Noonmark Mountain

7/18/20

Weather: 85 F and Humid

All right. This is a hard one to write, but the most important one too. Please read until the end.

I left home at 4:30am and started driving towards the sky brightening with the rising sun and a perfect yellow crescent moon. As I hopped on rt 73, I became increasingly aware of how full the little side lots were already, so before I even made it to the AMR lot at St Huberts, I knew it would be full (it was full at 4am!). Of course I checked it out anyway, and indeed it was full, so I went back up the hill and parked at Chapel Pond with several other cars with rock climbers prepping their gear. I took out my map and decided, hey, I came here to walk, what’s another mile or two added to my route?

I found that I could hike downhill along 73 to get to the trailhead, then summit Noonmark and continue down the south side of the mountain to exit near round pond, finishing with a short downhill walk along 73 to my car. So at 7:30am I set off down the road, stopping to gaze at Chapel Pond and two serene loons cruising her surface.

I joined the caravan of bewildered stragglers journeying to the high peaks. I didn’t mind walking the extra distance, but I could have done without the cars dangerously zipping past me while I ambled along the shoulder. Fortunately, the road is all downhill until AMR, so it was an easy warm-up. Along the way I discovered a hidden drive/lot for climbers (the Beer Wall) and saw some impromptu camps set in the woods along the road. I made it to St. Huberts lot at 8:00am and followed the road until the Noonmark Trail adjacent to the golf course where I signed in at the register, noting the printed list of important items to bring hiking and mentally checking them all off. There were only two groups ahead of me so I was looking forward to a quiet hike.

I trotted along the gravel path studded with stately private homes until I reached the yellow markers indicating the trail to Noonmark.

The trail started off pretty tame, gently but steadily gaining altitude. I stopped for my first hourly break at 8:30am, sitting on a rock in the middle of a dried-up creek bed to eat, drink, and stretch. I’m still coming off of a knee injury from several years ago, and I know I don’t eat or drink enough when I hike, so my method is to stop every hour for at least 5 or 10 minutes to take care of myself. I took a moment to jot down some notes for this trip report, then headed on behind the couple that had just passed me up.

Soon after I heard a rush of water and peered over the edge to see the most beautiful clear water and waterfalls. I wanted so badly to jump in already, but it wasn’t even 9am, so I carried on and soon passed up the couple ahead of me, and made it to the next trail junction! Only 1.5 miles to the summit!

The climbing got more vigorous after that, but it wasn’t technically challenging so I went slow, took many pauses, and made it to the first lookout at 9:15am. I took this opportunity to take another break and drink my gatorade and water, and eat some goldfish, fruit, pickles, and a protein bar. I was feeling a little tired already so I lied back to take a long rest in the shade. I was unaware at the time, but this was the start of my troubles.

After resting for a while, I gathered my things and continued my uphill slog. I found I had to move very slowly and was feeling a bit lightheaded, so I stopped frequently to rest in the shade and drink water and eat my snacks. At 10:30am I made it to the next lookout and took yet another long break.

At this point, I knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I thought my best bet would be to make it over the summit to take the gentler descent back down to my car. So I continued moving forward 10 yards at a time at most, taking many many breaks in between. I could see the summit (or at least what I thought was the summit) from where I was sitting, and it was close, so my choice made sense at the time. I didn’t understand why I was feeling so bad; it was hot out, but windy too, with some clouds, and I really wasn’t sweating much and I didn’t feel hot.

I was now feeling nauseous, dizzy, lightheaded, and weak, and I was getting concerned because I’ve never felt this way before. I was wearing the right clothes, the right materials, I had my hat on to keep out of the sun, I took breaks, I ate the right foods and drank the right things. So I just kept inching my way up, thinking that eventually the nutrients from my food would kick in and I’d feel better.

