For about a year now, I've been having periodic dicussions with my new work colleague Veetil. He'd essentially never hiked before, and he seemed interested in my tales about mountain hikes, including, of course, my trips to the Adirondacks.
We finally decided that he'd have to actually try out an Adirondack hike. I arranged to take him on an ascent of one of the area's short-but-nice hikes: An ascent of Noonmark mountain.
Also along today for the fairly short 10km (6mi) outing were fellow hiker friends Chris, Gillian, and Alana (you may remember them from our 2014 desert trip
Being the middle of March, it was still winter - even though we were having a fairly warm and short one. That meant being prudent about required gear: snowshoes, crampons, warm clothing. Fortunately, Saturday March 12 had turned out to be a beautiful day - clear, calm, above freezing, and sunny.
Roaring Brook Trailhead
Normally we'd park in the large dirt parking area on the west side of route 73 near St Hubert's in Keene Valley. However, there were a fair number of cars in that lot today, and in the sections that were free of cars, the ground was exceptionally muddy and soft. So, we chose to park in the smaller paved lot of the Roaring Brook / Giant trailhead on the eastern side of route 73.
I had brought along snowshoes, crampons, and ice axes for everyone. Of these three, I felt the most important were the crampons, and made sure that everyone took these.
Approaching Noonmark Trail
We started off at a fairly late 10a.m. along the Ausable Club Road, which very shortly brought us to "Noonmark Trail" road. Noonmark trail road brought us in a few short uphill minutes to the start of the actual trail. No evidence of snow or ice at this low elevation. So far, this could have easily passed as a fall hike.
As the trail led upwards along the drainage between Noonmark and Round mountains, we began to encounter a few minor patches of ice. Nothing we couldn't easily avoid, however, and our progress up to the junction with the Stimson trail passed by quickly and easily. By the time we arrived at the junction, the warm temperatures and bright sunshine meant a delayering break was in order.
Our plan was to ascend the Stimson trail (following Noonmark's northern ridgeline) to the summit. We could then opt to re-descend the Stimson trail (shorter but steeper) or continue over the top and descend via the southeastern ridgeline, then hike back north through the pass between Noonmark and Round back to the trailhead, in a sort of lollipop-style loop. We could defer this decision until the summit, however.
Starting our climb up the Stimson trail, the patches of ice soon became more extensive. Several steeper sections had more extensive flows of thick, solid ice. At first, these were navigable via little boulders and rock patches that poked through, but soon the ice covered even these. It was time to get out the crampons.
Almost time for crampons
In situations like this - during spring melt - it is frequently difficult to know when to put crampons on. Too soon and you suffer the awkward and dulling effects of using your crampons on bare rock; too late and you risk putting yourself at risk of an unnecessary slip on the ice. However, at this point it seemed fairly clear that we should put them on; a large flow of ice cascaded down the trail, and on either side, low cliffs (also with some ice) curbed any idea of a bypass.
It took us some time to get everyone outfitted properly. Several in our group had borrowed crampons, and, despite pre-sizing them in the car on the way down, we still had a few fitment issues (especially Chris, who had ended up with a pair of crampons that had a rear bail but who did not have hiking boots sporting the required ridge). After fitment, we spent a bit of time going over the basics of proper cramponing technique. Alana was not comfortable with the crampons, and decided to turn back and wait for us at the car.
Climbing more securely
After about twenty-five minutes of futzing about, we were ready to climb on. We continued upward, now trying to locate and use every patch of ice we could find (the trail was still only intermittently iced) to avoid dulling the crampons.
Soon after this point we reached the first of the excellent lookouts along the Stimson Trail - a limited view towards elegant Giant Mountain, facing us directly across Keene Valley to the east.
The ice on the trail now became much thicker and more continuous. Occasionally there would be a short steep step that required good, solid, flat-foot cramponing technique. In these places, having the ice ax (which only Chris, myself and Jenn elected to take) became a much-appreciated extra point of traction. Because these sections were short, we were able to pass around the ice axes between us as required.
Chris' problematic crampon fitment slowed us down a bit, as his crampons would loosen and start to come off his boots. We tried different solutions for his lack of a proper grab-point for his crampon's rear bails, and eventually we resorted to looping his lower gaiter strap around the outside of the crampon; that, in combination with super-tight strap fitment, prevented his crampons from loosening off.
Upwards we climbed, following the organically-shaped river of ice that was the trail. Everyone had by now gotten quite comfortable with the flat-foot cramponing technique, and we were quite enjoying the crunch-crunch-crunch of our ascent up the ice.
With all of the cars present down in the parking lot, I had been expecting a busy mountain. However, by this point we had only met four other people - all wearing only traction aids (rather than full crampons), and all save for one having a difficult time ascending. By the time we neared the summit, by our estimation, there was only one lone hiker on the upper peak with us (we suspect the others turned back because they had been ill-equipped for the ice).
One of the great things about the Stimson trail on Noonmark are the multitude of views as you ascend, especially in the upper half. We were along this stretch now, and often we would break out onto an expansive open slab of ridgeline, offering prime views towards the Great Range and the rest of the High Peaks Region. Veetil gave it a thumb-up.
We continued to enjoy the different challenge and feel the ice presented as we climbed the rest of the way to Noonmark's summit. A few steeper sections once again made the ice axes useful, and in other places with extensive bare rock, we looked about for the best way to stay on the ice (to avoid having to scrape and scrabble with crampons on bare rock).