More perfect late fall weather dictated another sunset hike - even though we had just done one six days prior on the summit of Ampersand
. Today I chose Noonmark, primarily because I had never done a sunset hike on Noonmark and it promised some excellent and novel views in that context.
Once again, just like last week, we had a big invite list that got whittled down, and once again, we ended up with just myself, Caroline and Brian.
The distance to Noonmark's summit from the parking lot is slightly shorter than for Ampersand (3.6km versus 4.2km), but has more elevation gain and is steeper. Given that the the shorter distance and the steeper climb kind of balanced each other out, we once again arrived at the trailhead around 1:30pm. Today sunset in this location was ten minutes earlier than on Ampersand last week (so 4:20pm instead of 4:30pm). So, as long as we started a little before 2pm, we were once again in good position for a leisurely climb to the summit.
It was noticeably milder than last week, when it had felt distinctly wintry. Today things felt mild. The light breeze at the parking lot had a springlike quality to it. There was no way snowshoes were going to be required today so we left those behind. We took our microspikes and, since Noonmark's ascent is steeper and a bit scrambly at times, a mountaineering ax.
Down low (1500 feet elev. or less) there was practically no snow. Just a few patches here and there. Above that point, there was a more or less continuous layer, but very thin and kind of wet.
After a few tens of minutes of hiking up, beyond the AMR Golf Course and cottages, we arrived at the start of the Stimson trail. The Stimson trail branches off and heads up to a route that climbs up the north-trending ridgeline on Noonmark. Staying straight would have led us through the pass between Noonmark and Round Mountains; that direction is often used as part of a loop over the top of either Noonmark or Round. That, however, was not for us today. We were not planning on a loop (for a number of reasons, which will become clear in the latter part of the narrative). For us, today, it was the Stimson trail - both up and down.
Turning right and heading up the Stimson Trail, the grade immediately became steeper. We had nearly 2000 feet left to climb in only about 2 kilometers of trail distance, so the trail had to start getting serious if it was going to achieve that.
The northern ridgeline route on Noonmark can get very icy. But today, early in the winter season and with a relatively small amount of precipitation and freeze/thaw cycles, ice had only formed in a few spots. There were more wettish areas than icy areas. Looking up, the leafless forest allowed us good views of surrounding peaks. Both Round Mountain and Giant Mountain were clearly visible and nicely-lit but the low-angled November sun.
Soon we had climbed up the trail to the point where it reached and then circled around the crest of Noonmark's Northern ridgeline. After surmounting a set of small ledges and easy scrambles, we arrived at the first (and very nice) lookout. This lookout looks straight north, right down the length of Keene Valley. Again, in the late November light, the shadows were very nice and accentuated the topography.
First look at Keene Valley
The remainder of our climb to the top of Noonmark is along the north ridgecrest. At first we were entirely in the forest, steep but today with good grippy footing (with microspikes, of course). A little higher, we began to arrive at the increasingly excellent lookouts that makes this particular trail so nice. First, it was the eastern lookout to Giant, where it stood out clearly against a completely clear blue sky.
After the Giant Mountain lookout, the trail angled up and over to the western edge of the ridgeline, where we got our first view of the craggy summit of Noonmark, now not all that far away. Up to this point, we had been entirely in shade; but now, high enough up and facing west, we had a clear line to the sun (which hung quite low in the sky, even though it was only 3:30pm in the afternoon).
Climbing as the sun descends
Climbing as the sun descends
The remainder of the route up from this first western-facing lookout was extremely scenic, if a little hufffy and puffy owing to the steepness. We had increasingly expansive views west to the big mountains of the Central High Peaks: Dix, the Great Range, Haystack, and Marcy itself. And the sun was looking like it was going to set in a low area between the mountains, meaning we wouldn't have our sunset cut short by a mountain that got in the way.
We were mindful of the time, wanting to ensure that we got to the summit with enough time to spare to set up to watch the sunset. So far our progress seemed sufficient: Four hundred yards away with fifty minutes to go; two hundred yards away with forty minutes to go; One hundred and fifty yards away and twenty-five minutes to go. A good trajectory to arrive well before sunset.
The sun seemed to get really low as we neared the summit - to the point where I was briefly concerned that I had miscalculated. But a quick re-check verified that we were on track to reach the summit with plenty of time. Certainly the tint of the light had distinctly changed. The rocks and trees around us now reflected a distinctly orange glow.
Keene Valley fully in shadow