Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Summiting Esther

Esther was the the target, the peak I had selected before driving up north, the peak I had obsessed about on the couch at home, poring over the trail guide, caressing the topo, and quizzing my Dad, who had climbed the same route a few year back with SM. After dropping the kittens off with the folks, we finally hit the road later than planned, and went straight to the campground instead of stopping for supplies first. So after the tents were set up, and the mattress inflated, we headed back into town. We grabbed slices of pizza that we ate while shivering in the mountain mist, then headed to the grocery for breakfast and trail food. I wanted no distractions in the morning: I wanted to hit the trail first thing.

Morning came sunny and bright, and we snarfed our cold camp breakfasts, loaded up the day packs, and headed out down the bumpy road. We were camped at South Meadow, a primitive site in the heart of the High Peaks, but Esther is 10 miles north or so, up by Whiteface. We parked at the ASRC, on the right side of the exit drive, as instructed in the book. Esther is officially "trailless," which simply means the trails aren't maintained, but aside from some initial confusion, the way was fairly clear. A small foot path started right by the where we'd parked, with a plastic coated sheet of printer paper tacked to a tree announcing that this wasn't the red trail.

Not to be deterred, we followed the non-red trail and it led us where we wanted to go, to the old t-bar lift trail up Marble Mountain. Reading this section of the trail guide, I had imagined something much different, something open and grassy. The path looked much like any other mountain trail, wooded and narrow and rocky and steep. The only thing that revealed it as our old ski slope was occasional blocks of concrete that must have supported the poles. After about a mile of this with nary a peek of a view, we crested Marble Mountain. The guide book did not prepare us for the majesty of this waypoint.

View from Marble Mountain

We stopped to soak in the vistas and shoot exposure after exposure of sheer glory. I had a snack of some cherry tomatoes and consulted my beloved maps before we moved on to join the real red trail. A brand new shiny sign had been installed at the junction of the herd path and the red trail, so new that loose sand from the post-hole diggers was still evident sprinkled over the leaf litter. The red trail is marked and maintained, and moved upward in a steady ascent through the birches and into the balsam. How I love the smell of balsam in the sun!

Mount Esther, from Lookout Mountain

After rising to the plateau of Lookout Mountain, and being teased with more views through the stunted balsams, another new sign pointed our way onto the herd path to Esther. The last mile or so was a very nice hike, with little vertical gain remaining. We had the summit entirely to ourselves, and reveled in that, removing our wicking shirts and hiking boots, draping the sweaty socks and tees to dry in the sun. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.

We ate our trail lunches, admired the summit marker, and shot dozens more photos, before conceding that it was time to pack up and out. Descent was uneventful, which is always good. In an entire day of hiking, we saw just two other humans, and the weather was spectacular. It was a perfect day for climbing, and a perfect climb.

Esther - Elevation: 4240 feet, Order of Height: 28, Order of Ascension: 9.


jo(e) said...

Oh, this makes me want to head to the mountains!

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

You chose a good time to do it! What I remember most about Esther was the worst black flies of my entire life, even at the summit. I can hardly remember a good thing about it except rushing to get off as fast as possible.

Glad it was good for you!

Nadine said...

What a delightful description. I'm glad you had a good time.