To be honest, at this point I wasn’t even interested in the scenery, which in retrospect was astonishing. I took a few photos while I rested, but not my usual fare. I took some time laying against my pack at this false summit. I tried closing my eyes, but I would feel the world spinning beneath me. I stood up to move toward some shade and felt my head spin and my heart absolutely race. I felt like I was going to faint at any moment, and was worried I’d hit my head hard if that happened. My situation was getting very real and very scary. I took a second to quiet my tears and call my boyfriend, who was camping elsewhere, but I didn’t know who else to call. As I left a message, I realized that I was having trouble stringing words together; I was aware enough to realize that I was quickly losing awareness. I hung up and called the DEC Ranger’s office at around 11:45am. SAVE THIS NUMBER IN YOUR PHONES if you’re an ADK hiker: 518-891-0235 . That is for the DEC Ranger’s office for the Adirondack region. The man who answered was kind and calm. He asked my name, where I was, and what was happening. I tried to be clear that I would MUCH rather make it out on my own two feet, if he just had some advice for what the hell was going on with me; I didn’t even want anyone to come help me because I didn’t want to be a drain on resources. I didn’t even think it was dehydration because I’d been drinking my water and gatorade and eating plenty. He told me to stay put and that he’d have another ranger call me with more instruction.

I am not a panicky, scared person. I am usually unflappable and stubborn as hell; if I’m in pain, I hike through it. I carry a map, I don’t get lost, and I feel comfortable and safe in the woods. This was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and I was TERRIFIED. I want everyone to be clear, that I was PREPARED. I was EXPERIENCED. And this still happened.

A few minutes after I made that first call, I got a call from a ranger saying she was on her way, and she had two assistant rangers coming up the trail to meet me. I hung up, finished the rest of my gatorade, and was starting to feel slightly better so I started heading downhill to meet them. I did NOT want to be carried out of the woods, but to be honest I had no clue how on earth I would make it in my current condition.

I walked for a solid 10 minutes before I started to feel much much worse. I even passed groups of people going up and had the clarity to reassure them that they were almost there. I didn’t want help from any of them though; I’ve been staying clear of people during this pandemic business, and I didn’t want to burden some hiking family with feeling obligated to assist me off the mountain. So I sat off to the side with my head between my knees to let them pass. At this point, even when I was sitting my heart was beating incredibly fast. I would stand up, stumble a few paces down the path, which was actually technically challenging at this point even for a healthy hiker, then have to sit again to catch my breath. I was texting the ranger all the while, trying to give her a better idea of where I was located on the trail.

At about 1:30pm I spotted two women in tan uniforms heading up the trail. I was so relieved. They sat me down and started taking my vitals and my information. Turns out that my heart really WAS racing; it was above 100bpm even when I was sitting and resting, and would shoot up to 120bpm after I’d very very slowly walked only 10 paces downhill. And I’d have to sit again.

After about 30 minutes of this, the ranger made it to us on the trail and gave me a Nuun tablet with a bottle of water. It’s a dissolving tablet with sodium, protein, and sugar. I downed it, though it was a struggle because I felt so nauseous that the last thing I wanted was to put anything in my stomach. I ate some fruit and had another half bottle of water, and another bottle with a Nuun tablet.

All the while we were slowly making our way downhill, stopping very frequently. Even though I was taking the tiniest, slowest steps, and they were carrying my pack, I still felt too weak and shaky to make it more than a few yards at a time.

Finally, midway through the second bottle of Nuun, my vision stopped swimming. Feeling started to return to my fingers and lips; they would tingle and go numb every time I stood up before. I wasn’t so nauseous and dizzy. Still felt weak, but it was a big improvement. By the time I finished the second bottle, the color had returned to my face, I was joking with the crew (they were actually a ton of fun to hike with, despite my feeling so crummy), and I was feeling strong enough to even carry my own pack. I finished the trail in a final 30 minute push that I was able to do without stopping. The longest stretch I’d been able to do since before 10am. I waited at the bottom of the trail with the assistant rangers while the ranger went to get her truck to drop me back off at my car. I was so relieved to finally be going home. To the rangers, should you read this: Megan, Chrissy, and Sarah (I hope I spelled your names right!) – You were all SO AMAZING. I felt so comfortable having you there with me; I can’t tell you how scared I was up on that mountain alone feeling like I would lose consciousness. I can’t thank you enough, and I hope to run into you again sometime under much different circumstances.

