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 Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16 
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 Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
A couple friends and I headed back to the Adirondacks this past weekend. We got a late start from NH, grabbed lunch in Lake Placid and eventually wound up with our spikes on the trail about 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon. The first part of our route was up an unofficial trail that use to be a ski lift years ago. It was pretty much a river of ice to start off. For the first 1/2 mile or so we spiked our way up. People coming down were falling and sliding all over the place, climbing down in the treeline, dogs were howling and everyone was generally having a tough time with the ice. Many just has Yaktrax on, and I don't mean the good kind. Must be a popular choice for traction in the Empire State. It wasn't terribly difficult to get up 99% of the way in spikes but it didn't look like much fun to go down. We had crampons and would have used them for sure, but also had a plan B and might just avoid it altogether. Fortunately after 1/2 mile or so the trail had an inch or so of fresh snow that was just enough to make footing better, and we joined an actual trail shortly after that so it was smooth, albeit relentless, climbing after that up Marble Mountain on the Wilmington Trail. From the base to the top of the ridge was a 2000 foot climb in less than two miles, which while a tough start got about half the work done early while legs were still fresh and we were still raring to go, so it could have been worse.

10 miles from Lake Placid to the farthest north of the 46ers
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Glimpse of Whiteface on the drive
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The trail was a river of ice for the first half mile or so
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If all you had was spikes, you used the trees whenever possible coming down
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After a mile or so we joined the Wilmington Trail
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Still icy but better footing with some snow above 2500 feet
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A view up to Esther
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We hit the top of the ridge where the herd path to the first of our 46ers for the day branched off right around dusk. We dropped our packs, turned on the headlamps and headed for Esther mountain. It was named for a 15 year old girl who got lost trying to hike Whiteface back in the 1800's and wound up here instead, making the first known ascent in the process. It is also one of the Adirondacks "trail-less" peaks but the herd paths to most of them are well travelled and may as well be actual trails, and this one was an easy 1.2 mile spur to the 4240 foot high wooded top of 28th highest peak in NY. A couple restricted views could be had of the lights below if you poked around and a glimpse of our next objective from the summit over the trees, but otherwise not much to see there at night in winter, so back we went under brilliantly starry skies.

Need I say more??
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Glimpse of Whiteface from Marble Mountain
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Watching the stars come out along the way
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Whiteface and Orion at dusk
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Esther's summit to prove we was here
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Back on the trail it was just one foot in front of the other for a while. Nothing to see and pretty easy climbing until we came to some of the ski trails on Whiteface. We took a little detour to the top of a nearby chairlift to look at more lights in the villages below and get a view ahead at the summit of Whiteface under the stars, which has a research lab on top and therefore a bunch of lights even though I believe it is unmanned in winter. The constellation of Orion guided us until we came to a huge stone wall, which was actually one of the last turns on the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. That's what they call the auto road up the other side of the mountain I guess. We climbed around the wall and found ourselves at what I think was a picnic or parking area in season, but for us it made a perfect sheltered spot to set up camp for the night about 1/2 mile and 500 feet below the summit.

Orion guiding our way to Whiteface
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Burlington Vermont lighting up the eastern horizon
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Hiking along the bottom of the auto road wall
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Climbing around the wall we joined the auto road
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And found a perfect spot to set up camp at 4400 feet
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Home Sweet Home, at least for the night
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Once the housekeeping was done we decided to walk up the auto road to warm up a bit since temps had dipped to single digits. We only climbed up a few hundred feet but the road was wide open on the side so we got more view of the light pollution from Montreal which lit up the horizon with an interesting orange glow. The building at the top of the road looks like a castle and was covered in rime which made for an interesting, almost haunted looking sight. We climbed the stairs just high enough to see the lights of Lake Placid on the other side of the mountain before retreating a half mile back to our tent for a quick dinner and bed.

