SEP 2015 - HIKING
An Incomparable View
By Dave Kraus
In your dream you are standing on top of the world.
You look out, around, and down, and all the lands of the earth are spread out before you. The peaks and valleys are spangled in all the colors of the season – green, red, yellow, orange, and everything in between. You could enjoy this view forever, and it all belongs to you.
“Hey Dave, how long do you want to stay up here?”
The shouted question drags you back to reality, way too soon, and you’re with a few friends on the bare summit of Noonmark Mountain, near Keene Valley. It’s a crisp, bright autumn afternoon, and you have timed the day just right in the foliage season. The midday sun lights up the Great Range spread out before you as you look west from the summit.
The air is so clear today it almost looks as if you could reach out and touch the closest ridge with Lower and Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong and Gothics. Look down and the buildings of the Ausable Club are tiny boxes in the valley. Farther off are Haystack and Marcy, and off to your left are Dix and Nippletop to the south. Turn right to look north and you can see Keene Valley in the distance.
Turn around, walk a bit, and find a vantage point to see Giant and Rocky Peak. At 3,556 feet, Noonmark is not even one of the Adirondack 46, but its location and easy accessibility make it one of the best spots for a day hike to see the fall colors of the North Country in all their glory if you pick just the right day to go.
According to Adirondack Mountain Club’s “High Peaks Trails” hiking guidebook, “the prominent, pointed peak of Noonmark lies almost directly south of Keene Valley and therefore ‘marks noon’ when the sun is directly over the summit.”
For this route, start your journey at the trailhead on NY Route 73, accessible via Exit 30 of the Northway, just south of St. Hubert’s, and about a mile before Chapel Pond. On a good fall hiking day you will have no trouble finding the trailhead with its parked cars, but if too many others have beaten you to the start, there’s a parking lot just north of the trailhead. Don’t forget to sign in, just up the hill from the road, and stop for a moment to read the wide selection of visitors this peak attracts from both the US and Canada.
It is 0.6 miles southward from the start to your first landmark at Round Pond, with the trail climbing steadily through the trees backlit by the fall sun. This route is a 6.7-mile round trip and climbs just under 2,000 feet to reach the summit. Start your hike in late morning, allow at least an hour – or two – on the summit, and you will get a whole different beautiful view of the changing colors as you descend in the late afternoon sun.
Crest a small rise and come to Round Pond, then take a right to stay on the trail, and see the lake through the trees as you skirt the west shoreline. This route is longer than the alternate summit route that starts at the Ausable Club, but this ramble includes beautiful Round Pond with its cloak of maples, birches, and other deciduous trees showing off their colors reflected in the water.
After you leave Round Pond, it’s a 1.7-mile walk through the forest as you go gently up and over the shoulder of Round Mountain, then back down to the trail intersection with the Dix Trail that comes in from the Ausable Club down the valley to your right. This is the spot to pause and get some water and maybe have an energy bar, because across the stream the orange trail markers take you directly up Noonmark for the next mile, before you reach the top.
You’ve got some work ahead of you. The trail is steep in spots, and there are scrambles over bare rock where a hiking staff or trekking pole, or a friend to reach down a hand to help will come in handy. But as you get higher, there are also open spots where you can pause and enjoy the view to the southeast, where you can glimpse Giant and other more distant peaks.
You won’t see a lot of the summit of Noonmark through the trees above you until a last rock scramble puts you on the bare peak, and then all the work becomes worth it. Stand on the (hopefully) sunny, bare, and expansive summit – and enjoy the view!
To your left on the southwest is Dix, with the bare rock of its slides shining in the sun. As you shift your gaze to the right, there are Dial and Nippletop, and then the Great Range, with the ridge of the Wolfjaws in front, Marcy and others behind, and Whiteface visible in the far distance as you continue shifting to the right. If it’s a nice weekend day you will not be alone. But the bare rock summit has plenty of room for everyone. Just be careful of the steep drop-off in front of you as you enjoy the view to the south and west. It’s a long way down.
Behind you, trees block the view to the northeast, but wander to your left a ways, and the outcrops let you get a fairly good view. Take your time. You’ve done all this work to get up here and you deserve to enjoy the reward and get plenty of photos.
When you finally decide to head back down, just return the way you came. If you’ve timed your afternoon just right and chosen the right weekend with foliage at peak, you will come to Round Pond just before the sun sinks below the mountain, putting the pond into shadow. But before it does, the late afternoon rays light up the colorful trees, and the rainbow on the far shore is reflected in the quiet waters in front of you. It is well worth pausing for a while to watch the scene change as the sun sinks. But don’t worry, even after the lake is in shadow, you will still have plenty of daylight to get back down the trail to Route 73 and your car.
Dave Kraus (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a longtime area cyclist, photographer and writer who will probably never become a 46er because he just keeps climbing Noonmark. Visit his website at krausgrafik.com.