So that’s what happened. (After thinking about the symptoms more and more, I am fairly certain I was experiencing dehydration and heat exhaustion. Check out the chart at the bottom of this page). Once I sat down in my car and started driving, I finally started to feel hungry…VERY hungry. I ate almost everything else I had in my pack by the time I made it home. In fact, my heat exhaustion/dehydration was so severe that I was feeling just as sick when I walked in the door of my house that I didn’t feel I had energy even to make something to eat. I managed to heat up a bowl of Campbell’s vegetable soup (you know, with noodles, veggies, and more salt than the ocean) and ate the whole thing with a few crackers. To top it off I enjoyed a hot bath with epsom salts! At this point, why the hell not.

I’m writing this the day after. I woke up exhausted, with a headache, and HUNGRY. Other than that, I’m ok, and I’ve already bought 3 different kinds of salt chews and gels and tablets to keep in my pack. You can bet I won’t be in the woods without them ever again.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Learn from my mistakes; if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I’ll say it one last time: I was prepared, experienced, and smart, and I still needed emergency assistance to get off the mountain. All I was missing was salt, because apparently gatorade and goldfish are not enough when you find out the hard way that you are sensitive to lack of salt.

Happy Hiking.

Noonmark Elevation: 3556′ Elevation Gained: 2175′

Total Distance: I’m not sure how close I was to the summit; in hindsight I think I was much closer than I realized. I’ll guess I only went about 5.6 miles in total, including the walk to AMR from my car.

Total Duration: 9 hours.

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Day 6 – Sedona and Phoenix

The next morning, we woke up excited for another day of hiking. My mom and grandma were doing Part 2 of their trolley tour, so we dropped them off in town and headed back up to that Route 89A with the intent of hiking the West Fork trail. This trail is supposed to be the iconic Sedona trail through a slot canyon following a river. I thought it would be good especially since there’s no climbing involved and my knee wouldn’t hurt. Turns out, the rest of Arizona thought it would be a nice trail too, as there were HUNDREDS of cars parked along the road. We definitely didn’t want any part of that, so we wandered around for about an hour just looking for a trailhead. Trailheads around here are incredibly poorly marked, but finally we found one called the North Wilson Mountain trail and headed up it. Right away the views were stunning, and we even had some tree cover and shade for this hike.

We were heading towards those dark cliffs in the distance, and I couldn’t wait to see it up close. We encountered one small group of people during our time on this trail, and that was it.

We continued on for about an hour, and entered into the cover of trees, which had stunning fall foliage.

We sat and enjoyed our lunch at the base of the huge cliffs. It was sort of a sad moment as we realized this would not only be our last hike for this trip, but our last hike together for quite a while.

After that short break we decided to head back down the mountain. It took about an hour, and surprisingly, I had no knee issues! I finally mastered the art of hobbling down mountain trails!

We got back to the car, went back to town, picked up my mom and grandma, and started the trek to Phoenix. This portion of the trek was uneventful. We didn’t stop for any photo ops, instead just carried straight through to Phoenix. During this time we saw REAL desert, with towering saguaro cacti and tumbleweeds. We arrived around dusk and got settled into our hotel, the Sheraton Grand Phoenix. My grandmother and I were on the top floor, and when we opened the curtains of our room, we saw this:

We looked at each other and just laughed, it was the best hotel room view we’d had all week (or probably ever). That night, I went to investigate the pool, which was totally empty, and went for a perfect nighttime swim.

The next day there was no time for exploring as I was presenting my poster at the BMES conference. My mom and grandma hung out by the pool all day while my father explored the city; meanwhile I was walking around in 100 degree weather in my fancy clothes.

That night, we enjoyed one last sunset in the endless sky, and went to bed early to catch our flight early the next morning.

After a long couple of days of travelling, I made it back to New York and reunited with Juno. This trip was absolutely incredible, and I’m so grateful that my family was able to go with me. Can’t wait to go back for more!

Day 5 – Sedona

The next morning, we got up, ready and excited to explore the area. We were all a bit bummed because that 89A road is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the country, but of course we travelled it in the freaking dark. A typical thing for our family to do. So my Mom and Grandmother embarked on a trolley tour of the area while my dad and I filled our packs and headed out to hike….somewhere. We didn’t know where to go, so we went to the gas station across the street and got a map. As we were looking at it, we had to laugh because we saw the road we came down on….It looked almost cartoonishly twisty and curvy, like a bowl of spaghetti spilled on the floor.

Anyway, we took the advice of a kind gentleman we met there and headed off to the Airport Loop trailhead. It was a lot longer than we expected just to walk to the trailhead, but we finally got there and set off on our way.

I have never seen so many cacti in my entire life. I recognized that they were prickly pear cacti, and that many of them had ripe, plump, reddish-purple fruit on them, so naturally we had to investigate further. We each plucked a fruit from a cactus, I immediately dropped mine because they apparently have super tiny sharp hairs in clusters on the fruit themselves that stick right into your hands! My dad managed to get his fruit open though, and we each had a bite…Those things are FULL of super hard seeds! It tasted delicious, but we each only had a nibble. Unfortunately for my dad, he got one of those tiny sharp hairs in his mouth and had to deal with that for the rest of the day! At about 2pm, we came across a junction where we could either continue on our way or we could take a short detour by climbing up a…small mountain? Rock? Mesa-thing? I’m not sure what it was, but it was well worth the climb.

That woman was doing some yoga-meditation thing, swaying side to side, but it made for a nice picture!

I was really feeling like I had entered into some prehistoric landscape, and half expected to see Littlefoot and Spike walking the trails with us.

So we were quickly learning just how unforgiving this landscape really is. The air was so dry it just sucked the moisture right out of our skin and mouths, and we went through our water way faster than we thought we would. We left that perch with half the water that we started our hike with, and more than halfway to go to return to town. This fear of running out of water was completely new to me. In the Adirondacks, if you run out of water, you just refill at one of the 8 million streams, lakes, and rivers that you’re bound to come across. Out here, we’d have to resort to sucking the moisture out of more prickly pear fruits, and neither of us really wanted to do that. Luckily, the trail we had embarked on wasn’t super long, only about 4 miles round trip, so we were’t too worried.

 

The trail we followed is visible, cutting right across the rock.

 

We left the summit and followed the trail around the edge of the small mountain, on top of which was the Sedona Airport. This route was extremely exposed, with little to no areas of shade, but it offered incredible views the entire time.

After climbing and climbing, we reached what we thought was the top and sat beneath a rare tree to enjoy some lunch and guzzle more water. Shortly afterward, we heard helicopters overhead and saw that we were right beneath the airport!

We started descending after this point, and quickly made it back to town. My knee was irking me, but luckily the pole I had borrowed from my father made it much more bearable. We went back to our hotel, walked into the lobby, and asked if they had any drinking fountains where we could refill our water bottles. We’d both long since ran out, and were quite parched. We must have looked pathetic and about ready to drop, because a manager took one look at us and led us back into the employee break room to fill up from their water cooler. That was the most delicious, COOOLD water I’ve ever had! We were there for probably 10 minutes filling up our bottles, drinking, and filling up again. Finally hydrated, we took a much-needed dip in the pool.

Day 6 – Sedona and Phoenix

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon

The next day, we packed our things and set out for the Grand Canyon. The initial plan had been for my dad and I to hike to the bottom from the North Rim, stay the night, then hike back up via the Bright Angel trail to the South Rim. We ended up deciding not to do it since we just didn’t have enough time in our mini vacation to do it; good thing too, because my knee was not in great shape for descending.

On our way there, we took this scenic route (89A), and stopped numerous times to take in our surroundings: the Vermillion Cliffs.

 

The moon, always visible

 

We stopped again shortly later at some cliff dweller ruins where two Navajo women were selling gorgeous handmade jewelry and pottery. My mom and grandmother perused the items on display while I took the opportunity to snap some photos (of course).

Throughout the whole trip, the conversation theme tended to be “How on Earth does anything/anyone live here? Where do they get their water??” Alas, it’s a mystery we never solved, as every single creek and riverbed we passed along the way was bone dry. The world may never know (except for those that live there >.<).

After a few hours of driving (and stopping, and driving, and stopping), we finally made it to the Grand Canyon! We parked the car and went into the visitor center for our first glimpse.

 

The Colorado River

 

I was, believe it or not, a little bit underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. I think I had such high expectations of it, but when I was actually standing there, amidst droves of noisy tourists snapping selfies left and right, it just didn’t feel real. It felt like we were looking at a backdrop of a movie set. I think the real problem is that we didn’t hike down into the canyon. That makes all the difference. Just standing on the rim, walking along the ledge, you see pretty much the same view the whole time and you really can’t grasp the enormity of it. Regardless, after almost immediately losing my mother and grandmother, my dad and I set off along the rim trail.

Along the way, the crowds thankfully thinned out a bit, and we were able to enjoy the walk a little more.

We walked for more than an hour, thinking we were getting close to the Bright Angel trailhead which leads down into the canyon until we saw this view from a rocky outcropping:

To clarify, I’ve overlaid the path in red:

That’s the trail. It was about this time that I started to realize just how massive the canyon is. I couldn’t even see people on the trail from up there.

Despite how disappointed I was in not having the time or the knee function to be able to climb all the way down and back up, I was also a bit relieved because I hadn’t realized how incredibly wide the canyon is. I couldn’t even be sure where the other side was (and the layer of smog on the horizon didn’t help). After one last snack at an overlook, we turned and headed back to the visitor center.

The whole day walking along the trail, the most wildlife we spotted were a couple of brazen squirrels trying to steal things from peoples bags. Then, back at the visitor center, there is a family of Elk just hanging out in the middle of the square!

We left a bit before sunset and started on our way to Sedona. As it was getting dark, we turned onto scenic route 89A (same name as the one we were on earlier, but not the same road?). During this ride was probably the most car sick I have ever been in my entire life (which is really saying something). I was in the back of the car, and I swear we were just driving down a spaghetti road. We would all yell “WOOOOAH” going around tight turns that never seemed to end, and of course we really couldn’t see anything at all since it was dark out. We FINALLY made it to the bottom and to our hotel for the night.

Day 5 – Sedona

Day 3 – Kanab and Bryce Canyon

The next morning, we got up early to prepare for our day in Bryce Canyon. On our way out, we spotted a little museum that contained the sets from many old western films that were shot in the area. We just had to check it out.

All of the building had been relocated to the site of the museum and reconstructed beautifully.

We left the museum and arrived at Bryce Canyon after about an hour and a half of driving. My dad and I were so excited to hike here, and were eager to climb all the way to the bottom and hike some trails from the inside of the canyon. Luckily for me, he had brought two trekking poles, so we each took one and I was able to put my weight on it instead of on my bad knee. Bryce Canyon also uses a shuttle system, so we hopped on and took it to the farthest point, Bryce Point, and headed down amongst the hoodoos.

This place was full of these strange twisted trees

It’s unbelievable how all of these formations were created. Millions of years ago, all of that land used to be ocean. Then the sea receded and the land crunched together to create jagged moutains and mesas. When ice and snow accumulate around the rocks in the winter and thaw in the summer, the ice melt takes away bits and pieces of the rock, creating those spires called Hoodoos. As we saw many of these hoodoos, my dad would remark what they looked like to him, and I had to laugh because I was bothered that I completely saw the same crazy things. Great minds think alike, I guess.

We thought that hoodoo in the middle looked like Snoopy

The trail we took to the bottom was called the “Peek-a-boo” trail, and we quickly surmised that it was so named because every time we turned a corner, we saw an entirely new and incredible view.

We kept noticing as we were walking that there were huge boulders precariously perched over our heads. Even worse was the rubble around the trail where rocks had tumbled before! We kept joking that the road runner would come topple those boulders onto us.

Wile E Coyote

We decided to stop at one particular overlook (though really the entire trail was an overlook) and have a bit of lunch. It was FREEZING in the morning when we started our hike, but thankfully the wind had begun to die down and the sun was warm.

We finally made it to the bottom where we encountered a tour group on horseback and followed the trail as it meandered through the forest.

The loop we were on eventually joined up with the Navaho Loop trail. We took the middle path (of three) to make our ascent and view the Two Bridges formation along the way.

The Two Bridges

We ascended via switchbacks all the way back up to the ridge, where we took one last look from the edge.

We followed along the ridge, passing sunset and sunrise points along the way, finally back to the Welcome Center where my Mom and Grandma would be waiting.

We happily left Bryce Canyon after fulfilling our desire to get in a nice long hike, and headed back to Kanab. Later that night, we headed up the road toward the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to view the stars, and boy we were not disappointed.

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon National Park

Day 2 – Zion National Park

After a restless night of sleep adjusting to the jet lag and new environment, we got up the next morning and headed for Zion National Park.

Not understanding how the shuttle system worked, we ended up driving almost all the way through the park before turning back to park and take the shuttle to the various hikes and sightseeing opportunities. We saw some beautiful sights along the way though!

(Photo courtesy of my Grandma)

My father and I wanted to do some more serious hiking, while my mother and grandmother preferred to spend more time relaxing and taking in the sights, so we split up after taking the shuttle to Weeping Rock trailhead. The path was paved, and after a short easy climb we reached the top, where there were hanging plants and water filtering through the cracks in the rock.


We stopped beneath a walkway to investigate a small creek, then set off to our next destination.

We were a bit disappointed because we really wanted to do some incredible hikes, in particular Angel’s Landing, but we just didn’t have enough time before the shuttles stopped running for the day. So instead, we decided to do the Emerald Pools loop. The trail was very flat and sandy, and very easy to follow.

Despite how simple the trail was, my knee was already starting to bother me. It’s all the more frustrating because I walk a lot at home, I exercise a lot with squats and lunges and knee intensive moves, but GOD FOBID I walk on a trail. A trail, mind you, that VERY out of shape people are walking on in flip-flops. Despite the persistent pain, I was determined to do all of the hikes that we had planned for this trip. So I hobbled my way along the Emerald pools trail until we got to THE emerald pools, which were honestly a bit lackluster, but cool all the same.

We made our way back to the Zion Lodge, where my mother and grandmother were perusing a gift shop and some friendly deer were hanging out on the lawn.

At this point we really didn’t have time to do any more trails before the shuttles stopped running (unbeknownst to us, we were all an hour behind because we didn’t realize we crossed a time zone on the way from Vegas! So we were REALLY close to the shuttles stopping!). So we hopped on the shuttle back to the car, and made our way out of the park.

We made our way out of the park just as the sun was beginning to set and drove the 45 minutes to our hotel in Kanab. I was getting so excited because I could tell that the stars out there would be AMAZING. The sky in UT and AZ is just enormous; you can see for hundreds of miles in every direction.

Day 3 – Kanab UT and Bryce Canyon National Park