August 31, 2007

Esther

Esther 
4,240 feet  |  ranked 28/46 in height  |  9th peak climbed

Esther was the the target: the peak I had selected before driving up north; the peak I had obsessed about on the couch at home, poring over the trail guide, caressing the topo, and quizzing my Dad, who had climbed the same route a few year back with my stepmom.  Par usuale, Erwin and I started the long drive north later than planned, so with the holiday weekend looming, we went straight to the South Meadow to set up camp instead of stopping for supplies en route. After the tents* were set up and the mattress inflated, we headed back into town. We grabbed slices of pizza that we ate while shivering in the mist, then headed to the grocery for breakfast and trail food. I wanted no distractions in the morning: I wanted to hit the trail first thing.

*Car camping = bulky comfort
Morning came sunny and bright, and we snarfed our cold breakfasts, loaded up the day packs, and headed out down the bumpy road. We parked at the ASRC, on the right side of the exit drive, as instructed in the guide. Esther is officially "trailless," which simply means the trails aren't as actively/officially maintained, but aside from some initial confusion, the way was clear. A herd path was marked by an unofficial announcement tacked to a tree declaring that this was not the red trail.

We followed the non-red trail and it led us where we wanted to go, to the old t-bar lift trail up Marble Mountain. Reading this section of the trail guide, I had imagined something much different, something open and grassy. The path looked much like any other mountain trail: wooded, rocky, steep, eroded. The only thing that revealed it as our old ski slope was occasional blocks of concrete that must have supported the poles.

After about a mile of cruelly consistent grade without even a tease of a view, we emerged from the green tunnel and crested Marble Mountain. The guide book did not prepare us for the majesty of this waypoint.  We stopped to soak in the vistas and shoot exposure after exposure of sheer glory. I had a snack of some cherry tomatoes and consulted my beloved maps before we moved on to join the real red trail.

View from Marble Mountain
 A brand sparkling sign had recently been installed at the junction of the herd path and the red trail, so shiny and new that loose sand from the post-hole diggers was still evident sprinkled over the leaf litter. The red trail is marked and maintained, and moved upward in a steady ascent through the birches and into the balsam. How I love the smell of balsam in the sun!

Esther from Lookout Mountain
A bit of Sphagnum

After rising to the plateau of Lookout Mountain, and being teased with more views through the stunted balsams, another new sign marked the junction with the herd path to Esther. The last mile or so was practically a stroll, with little vertical gain remaining. We had the summit entirely to ourselves, and reveled in that.  We ate our trail lunches, admired the summit marker, and shot dozens more photos, before conceding that it was time to pack up and out. Descent was uneventful, which is always good. In an entire day of hiking, we saw just two other humans, and the weather was spectacular. It was a perfect day.

Summit disk
For the sheer joy of climbing

Sea of balsam
Abies balsamea

View of Whiteface from Esther summit