Phase two of our day's outing was the hike from Whiteface's summit to Esther's summit. This also wasn't going to be too difficult; we'd retrace our path down the lovely north ridge trail to the intersection with the auto road; then we'd continue down on the Wilmington Trail, which would lead us across the saddle between Whiteface and Esther to the junction with an "unmaintained" herd path to Esther.
So, off we went, down the ridge to the north.
Back down the North Ridge
We encountered a lone snowshoe-less hiker on the way down the ridge. We stopped and chatted briefly, quickly continuing on (his dog seemed a bit nervous and defensive around us). He had come up on the Wilmington Trail, and said that it was well broken out.
Pleasant and easy descent
Our next destination - Esther
Reaching the upper switchback on the auto road, we descended down along the Wilmington trail, under the big wall holding up the outer part of the hairpin, and into the forest. The path was indeed well broken out, and the going was easy. We soon heard a growing hissin sound, and presently came to a short side path. The side path led immediately onto one of the new ski runs on this flank of Whiteface. The hiss was coming from a snowmaking machine just a few feet beyond.
Although the ski facilities do not impinge on the Wilmington Trail at this point -- coming to within a few feet but not reaching the trail -- a few hundred feet farther along a new ski run does cut across the trail. It seems a bit strange that the only way to access the top of that run is via some backcountry through-the-forest uphill skiing. Perhaps that has been deliberately set up as a more rugged backcountry route, or perhaps the development of this area with regards to downhill skiing is not complete.
The crossing of the run was the last we saw of downhill ski developments. We continued along the easy (and mostly flat) trail, eventually rising slightly to meet a signed junction with the "unmaintained herdpath" to Esther. A sign at the start of your herdpath probably means that at some point your herdpath will be a real trail (at least that's what I think).
Whiteface through the trees
Apart from one piece of blowdown near the start of the herdpath route, the hike to Esther was as easy and in as good shape as the Wilmington Trail itself: well-tracked, free of debris, and extremely obvious to follow.
Even though it is entirely in the trees, the herdpath to Esther has a few nice lookouts here and there - sometimes through thin areas of trees that provide views back to Whiteface's summit, and sometimes looking back over the treetops at the top of small rises, giving nice but distant views of the high peaks.
Harold and distant high peaks
Harold arrives atop Esther