When I volunteered to write a blog post about “badass” Whiteface Region women, I was a little worried I might offend someone by asking them to be a part of my blog. After all, badass can and does have some negative connotations. So I decided to actually look up the definition of “badass."
Here’s what Google’s definition is:
bad·ass: noun 1. a tough, uncompromising, or intimidating person.
"one of them is a real badass, the other's pretty friendly"
adjective 1. tough, uncompromising, or intimidating.
"a badass demeanor”
And then I decided to write about someone in history. That way I wouldn't offend anyone by asking them to be part of my "badass" blog if they didn't really consider themselves to be a "badass."
There have been many amazing women connected to Whiteface Mountain’s history through the years. Many who fit the definition of "badass!" One such young lady is purported to have been the first woman to ever climb Esther Mountain “for pleasure.” She was definitely tough and uncompromising, even at the young age of 15. The legend of Esther McComb has been passed down through the ages. Neither she nor her actual existence have been absolutely verified, but hey, I like to believe it.
Esther Mountain is the 28th highest Adirondack Peak at 4,270 feet. It is somewhat connected to Whiteface by a ridge known as Lookout Mountain. It is a rugged and challenging climb to its summit. I have heard some people refer to Esther as Little Whiteface, but from my observation of the topographical map below, it is not Little Whiteface at all, but another peak altogether, located on the opposite side of Whiteface from Little Whiteface. In the early days no one really climbed for pleasure or recreation. The early hikers were surveyors or geologists at work. Esther is actually still a rugged and challenging climb, as there is no marked trail. A much traveled herd path is now the easiest way to complete a climb of Esther, but it’s still a challenge.
In the early 1800s Wilmington’s economy centered around iron mining and processing. Of course, farmers existed out of necessity. At the time, a small farm lay at the base of Whiteface Mountain between Wilmington and Franklin Falls. It is here that Esther McComb supposedly resided as a child. Esther was an adventurer, however in the 1800s women were not “supposed” to be adventurers.
At 15-years-old, Esther spent many days dreaming of standing on the top of Whiteface, the spectacular peak that towered over her daily existence. Her mother, however, frowned on Esther’s adventurous, tom-boyish desire to be in the outdoors and hiking. Women were supposed to be learning about housekeeping and domestic chores including sewing and all the responsibilities of a woman of the 1800s. Esther had other ideas.
As legend has it, one day Esther couldn’t stand it any longer and set out to climb Whiteface. Little did she know what lay ahead of her in her quest. Following a brook, she climbed and climbed. As she neared the summit the brook disappeared and she found herself surrounded by alpine scrub pine. As any mountain climber knows, alpine scrub pine is a twisted and tangled mess that anyone would find daunting. It didn’t deter Esther. She finally summited Whiteface! But wait - as she turned to look around at the beautiful view she couldn’t believe what loomed above her. Mistakenly, she had ended up on Esther and not Whiteface at all!
Not deterred, Esther continued on in her attempt to summit Whiteface. As night descended she became turned around and could neither find the summit nor could she find her way down. She was forced to spend the night on the mountain, eventually finding her way out the next day, never having reached the summit of her dreams at all. She obviously must have been bitterly disappointed. Certainly her mother wasn’t happy with her that day!
The mountain was eventually named Esther in honor of its very first pleasure climber, Esther McComb, who also had the distinction of being the very first woman to ascend one of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks and for pleasure at that. This, in my book, is one badass young lady!
Plan a hike up Esther and/or Whiteface one day soon, or one of the other hikes in the Whiteface Region - there are many! Fall is the best time for climbing. It's cooler and there aren't many bugs to bug you.