September 23, 2017
Weather: hot, humid, sunny, hot
Greg and I stayed at the Rooster Comb Inn and let me tell you, it felt looovely to wake up five minutes away from the trailhead. My dad (who unfortunately had to make the drive) joined us for a nice breakfast, then we all piled into the car off to St Hubert’s. It was, of course, already full!! but we got parking close by and were on our way by 7:40am.
We had decided not to take the Gill Brook trail since we weren’t sure about time and wanted to be efficient, but we made some new friends and chatting helped to pass the time. (NB: for those of you who walk faster or start earlier – I’ve actually done the Gill Brook trail and it is totally worth it!) It took us about 1:20 to get to the almost-end of the road where we said goodbye to our friends, turned left onto the trail, and started climbing.
The trail switched back and forth some, and was a little steep, but very beautiful! It wasn’t even 10am, and we were already sweating from the work and from the sun. Being totally unfamiliar with this trail, I was pleasantly surprised when we reached Indian Head after just half an hour. There were a lot more people there than when I had been there on Easter Monday and had the place to myself, but it looks like we weren’t the only ones with the great idea to go hiking on a nice, unseasonably warm fall day! We took our time snapping pictures, chatting with other hikers, and enjoying the sun.
After about 25 minutes, it occurred to us that we were only at the start of our hike and we’d better get going, so we headed off toward Fish Hawk Cliffs. Immediately, we dropped straight down toward the col; fortunately for our knees it’s only ~0.1 mile. The trail eased off a bit after that, and it took us about half an hour to get back on the main route up to Nippletop.
It was definitely HOT and my dad kept talking about how steep it would be (he actually remembered from when we did it four years ago – I did not), I was not sure I would survive the up since I was already sweating so much (TMI?). We leapfrogged with a couple other groups, but when we reached the junction with Colvin, we sat down for a real food / drink pitstop. I was happy to have my iced tea that day as it helped me force myself to drink more than usual – which I definitely needed.
As the sun was nearing its highest point, we reached the beautiful, albeit smelly pond(s). The muddy smell erased any ideas I may have had about splashing water on my face to cool down. Unfortunately, as my dad was sneaking around trying to get the best angle for a picture of the pond, I went to sit down on a log and sank right into the mud as soon as I stepped off the puncheon. I asked Greg to pass me a stick to dig the mud out of the top of my boot…and he stepped off the puncheon and sank even deeper into the mud than I had. My dad came back to find us covered in mud and crying we were laughing so hard. Oh well, what the smell!
So I can confirm my dad was correct when he said that he remembered this trail being steep. We climbed up each steep section of rocks, taking our time, trying not to let the “heat lethargy” take over.
It was a wonderful feeling when we got high enough to see some views, feel a few breaths of wind, and ran into the Nippletop 0.2 miles junction. I remember how long this stretch felt when my dad and I were finishing our 46 and I was so excited to reach the summit! It felt faster this time, and soon enough we were scrambling up that big rock slab and onto the summit (with about 15 other people). Time since St Hubert’s: 5:45.
We found a little spot for ourselves up on a rock, and sat down to enjoy the breeze and some well earned lunch.We finally figured it was time to give up our prime spot to the other groups and continued on our way. We were a little disappointed that in the half hour + we were up there, and after taking pictures for others, that no one offered to snap one for us when we were taking our summits photos, but ah well c’est la vie.
The trail to Dial felt a lot easier, the terrain was not as rough or steep, and there were surprisingly fewer people along it. We did meet one guy who was racing along and apparently finishing his 46 on Nippletop!
It took us only about 1 hour 20 minutes before we reached Dial. We weren’t really hungry or in need of a break, but the view was so nice and there was plenty of room to hang out – so, of course, we took advantage! Time since St Hubert’s: 7:55
We spent about 15 minutes enjoying the mountains before facing the reality that we had to get back to the car. The signs had been a little confusing / conflicting but we were pretty sure we had almost 5 miles left, some up and down, and a burger waiting for us at the Ausable Inn.
The descent was hard. My knees were not doing great and I was actually looking forward to the small bits of up (towards Bear Den and the shoulder of Noonmark) – yes, you are all thinking it and my dad reminded me too – I know that more up means more down! but it still makes for a nice little respite.
I’m not sure we ever confirmed for sure when we were on Bear Den, it might be more obvious from the other direction. We went over a little bump that I named Baby Bear Den, but Momma Bear Den was elusive.
I was looking forward to Noonmark shoulder, though! I remembered the amazing views we got there 4 years ago and was excited to see them again. We made our way down at a decent pace, for us, and then started back up Noonmark in a quaking aspen grove (Greg identified this – I just said “ouu pretty trees”) It was absolutely beautiful in the late afternoon sun and the yellowing leaves.
We emerged to a stunning view of the mountains behind us. We wanted to stop for a quick snack, so we went a little further on, thinking we would get to the more open views, but stopped after a few minutes when we realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. Over our last PB&J sandwich, we marvelled at how much the landscape had changed in just 4 years.
The trail down from Noonmark was this perfectly inclined, cushiony dirt trail with few obstacles. For Greg and my dad, knee pain means that they want to walk very slowly and carefully. I am the complete opposite. I like to go down quickly, I find it hurts less than the pounding of a slow pace. I was in a fair bit of pain, so after a bit I ended up going on ahead – with promises to wait for them at the Lake Road. The sun had disappeared around the surrounding mountains, the trees were far apart and there were some fallen leaves so staying on the trail did require a bit of attention. Once or twice I did have to stop to look around and make sure I was heading down the right track.
Finally, the Lake Road came into view and I rushed down to take a seat next to the sign. I have to say it was really nice, I was only there for like 10 minutes but every group who passed by made sure to check I was okay! It’s nice to know our fellow hikers are looking out for us!
When the guys caught up, we all headed back together! Within 20 minutes, we were through the gate and signing out at the register. We caught a few last views as we walked through the golf course and were back at the car just after 7. Time since departure: 11.5 hours
Nippletop: 4,620 feet, elevation gain: +3,400 feet
Dial: 4,020 feet, elevation gain: +800 feet
Round trip: 14.4 miles