We had the mountain to ourselves and wandered up the road to the castle to warm up
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Walking up the auto road gave us views ahead to the summit
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The observatory on top and the brightest star in the sky Sirius a.k.a. the Dog Star (I think)
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Montreal and some serious light pollution to the north
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Rime covered castle at the end of the road
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Lake Placid to the south
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Looking up at the summit from the castle
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Back at camp for dinner
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My version of a pepperoni pizza :D
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We got up early hoping to catch sunrise but stepped out of the tent into a cloud bank. :( No sunrise for us today, so we put on crampons and headed back to the trail for the final 1/2 mile of climbing. A spectacular mostly open hike up an arĂȘte was wasted in the clouds and finally the atmospheric research center came into view at the top of the 5th highest summit in the Adirondacks. The top is all open rock with some walkways and porches going around the building. We poked around killing time, hoping the brightening skies meant clearing clouds but after about 30 minutes gave up and headed for the famous stone stairway down the other side to the auto road. It is made mostly of ledge and rock and descends 250 feet along the top of the south facing summit cliffs. It was pretty spectacular but very icy, and even with the railings and cables we were happy to have the crampons and not just spikes on, although with care you could have made it with either I'd guess thanks to the railings.

Breakfast. Neither freeze solid at 4 degrees if you were wondering
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Chopping a few steps in the ice flo
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Headed up the last 1/2 mile & 500 feet to the top
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Views of nothing :(
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Climbing the arete to the top
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The Atmospheric Research Observatory signalling our arrival on top
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5th highest summit in the Daks
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We was here
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But we had nothing to look at
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To kill some time we poked around the observatory
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But eventually decided it was time to head down the other side on the summit "stairway"
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Bottom of the stairway, 250 feet lower
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At the bottom we started the roadwalk to base camp but got distracted by a trap door that covered the enterence to the hallway that is drilled into the mountain to get to the elevator shaft if you drive up and stairs aren't your thing, but it was flooded and semi frozen when we looked in so we couldn't get into the heart of the mountain itself and we turned back, emerging from the inside of the darkness to clearing skies! Well, what is one to do then??? We turned back and reclimbed the stairway to the summit of course while an undercast developed all around us! :DBack on top we watched the clouds swirl around, apparently around the 4500 foot mark as only the highest summits of the Great Range poked out in the distance. We spent another half hour up there hoping it would clear more but instead clouds moved back in on us, and when it's 4 degrees out you can only be idle for so long and we decided to head down again, taking the trail this time back to the tent.

Headed down the cloudy auto road
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Distracted by this tunnel that goes hundreds of feet into the mountain to an elevator
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But it was flooded out not far in
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Emerging to a developing undercast there is only one thing to do...
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...go back up! :D
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Back at the Castle. Third try is a charm right??
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Finally some blue sky!
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Back up we go
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Up above the clouds!! :D :D :D
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Sunny up ahead
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A few of the higher peaks starting to poke out
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Back on top
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Taking a look around
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Just a few peaks in the great range poked through
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Looking over Mt. Esther and the auto road
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Can you get a better view of nothing?! :D
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Possible Mt. Marcy sighting
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Here come the clouds again :(
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The trail follows the snowy ridge down
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One last look as the summit goes bye-bye
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We made quick work of packing up and executed plan B, which was to walk down the auto road since the trails up were rather boring, and hoped things would clear up again and give us more views. And once again the hiking gods smiled on us and the skies did clear, this time for good, so we hiked down the 4.5 mile auto road under bright blue skies with views around every bend. It's not often our plans work out almost exactly as we hope, but this one went nearly perfect other than the cloudy start to the day and lack of a sunrise. At the bottom near the toll house we removed traction and made the mile long road walk back to the car on blacktop in 35 degree sunshine. From there it was a simple matter of grabbing more of the best burgers in Vermont (that makes twice this week for me 8) ) and heading home. Another successful peakbagging trip in the books. It got two of us up to 19 on the 46ers list and 88 on the NE111 list. It's hard to figure mileage out but google earth put it around 14.5 total. Elevation gain was about 4200 feet all together. Another great hike in the Daks and as usual they leave me wanting more. With the general lack of snow, warm weather and longer days arriving we hope to be back sooner rather than later for some spring hiking and continue to chip away at our lists.

