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A slightly different route to the top of Esther

January 10, 2020
By SPENCER MORRISSEY - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

There's nothing like fresh snow for bushwhacking. I had been eyeballing this route for quite some time, and the blue skies accompanied by the fresh white snow was all the convincing I needed to lure some poor soul into joining me. Of course, I may have sugar coated the day a little just to push that particular someone over the fence.

Starting from the ASRC trailhead parking, we followed the trail to the base of Marble Mountain; here there is an antenna and a building on the right, and an old road heading back to another building. This second building is on the shore of White Brook, where the true adventure began.

We crossed the brook and hit the open woods. The forest was fairly welcoming, with mostly hardwoods making for very deep snow but lovely walking. Small saplings and a bit of dead fall slowed the pace here and there, but we actually moved along pretty well. Then we crossed the brook again onto the steeper slopes.

Article Photos

Dense, deep snow slows the pace near the summit of Esther Mountain.
Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey

We eventually came across a well-defined game trail, stomped down to hard-packed conditions. We followed it for as long as we could. I would say it lasted a good half-mile as it meandered around on the steeper mountainside.

The side-hill hiking got very old and tough on my ankles, so we opted to descend a bit to flatter terrain. In due course, we made our way back down to White Brook for a short period of time. As we walked along the brook, we scoped out the opposite side and opted to hop back across it one more time to advance through more open terrain. While along this side of the brook we could see a striking open slope to our right that would surely gain us some stellar views, my mind insisted.

It was slow going as we pushed ourselves along and up the incredibly steep slope. We slogged through 12 to 16 inches of fresh powder and eventually out onto the open grade where it was a bit more windswept and easy to climb.

The sight was fantastic and they kept getting better as we climbed. From the ridge, we had to swim through the trees a bit to the base of what looked to be a very impressive cliff in the distance. In my lush for adventure, we aimed right for it.

It was impressive, and would surely be tough to climb. We attempted the first spot we came to, but the rock was too slab-like and we couldn't get any purchase with the ice beneath.

We traversed the face of the cliff to the left, and tried a couple more spots to no benefit.

As Corenne moved down the cliff face, I kept trying to climb. Off in the distance, I could hear an echo of commotion.

Come to find out Corenne had failed multiple times to get up one section and kept sliding back down; each time farther than the last, and with more frustration a few choice verbs and nouns floated in the air.

I scrambled up with a bit of trouble, and then helped Corenne find a better spot slightly farther down near the trees. We finally got to the top.

Both now exhausted, we were unsure how we would continue in such conditions. This cliff top was constructed of a couple smaller shelves above with mind-blowing views, and much easier to bite off and chew.

Unfortunately it was getting late and we were exhausted. Would we summit by dark?

If so, it would be a long hike out with headlamps, and we just weren't looking forward to that chapter. The forest was starting to get very dense with spruce and fir growth at this point and the trees covered in fresh snow were making a snow fence. It was going to take us a good hour or more to go the remaining third- to half-mile, we estimated.

We went against our better judgment, and trudged on. We were prepared for the worst and our confidence level was high. We weren't wet or cold. We were energized from sugary treats and protein snacks. We were hydrated and now ready to put our head down and push.

The views were much less past this point, and we managed to find seams in the trees where the going was friendlier. It took us a bit less time than expected, only 45 minutes to clear the remaining distance.

We summited to no views as the clouds were too low to allow for any, but it was a successful summit.

The descent down to the trailhead was a quick one, but we did need headlamps for the final 2.5 miles or so back to the car. We found it fortunate that someone had summited earlier that day. We were able to follow their tracks and not have to break trail anymore, and just hike without really thinking.

It was a great adventure, not one that I think I would attempt with much more snow or ever again in winter for that matter. At the very least, not without a half dozen others to help break trail. However, it was a very cool way to summit Esther, and one for which I am sure doesn't get attempted very often.



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