We were with our good friend Harold (primarily a friend of Brian's, but transitively a friend to us through him) when he finished his Adirondack 46 in the Dixes in October of 2010
. But, as we all know, that is often not the end of such things. Harold has now gotten it into his head to complete his winter 46, and has been pretty religiously tackling the remaining peaks he needs to satisfy that goal. Brian has been accompanying him (ostensibly for the purposes of fitness and companionship, but who knows...), and, occasionally, we join them as well.
Such was the case for today's outing: a double-climb of Whiteface and Esther peaks -- the two most northerly of the Adirondack 4000-footers. Brian and Harold had originally planned to start at the lower end of the Wilmington Trail, and do a there-and-back from there. I'd suggested a perhaps more interesting and easier route: a loop, starting at the Whiteface Auto Road toll gate, that utilized the auto road and a bushwhack route on Esther. The overall distance was shorter by a few kilometres; the elevation gain and loss was substantially less; and, finally, loops are generally better than there-and-backs. These arguments were enough to convince them to agree.
We met on a fairly chilly (-20C/-4F) winter January morning at 7am at the Toll road's gatehouse (Harold and Brian had already spent the previous day in the area, climbing another two 4000-footers - Street and Nye). We quickly suited-up and started along up the auto road. A bit of brisk walking would warm us up.
We had originally conceived of doing the loop in a clockwise direction. That is, ascending the bushwhack route directly up to the top of Esther, then following the herdpaths and trails over to Whiteface, and then back down the auto road. Jenn voiced her preference for the opposite (ascending the road first and doing the bushwhack on the way down). A bit of democratic debate switched the order: we would ascend via the road, do Whiteface first, then Esther, then bushwhack down.
Walking up the auto road was easy and straightforward. There was only an inch or two of snow covering the road, and we opted to bare-boot it. We passed several pretty curtains of ice and observed the early morning sun shining on the landscape off to the north.
Things grew frostier and the trees more laden with snow as we ascended at a very respectable pace, and soon we saw the tower-topped summit of Whiteface far above us. At this rate, we would be at the summit before 10am.
The combination of fresh snow on the trees and the particular nature of the light on this calm, cold morning made for a very classicly beautiful winter scene, especially as we approached the first, lower switchback on the auto road.
The increasing altitude brought increasing snow depth, and by the time we reached the switchback, it was time to don our snowshoes.
The lower switchback on the auto road is also a place with excellent views in many directions, including our first look south to Lake Placid and the central high peaks beyond.