We had intended to climb Noonmark Mountain, in the Adirondacks, on our anniversary (August 1), following our tradition of going out somewhere in nature for an adventure on that day. But circumstances got in the way and we ended up putting it off...until yesterday. And what a glorious day it was to be in the mountains: the autumn foliage at its peak, the air cool but not freezing, the sky absolutely blue. (The only problem was that my camera battery was dead, so I had to forget about taking photos -- all these pictures are by Jonathan.)
We hadn't bargained on quite such a challenging climb. Noonmark is not one of the highest peaks in the Adirondack Park, but it has one of the best 360-degree views from its bare summit. Still, it's 3,556 feet (1,084 metres) high, and the Stimson Trail to the summit, which we took, is steep, especially in the last couple hundred metres, and includes high rock steps and sections of exposed, bare rock.
We were glad we'd brought trekking poles and had worn hiking boots with good ankle support. Although we shed progressive layers of clothing, there was frost in shadowed places on the ground as we approached the summit, and ice in the little pools on the rock.
On the way up, we met another couple about our age coming down, who said they had stopped short of the summit and decided to just enjoy the views from there. "You know, it gets pretty dicey -- a couple of ladders, and a lot of scrambling over bare rock," the man said, shaking his head. "Yes - these are pretty old knees!" said the woman, with a sweet, resigned smile. I'm pretty stubborn, and I'm afraid this exchange just stiffened my determination to make it all the way up. As we climbed, the trail did get steeper and harder, but it was also beautiful and well-maintained: narrow ridgelines along rock walls, bare rock ledged without handholds that required some thought to scale, decisions between going straight up the difficult rocky steps or the edges filled with branches and roots, and enticing lookouts on Giant Mountain to the east, and the high peaks to the northwest that gave a hint of what we'd see from the summit. Meanwhile we observed the progression from a climax northern forest of beech-hemlock-maple to hemlocks and cedars, with more tundra vegetation like lichens, and finally krummholz, the stunted,wind-pruned pines of high altitude.
After climbing over some tall boulders, we emerged from the trees onto bare rock: we had made it!
We'd brought a lunch, and sat to eat it on the sun-warmed, worn, pinkish granite, sparkling with mica chips and adorned with round green and white lichens.
When we arrived, a high school group from Ontario was also on the top, talking excitedly, but soon their teacher sent them to each find a spot by themselves, and they sat for fifteen or twenty minutes in complete silence, so we did too, looking out over the high peaks of the Adirondack range and the vivid array of trees below us.
In spite of growing up in central New York State, my family never came up to the mountains in the north, and then I spent my adulthood in the broad valley between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Whites of New Hampshire, visiting both often. I've only started to get to know the Adirondacks, mountains of quite different character, in the past few years. Since I stopped downhill skiing, due to a knee injury twenty years ago, I've deeply missed being on the tops of mountains, especially in the winter: the solitude; the raw beauty; that particular, crystalline quality of air.
Jonathan attended the North Country School in Lake Placid for several years, and he had climbed a number of these peaks as a child, ridden through them on horseback, gone apple-picking and hauled sap out of the woods for maple sugaring. At his request, I photographed him with Cascade Mountain and its dramatic rock slides behind him: a favorite of those early days. He told me that when you hit the rock on the top of Cascade, it sounds hollow.
The father of a close friend (who we visited in the previous post) was the author of the Time-Life book on the Adirondack Park; reading it a couple years ago reminded J. of his early love for these mountains, and piqued my interest in exploring more. A while ago, we met our close friends Dave, Rachel and Lucy near Lake Placid, and went for a much less demanding but beautiful hike across the valley from Noonmark. With our other friends we had done easier hikes, and swum in the ice-cold Cascade Lakes, but this was the first time Jonathan and I had climbed one of the big peaks together.
Soon the school group departed and for an hour we had the summit to ourselves.
And then it was mid-afternoon, and time to start our descent. Going up, you have the challenge of climbing and all its aerobic demands, but in the other direction, you have the slowness of picking your way down steep ledges and stone steps, and rocky, rooty ground that's covered with fallen leaves, but the worst is the ever-increasing pain in your knees. Poles help, but this descent was steep and long, and by halfway my skiing-damaged knees were really yelling at me; meanwhile there was less and less light on the trail so we needed to keep moving. We were glad when we finally came out of the woods and reached the parking area. Soon the full moon rose over the Ausable River, and kept us company all the way back to Montreal.
This morning, I was less stiff than I thought I'd be, with minor blisters on both big toes, and the knee, which hadn't swollen, had stopped complaining. Maybe we're not too old for this sort of craziness, after all.
All photographs (c) 2016 Jonathan Sa'adah