A Strenuous Ascent to the Summit of Whiteface & Esther Mountains

June 30, 2023 Adventure

Pursuing the ADK46 offers a unique set of challenges and rewards. Interestingly, these challenges and rewards often mirror each other. These mountains truly test both the body and the mind. Even though their elevation might not seem particularly high compared to the mountains out west, they nonetheless pose considerable challenges. The Adirondacks are exceptionally rugged, marked by steep pitches, muddy trails, and boulder-filled inclines. Introduce wet conditions to this mix, and these trails can quickly become treacherous. I was reminded of the challenging nature of the Adirondacks this week while attempting to summit Esther and Whiteface Mountains from the Marble Mountain Trailhead in Wilmington, NY.

My first attempt at the summits was curtailed when inclement weather interrupted my hike. Due to the conditions, I decided to turn around at the massive cairn located at the junction for the trails leading to the summits of Esther and Whiteface Mountains. This decision was immensely frustrating, especially considering the substantial effort required to reach this point in the hike. Arriving at this juncture, two miles into the trek, necessitated a lung-busting climb of approximately 1,800 feet in elevation. The return to the starting point was precarious, due to the wet rocks and steep descent.

I returned to the trail the following day, as the weather forecast predicted drier conditions. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered the aftermath of the rain on the trail. In many places, the trail was either caked with wet mud or dotted with standing pools of water. The trail conditions, combined with the extensive fields of boulders, rapid elevation gain, and limited visibility, made this a very challenging hike.

I managed to complete my roundtrip solo hike in just over 6 hours. This was a major psychological boost, especially considering I had to turn back the previous day without completing my objective. I learned two immediate lessons from this experience. Firstly, if conditions seem unsafe, don’t hesitate to abort your mission. On my second attempt at the mountains, I encountered the intense climb, and in many places a scramble above the treeline, to reach the summit of Whiteface Mountain. With wind and limited visibility, it proved to be a real challenge. I cannot imagine tackling that climb in the rain, which would have been the case if I had continued my initial attempt the day before.

Secondly, while one should feel comfortable setting objectives and strategizing how to achieve them, one must also realize that the mountains create their own weather patterns, and plans can be impacted with little advance warning. Therefore, flexibility and adaptation are paramount. Being too rigid can be detrimental.

I’ve now completed 6 of 46 high peaks. Thus, I’m one-eighth of the way towards completing my objective of becoming an ADK46’r. Although this objective will take time to complete, I also eagerly anticipate spending much more time in the Adirondacks. There is so much more to explore!

Data from my hike to the summits of Esther and Whiteface Mountains.