Noonmark Diner is a small, homey wayside staple for cheap, local eats in the Keene Valley. Everyone who has hiked, climbed, or skied in the Adirondacks has made a pit stop at the family owned joint. It’s the kind of place that still includes accolades from a 1993 national magazine on its menu- because, that kind of thing is important in an Upstate New York hamlet. Specifically, the praises are for their homemade pies.
By my count, Noonmark Diner has nine varietals of pie: Coconut Cream, Banana Cream, Chocolate Cream, Cheese, Pecan, Maple Walnut, Fruit, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free. I feel a bit like Bubba Gump. The pies are served by the slice with options for heated and ala mode. Whole pies can be brought home to share with family and friends who didn’t make it to the mountains. Not served on the menu is Humble Pie. But there’s no need because the nearby 4,000-foot mountains are sure to serve visitors a slice from time to time.
December 23, 2016: I woke up at 2:18 AM with a mix of eagerness and anxiousness. Despite trying to quietly slip out of bed to write by the Christmas tree for a couple of hours, Jordan was soon awake. Fearing that I was dressed and trail ready hours before our alarm was set to sound, he pattered downstairs in base layers and wool socks. We decided to drive north early.
A stop at Stewart’s and 116 miles later, we arrived at the Adirondack Loj trail head. In a shameless bout of peak bagging foolishness, from the comfort of my computer desk, I planned a 22-mile loop route to hike the tallest mountain in New York State. The route also included the third highest peak in the state and three other mountains. We planned to backpack the five peaks in a 16-mile day and camp at the Feldspar lean-to , leaving a 6-mile jaunt out of the woods on Christmas Eve morning. The route would give me winter credit on four 46ers and would give Jordan 46er credit on three peaks. In clear weather conditions, the route would be challenging, but doable. With 13,000 feet of elevation change and a grueling drop into Panther Gorge followed by a calf-destroying climb to the summit of Skylight, I was hopeful the trail conditions and weather were on our side.
At the trailhead we saw two Ballston Spa High School alumni. One of them informed us that the trail to Marcy Dam only required microspikes. So, with full packs and snowshoes strapped to our backs we began the peaceful walk into the dam. Sunlight intermittently broke through the clouds during the first miles of the hike. I always love the woods on a winter morning- the crisp air, the radiance of early light glimmering off fresh snow, and the crunch of boots along an icy trail.
We made quick headway to the dam and continued to press on towards Tabletop Mountain in base layers and microspikes. Two older ladies, one with a hilarious pair of furry earmuffs, stopped us to query our travel plans. The lady with the earmuffs huffed at our route itinerary. She informed us the trail to Tabletop was broken out and wished us a safe trip. Walking away from them, I was a little fired up at the lady deriding our trip. I commented to Jordan that the search and rescue mission of the couple lost on Algonquin was probably still a little too recent for comfort.
Arriving at the Tabletop junction, Jordan and I dropped pack, layered up, and strapped on snowshoes to tag the 2-mile out-and-back summit. Having just purchased a tripod and GoPro for our trip to Nepal, Jordan lugged the new gear up to the summit. As the lady with the ear muffs had indicated, the trail was well-packed. We made great time to the sign and clearing that mark the apex of the climb. The clouds ripping across the sky obscured neighboring mountains. We were completely socked in. Knowing we had to continue moving if we were going to finish the 16-mile route before night fall, we snapped a few photos and plodded back to the trailhead. While descending, we again encountered the lady with the ear muffs. She again warned that our plan was far too ambitious and coupled her concerns with, “You heard about the couple who had to be rescued…”
Her warning resonated with me. And truth be told, made me angry. Though I appreciated her concern, we were prepared and we both have adopted an attitude that “the mountains aren’t going anywhere.” As always, our plan was fluid. Her cautioning caused us to pause before reshouldering our packs. Examining the NatGeo map, we agreed with the ear muff lady’s assessment that Panther Gorge was likely to not be well-traveled and that the southern descent of Haystack could slow our progress too much to summit Skylight and Gray before sun down. We reconfigured our route.
Continuing on the trail past Indian Falls, we found 2-6” of fresh snow, with drifts as deep as 10”. We laid the first tracks of the day. The clouds continued to whip across the sky and the sun flickered in and out of view. Arriving at a flat, sheltered spot, we stopped for a quick lunchbreak and we marveled at being the only people in this part of the park. The northern Hopkins Trail to Bushnell Falls looked untouched. The Van Hoevenberg Trail south towards Little Marcy was equally as pristine.
At the trail junction of Marcy and Haystack, we confirmed our new plan before turning east down the Range Trail. Rather than our original plan- summiting Marcy, descending, summiting Haystack, and descending to Panther Gorge- we instead planned to summit Haystack, descend, summit Marcy and descend to the Four Corners. This reconceived plan would knock out some of the elevation change and avoid dropping into Panther Gorge- hopefully saving us some time and energy.
