Monday, November 15, 2021

Noonmark and Round Mountains

While sometimes overshadowed by its higher neighbors, Noonmark Mountain stands out among the sub-4,000' peaks of the Adirondacks. When driving through Keene Valley toward the south, Noonmark's profile looms ahead. It's known for its excellent, grandstand views of the surrounding High Peaks. A view from Noonmark even donned the cover of the last edition of the High Peaks Trail Guide. With its excellent views and relatively short approach, it sees a decent amount of traffic. 

Immediately to the east of Noonmark stands its lower neighbor, Round Mountain. While not quite as popular as a destination as Noonmark, Round holds its own when it comes to scenery. Round can also be reached in by relatively short approaches as well. Round and Noonmark can be hiked together as a loop from the AMR (Adirondack Mountain Reserve) trailhead in St. Huberts, just south of Keene Valley. Combining the two peaks as a loop packs in a lot of great scenery over a  fairly challenging 7 miles.

After a cool and dreary start to the week, I decided to hike these two mountains on Thursday, November 4th. Although Friday's forecast looked sunnier, I was hoping to capture some cloudy skies in my mountain photos I would take that day. It was a gamble since I run the risk of socked in summits with no views, but I took my chances. I also expected shoulder season conditions. Snow showers fell in the valleys over the previous days. I anticipated some snow and ice on the ground once I gained elevation. I started later than I usually hike and didn't hit the trail until after 11AM.

Although other approaches exist to these two mountains, hiking them together as a loop is more convenient from the AMR trailhead. On a gray Thursday in November, only a dozen or so vehicles were in the usually busy parking lot. Like all hikes from the AMR lot, I began hiking up the road. I headed up the Stimson Trail, which is reached before most of the AMR facilities. At first this trail followed a road past several driveways before becoming an actual trail.

Lower reaches of the Stimson Trail

Almost immediately I encountered spots with a fine dusting of snow in the shadows. The trail is surprisingly pleasant as it travels through the forest, with the occasional tumbling mountain creek adding to the scenery. A little over a half-mile from the road I reached the first junction. By this point the ground was consistently covered in a fine dusting of snow.

Junction to Noonmark

From the junction, the trail began climbing steadily. The terrain becomes more rocky, with several slabs. Some of the slabs had a fine coating of ice. Although I had microspikes, the ice generally broke up if you stepped on it. I think putting them on would have dulled their teeth, but not really help me too much with traction. The ice was a minor nuisance and usually avoidable at this point. 

More snow as I climbed

Slabby section of trail

The first ledges with views open up a little over a mile from the road. From the first ledge, there seems to be viewpoints pretty frequently to the summit. The snow also covered the ground most of the way to the summit, but was never more than two inches at the most. Patches of ice covered a few slabby sections of trail that are typically wet. One or two of these slabs made for tricky footing, but they were short-lived and I didn't use my microspikes.

Early view of Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge

A spider undeterred by the snow

After reaching the first ledges, the trail travels between a mix of forest and open ledges. At times it levels off between steeper sections. A couple of short ladders helped navigate brief rocky sections. There were occasional coyote tracks in the snow as I climbed as well.

First ladder

Lower Great Range

Second ladder

The final pitch climbed over a series of ledges, all with great views before reaching the actual summit of Noonmark. The 3,556' summit stands only 2.5 miles from the trailhead. I forgot my watch, but it seemed like a slow 2.5 miles given the shoulder season conditions.

View of Dix from a ledge below the summit

The summit of Noonmark doesn't disappoint. It provides some of the best views in the Adirondacks in my opinion. The open terrain provides a grandstand view of the Great Range. With snow on its slides, Dix to the south looks quite impressive. Across from Dix, Dial and Nippletop dominate the view with Colvin to their west. To the north you get a nice view over Keene Valley. The Ausable Club's buildings and golf course look like toys below. Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge tower to the east. 

Dix, Dial, and Colvin

Great Range

View toward Keene Valley


In the snow, the direct route of the trail wasn't 100% obvious. The trail may have been marked by paint on the rocks, which would have been hidden under the snow. I was the first one to the summit in the snow cover. I just traveled on the rocky areas when the trail wasn't visible. The only other tracks near the summit were from snowshoe hares. I continued beyond the summit, descending the Felix Alder Trail. I found the trail with no issues. 

Dial with Nippletop just barely visible in the distance

Ausable Club property

Snowy upper reaches of Noonmark

Closeup of Dix

The Alder Trail descends the south side of Noonmark. Other than one slippery ledge, the Alder Trail offered easier passage than the north facing Stimson Trail. There was less snow on the south-facing trail and not really any ice. The biggest challenge was wet leaves. I followed the Alder Trail about a mile before reaching another junction and the Old Dix Trail. The trail drops about 1,200 feet in the mile from the summit of Noonmark.

Cloud cover to the southeast

The Old Dix Trail was almost stream-like at times and quite rocky. I rock-hopped and avoided most of the water. Fortunately, I traveled less than a mile on it before I reached the junction of Round Mountain.

Stream-like conditions on the Old Dix Trail

Junction to Round

From the Old Dix Trail, the route climbs roughly 700' in .7 miles. As it gains elevation, it crosses several open ledges with good views toward Dix and Elk Pass as well as the Great Range and Noonmark. As I climbed, I encountered a few snow showers that limited visibility. Although there was some snow, I didn't encounter any ice.

Visibility lowered by snow

Looking back as I climbed Round

I would describe Round's 3,100' summit as semi-open. There are good views, particular toward Dix and the Great Range. If you take time to visit the various ledges around the summit, you can get views in most directions. The summit of Round sits on a very short (100' or so) spur off the marked trail. 

Noonmark with the Great Range in the background

Dix and Dial from Round

Climbing from the Old Dix Trail, the trail is slightly confusing near the summit. A trail marker leads to the summit, making it hard to find the route north. The trail almost doubles back on itself at a sign a short distance from the summit. Small cairns mark the trail, but weren't obvious with snow on them.

One of the last views toward Giant

Beyond the summit, the trail travels over several sections of open rock marked with cairns. Although not difficult to follow, it may take a moment to find the trail near these open areas. Some of the open areas provide more views. As the trail loses elevation it drops back into hardwood forest fairly quickly.

Although the trail travels only 2.3 miles to the trailhead, the descend went by slowly. There wasn't nearly as much snow as the north side of Noonmark, but heavy leaf cover on the trail made for rough footing. The leaves also held a lot of water making slippery conditions. 

Just before reaching the road, I heard a loud rumble of water. A nice waterfall sits just upstream of the trail, immediately before the road. It's not noticeable from the road, but hard to miss just a short distance down the trail. I followed the stream a few hundred feet to get a photo. The waterfall sits within sight of a few homes. It appears that this stream is the division between state land and AMR land.

Waterfall near the end of the trail

The trail reaches the road just a couple hundred yards from the AMR parking lot. Going by the guide book, this hike clocks in at 7.1 miles. I didn't keep close track of time, but this hike took between 4.5-5 hours. I definitely wasn't disappointed by this loop and highly recommend visiting these two mountains. The shoulder season always makes conditions a little interesting with less straightforward hiking. Fortunately I didn't encounter anything too rough. Minor snow and ice posed little difficulty. Heavy, wet leaf cover was more of a nuisance. I was rewarded with snowy vistas and the ominous clouds enhanced the views.

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