Earlier in the year, I had ascended Whiteface from the west, but my previous attempt from the east was unsuccessful to say the least. Deep, unconsolidated snow on the flanks of Marble Mtn. slowed my progress to a standstill. I calculated that at my “pace”, it would have taken something like 170 hours to summit. So I found a relatively flat spot, set up camp, and walked back to the trailhead the next day. Pathetic. I was determined to ascend Whiteface from this direction. In addition, I needed to climb Mt. Esther for "46er" recognition.
My wife and mother-in-law dropped me off at the Reservoir trailhead at 9pm Friday. The plan was to ascend Marble Mountain, and set up camp somewhere around Lookout Mountain. The following day, I would summit Mts. Whiteface and Esther, and meet my wife back at the trailhead. The forecast for the valley looked nice (sunny and 50 degrees), but I knew conditions would be much different at elevation.
On my way up Marble Mtn., I cleared the trail of the "nuisance" branches that had fallen during the recent windstorm. Overall, the trail was in better shape than I anticipated. About halfway up Marble, I was greeted by a bear on the west side of the trail. It kept down-slope and in front of me, just out of eyesight, up to the Marble summit. Not being able to see it made me uneasy at times, especially when I’d hear a large branch break beneath its weight. Likewise, it was probably wondering why a human was following it up this mountain.
Just above the Marble summit, patches of snow appeared. By the time I reached the old Toboggan Shelter, there were a couple inches on the ground and it was snowing steadily. For the fun of it, I decided I’d spend the night inside the Toboggan Shelter, which was nothing more than a 3’x3’x7’ (1x1x2m) box once used to store toboggans for the former Marble Mountain Ski Area. While I unpacked my gear, I noticed that I had lost one of my brand-new hiking poles. I was too lazy to hang a bear bag, and figured the bears wouldn’t come up to this elevation anyway. So I stored my food at the entrance of the shelter.
The shelter was a little cramped, but nice none-the-less. Just as I began falling asleep, I heard a loud grunt. Bear! I waited for another noise, but there was no sound except for the snow falling on the roof of the shelter. I drifted off to sleep, but another grunt awoke me. Or was it two, or three? Where there multiple bears outside? I wasn’t about to leave the sanctuary of the shelter to find out. I figured I’d lose my food tonight, but hoped the small opening to the shelter was too small for a bear to climb into the shelter with me. Once again I fell asleep, and once again I was awakened by a grunt. However, this time I had a good laugh at my own expense. I realized that as I drifted off to sleep, I began to snore. The shelter was so small, it amplified the snore to the point I was sure 12 angry bears had surrounded me. I slept easily the remainder of the night.
The following morning, I hit the trail at 9am. The trail was unbroken, and as I ascended, the snow depth gradually increased from about 4 inches to about 2 feet. Once on the summit ridge, I only had about 100 feet of visibility. Nearing the Whiteface summit, I was greeted by howling wind and blowing snow that created a whiteout. I kept ascending, know I had to be close to the summit. Then, all of a sudden, I saw the main summit building about 5 feet in front of me. I had nearly walked into the building, which would have been quite embarrassing!
Atop the summit, I found a sheltered spot on the east side of the buildings and quickly ate lunch. I wasn’t enjoying myself in these conditions, so I decided a quick departure was in order. Heading back around the buildings, I was greeted by one of the most magnificent sights I've ever seen. The clouds had lifted on the west side of the summit, the sun was reflecting off the storm clouds between the summit and Lake Placid below , and wisps of snow were drifting up the mountain.
On the way down, the skies continued to brighten, and I had magnificent views of storm clouds on my level over the sunny valley below in full autumn colors. I went through two rolls of film in about 20 minutes. At the junction with the Toll Road, I could see Mt. Esther , which was my next destination.
I backtracked to the junction with the Esther herdpath, which was located near my campsite. I immediately climbed up Mt. Lookout, and descended into the Lookout/Esther col. I had heard horror stories about this herdpath, but although I was breaking trail through approximately one foot of snow, I found it to be quite enjoyable. I was soon on the summit, from which I had nice views of the Whiteface summit ridge I had just ascended.
The descent of Esther and Lookout was relatively uneventful, but the snow on the trees made it beautiful. As I descended, I kept getting warmer and stripping layers of clothing. By the time I reached the base of Marble Mtn., I was hiking in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. Although I had been looking for my lost pole on the way down, I didn’t see it. I thought that karma has mistreated me… after all, I lost the pole because I had cleared the trail of blowdown. Then, approximately one-quarter mile from the trailhead, I found the pole snagged on one of the branches I had cleared! Karma comes through once again.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe