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.
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.