The clouds cleared as we took those first steps down the Range Trail, but the wind continued to howl over the mountaintops. How I hoped we would make it to Haystack while the clouds hung low below the epic views of the summit! Jordan had been inexplicably antsy about the weather all day- all week, for that matter- and it seemed like the weather just might cooperate.
I was ogling the mountain views when I sank into powder up to my knee. The 27” Atlas snowshoes strapped to my boots did little to help float my body above the trail. Breaking free, I postholed again. And again. And again. Each time, the trail swallowed my legs a little more. Looking back, Jordan was making even less forward progress. I inched towards an exposed rock adjacent to the trail and found reprieve from the snow. The view of Haystack’s bald, snowy summit from the rock was spectacular. But barely a tenth of a mile in to the 1.1-mile hike to the summit, we were going downhill and we were struggling.
Jordan and I agreed to take a few more steps down the trail in hopes the snow would clear a bit. I fell through powder up to my bellybutton; Jordan hoisted me from the collapsed snow with a few tugs on my haul loop. After less than a quarter-mile, we decided to turn back. I was disappointed to cross Haystack out of our plan, but with 3-4’ deep snow on the trail, our slow forward progress would have certainly left us scrambling down Mount Marcy in the dark. Haystack will be there on another visit.
We returned to the Van Hoevenberg Trail with intentions of summiting Marcy. Reemerging above tree line, there was a noticeable increase in the wind. Though the skies remained undercast, wispy clouds rushed across the blue expanse. Snow dusted off the summit of Marcy and whipped around in mini tornadoes of ice crystals. The summit was intimidating, but we pressed forward. Completing our planned loop was dependent on crossing over the Upper Great Range.
About half of a mile into the ascent, Jordan and I stopped to assess the situation. The surface ice warranted dedicated crampons and the swirling snow left us with fogged glasses. Hunkering down behind a rock cairn, we determined that the wind was likely to be worse on the south side of the mountain. In a couple of exchanges, we made the decision to save Marcy for another day. Though abandoning a planned route or failing to tag a summit innately triggers disappointment, we made the right choice. She’s not going anywhere and we’ll be back for all 5,344’ of Marcy on another winter day. The Adirondacks served us a frigid cold slice of Humble Pie.
Now, after the slow struggle down the Range Trail and the couple of minute chat behind the cairn, I was starting to get chilly- not dangerously cold, but chilly. Add in that we had just made the decision to abandon our plan and I was ready to get back to tree line and head out. After lugging his tripod all day, Jordan asked if he could set it up for a couple of quick photos of the mountains and us. I obliged mostly because it was 4-pounds of non-essential gear that he had carried for almost 10-miles.
In the past two years, we have become experts at taking photos together without a tripod or random people. With a self-timer we have used boots, backpacks, rocks, trees, hats, and even Pringle cans to snap photos. But, for our upcoming trip to Nepal, Jordan purchased the tripod and a GoPro to make photos together easier. Like he usually does when I am jerry-rigging a self-timed photo, I stood off in the distance for him to focus the GoPro. The roaring wind continued and the clouds that hung low in the sky began to move towards Haystack.
I urged Jordan to hurry. He clomped towards me in his snowshoes. Before he was even by my side, I began yelling, “GoPro take photo! GoPro take photo!” The new GoPro is voice activated and the nifty command is helpful in taking photos without a button or self-timer. The flash of the camera never went off. I assumed my voice was lost in the wind.
Jordan turned to me. He held my hands. My face immediately crinkled up and my lash line welled with tears. His exact words evade me, but he explained that I lit two fires in him: the first, a love for the outdoors and backpacking and adventure, and the second, a love for me. It was fortuitous that he stopped at this place to drop to one knee and ask me to be his wife. This was the first place we visited the first time I brought him to the Adirondacks.
My heart was fluttering as we descended the Van Hoevenberg Trail back to the trailhead. I stopped more than once to process the day. Waves of emotions left me physically and mentally exhausted. I was thankful our plan had deteriorated- going home to share the news with family and friends was a must. But, I was happy to have the woods and the mountains and this big little secret to just me and my future husband for a few hours.
Bouncing along the pitted Adirondack Loj Road in the car ride from the trailhead, there was an infallible grin plastered to my face. We opted to save the Mountain House Chili Mac freeze-dried meals in our packs for another trip. My car whizzed past familiar trailheads on Route 73 and zipped down 9N through Keene, and past Marcy Field and The Mountaineer. I flicked on my left blinker, braked, and turned into a familiar parking lot.
We sat in a booth next to the chrome diner stools and countertop. I ordered chili and macaroni and cheese. Jordan ordered chili and a grilled cheese. While we waited for our order, he pulled a little bamboo box from his pocket. On the mountain, Jordan opened the box to pop the question, but quickly snapped it closed to safely store it in the pocket of his puffy jacket. In the dimly lit diner, he opened the box to reveal a beautiful, twig-inspired band. He slipped the ring on my finger. We ate the diner dinner, kissed, and finished this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with a piece of heated Maple Walnut pie.
TLDR: Jordan and I got turnt during a hike in the Adirondacks. He proposed. I said, “Yes!” We ate pie.