Winter 2020 has so far been pretty unconducive to good hiking in the Adirondacks, as far as being able to look at scenery goes - for the weekends, I mean. Every single weekend since the last outing at the beginning of December has been solidly socked in with clouds or storming or raining or... something. So, when a very (very) marginal forecast showed up on the radar for the first weekend in February, I took it.
Today we had mostly a new group of Adirondack hikers, and as is advisable for new-comers, something short but nice is the mark for which one wants to aim. In this case, a Noonmark. Noonmark Mountain. Short, scenic, accessible. Located on the eastern edge of the High Peaks region, it was also in a location generally less prone to obscuring clouds.
Blue Capture, just in case
We only had a brief window in the morning of a very slight chance of a bit of clearing, so we headed down super early and arrived at the trailhead before eight. Scattered flurries and thicker clouds obscured most summits, but we did get a misty view of noonmark looming up above us on the approach. Dave looked dubious.
Everyone managed to get sorted by about 8:15 a.m. Things were hard-packed but not icy, and we started off bare-booting it up the trail. Apart from seeing two other hikers head off towards Lake Road, we seemed to have the place to ourselves this morning. Probably a combination of mediocre weather and the fact that it was Superbowl Sunday.
We arrived at the Stimson / Round Mountain trail junction just before 9 a.m. The intent was to do the typical loop, up the Stimson and over the top of Noonmark, returning via the Noonmark-Round pass. So, we turned right here and started up the steepening trail. It so far remained almost entirely snow-packed and ice-free, which meant we were able to continue up without traction aids nor snowshoes.
The skies above continued to be unsettled, but despite the continuing snow showers, the sun did manage to make its presence felt here and there, sometimes with an ethereal, atmospheric through-the-flakes effect.
I was slightly concerned that we'd miss our slight weather window before the excellent lookouts along the Stimson trail, but fortunately we were treated to a pretty nice view from the first of the lookouts. The view down Keene Valley was completely open. Clouds wreathed the flanks of Giant Mountain, but the summit was still largely visible. All of the newcomers and near-newcomers were very impressed.
Tessica and Alison took off like a shot up the trail, angling to reach the next lookout (the exuberance of Alison and Tessica would be an important theme of the hike, by the way). This lookout, too, gave us a nice look eastward, where a few more clouds had started to build up around Giant.
The real treat of the Stimson Trail, which runs up Noonmark's north ridgeline, is the crest or near-crest hiking one does as the summit is approached. Here the lookouts are all to the west, where the semi-open ridgeline drops sharply away. Unfortunately, quite a few more clouds had rolled in and none of the Great Range was visible, but I described what it looked like and had the others imagine the view as they gazed into the smooth white of the clouds. The lower, nearer terrain was still visible, though, and the lookouts along here were still very enjoyable - especially given the near-calm air and very mild temperatures.
Contemplating the Winter 'daks
Another one of the nice things about the ridgeline section of the Stimson trail is that you can see the craggy knob of Noonmark's summit above. That can act either as an encouragement or a discouragement, depending on your point of view. In any case, it looked pretty dramatic today, with scattered snowflakes and the occasional shaft of sunlight creating a moody effect.
Approaching an excellent viewpoint
Onwards we climbed. The trail remained well-covered in snow, with very little ice showing in any locations, making for straightforward climbing. We stopped at each of the many good vantage points along the ridgeline. Dave especially seemed to take the time to quietly stand and notice the majesty and beauty presented to us from these viewpoints.
Excellent Western Viewpoint
David's Winter Meditation
Tessica's Winter Meditation
Our overall progress was slow, but progress still was made, and shortly after noon, we arrived at the summit. The clouds had rolled in more fully now, and there was nothing but a blank wall of white in all directions. Up above, weirdly enough, a patch of blue sky drifted by. That was to be our only true bit of blue sky for the day.
The weather continued to be very mild and calm. So much so that we were able to eat our lunch right on the open summit, sans gloves and hats. Very agreeable for the a summit during the depths of winter.
A final look at snowy abyss
Continuing on our loop itinerary, we pack up and leave the summit, heading down the other of Noonmark's two trails, down its southeastern flank. Tessica and Alison start whooping and hollering and laughing as they discover the joys of butt-sliding down the steep trail, and soon we lose sight of them. Dave and I elect to take a yet more cautious approach and carefully downclimb the steep bits, relying on our grippy snowshoes to maintain control.