Headed down the auto road with Esther in the clouds
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The first two miles were covered with an inch or two of ice
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Testing how far you could slide
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Castle In The Clouds NY style!
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Lake Placid
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Clearing again to give us the views we hoped for as we strolled down
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Last look back at the castle
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Best road walk ever
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The old gate house at the bottom
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Then just a mile of blacktop and sunshine
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Whiteface, Marble and Esther on the ride out of town
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Can't go past here without grabbing lunch!
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Mon Mar 07, 2016 9:58 pm
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
Those night pics are out of this world, man... Makes me want to hit up Whiteface even more! (Besides being a 46er, it's one of 10 peaks in the Northeast with over 3,000 ft. of prominence. The other one of the 10 I haven't done is Slide Mountain.) After seeing this TR, I might actually do it as a night hike :mrgreen: .

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Mon Mar 07, 2016 10:41 pm
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
I had no idea it was one of the top ten most prominent. Makes sense as it sits well to the north of the rest of the high peaks. After looking at the list all I need is Equinox to round out the top ten. Hmmm...

As far as night hike, well, I'd highly reccomend it! :D Most of the Adirondacks restrict camping to designated sites or below 3500 feet. Whiteface is unique in that it does not (but I hear there is a movement to change that) so you could sleep right on top if you wanted to. Some people do it for weeks at a time to prepare for bigger cold weather hikes.


Tue Mar 08, 2016 7:18 am
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
Good on you guys for toughing it out in the cloudy conditions. It paid off big time. That little ridge walk with the stairs looked sketchy as heck with all that ice. That trap door is kind of funny really. I wonder if you are really allowed to go in there. I didn't see a "keep out" sign so I suppose they aren't worried about it. Where does it go? An elevator shaft?


Tue Mar 08, 2016 7:38 am
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
That little trap door goes to the hallway they drilled 500 feet into the mountain to an elevator shaft, which goes up to the summit if you can't do the stairs. As you noted, no keep out signs in sight, so we didn't! :D Unfortunately 20 feet in there was 2 feet of water and the ice wasn't thick enough to walk on so we couldn't get to the end. You can kind of see what's behind the curtain down farther in this shot.

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Tue Mar 08, 2016 8:38 am
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
Looks like a good trip and spectacular pictures. I was wondering what type of lense (or lenses) you use in most of those shots?Being recently retired and a lot of time on my hands I want to experiment more with the Canon T3 that's been in the closet for 2 years.


Tue Mar 08, 2016 12:11 pm
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
Welcome to the forum Shirehiker. I'm pretty sure I used the Canon 15 - 85 for all of these and use it for 90% of the pictures I take. It is a great lense and covers most of my needs for pictures on the trails. I carried their 10 - 18 and 55 - 250 also but don't believe any of the pics I took with them are in the report. Camera was the Canon T2i, which has performed well since my 60D took a drink of my Powerade last fall. :( When you do dust it off share some reports and pics with the group if you have time. Since you're retired now you should! :D


Tue Mar 08, 2016 1:53 pm
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
Glad to see you did get those great views and that undercast. Night photos were the best! I can't believe the lights from Montreal. Prema notice the guy in the "tree holding" photo right away. The one on his back with his arms stretched out! I could not believe all that ice!


Tue Mar 08, 2016 7:21 pm
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 Re: Esther & Whiteface in the Daks - 3/5 & 3/6/16
Apparently they have had a lot of ice this year in particular from the trip reports I've seen. I know we had two planned trips there get rained out, and I think they get more than the Whites in general but can't say for sure. The other winter hikes I've done there have had plenty of snow other than Giant Mountain last January. That lady inthe pic dropped her pole and it came at me like a harpoon. On slopes like that look out below for falling people and gear! :shock:


Tue Mar 08, 2016 9:41 pm
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