited out the storm, but since it was fall and the days were shorter, there was no telling how long that would take. We did not all have raingear and none of us had flashlights. We learned a little bit about better preparation on this one. And the brakes on my van never recovered from trying to prevent a minivan with 11 hikers and all their gear from hurtling at a faster than acceptable speed down the winding Highway. The smell of burning brake pads is forever in my memory.
The sum total of this day was a 5.2 mile ascent up the 5th higheast Peak. Whiteface is 4,867 feet in elevation and the northernmost High Peak in the Adirondack Park. The story of its naming is that the exposed rock on the north and east sides looks like a large white face and so it was called by early Native Americans.
The downfall of this day is that the weather prevented even a serious consideration of adding Esther to our total so we will be back again just to hike her herd path.
On the plus side, we could see Lake Placid in the distance, just before the rains came.
*DISCLAIMER - I've since learned this hike does not count toward my goal since we did not go both up AND DOWN the mountain on foot. So, I guess another hike up Whiteface is in my future...