Photo by Mike Lynch
A view of the Great Range from the shoulder of Noonmark Mountain.
 
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There were hiking parties signed up for Sawteeth, Armstrong, Upper AuSable Lake and Nippletop in the trail register near the Adirondack Mountain Reserve gate when Embark editor Morgan Ryan and I signed in on a Saturday morning in mid-December.

None of the groups listed Dial as their destination, which is where we headed.

There were hikers headed to Dial Mountain -- as we would learn later as we passed them on the trail -- but only as part of a longer loop that went over Nippletop, whose peak is a little more than 2 miles from Dial\'s.

That was fine with us. We weren\'t looking for crowds anyway.

We did expect to find more people signed in at the trail register, though, because there was a decent amount of vehicles in the parking lot. We speculated that many of them probably went up Giant Mountain, whose trailhead is a short walking distance from that parking lot. You just have to walk across state Route 73 to get there.

On this particular day, as we started our trip, the one question we had was whether or not to tote snowshoes with us. We both knew there had been barely any snow recently, but it seemed unfathomable to me that there wouldn\'t be any at the higher elevations this late in the year. So we tied our snowshoes to our backpacks, figuring it would be good practice for later in the season, even if there wasn\'t any snow. We also each brought along a pair of microspikes, which later came in extremely handy on the icy uphill sections.

I should mention that our hike started on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve property, which is home to the AuSable Club and is private land. Hikers are allowed to use the road and trails because the state has an easement on them. The Adirondack Mountain Reserve was created in the late 1800s to preserve the land from being logged. The site of the large clubhouse -- which you walk by -- was actually home to the Beede Hotel, which burned to the ground during that same era.

To get to the trail to Dial, we walked down Lake Road about three-quarters of a mile, then we headed left into the woods on the trail to Dial and Nippletop. The turnoff was marked by a green sign with white letters.

We started heading uphill shortly after leaving the road and quickly noticed that the trail was pretty slick. From there on, we put on our microspikes, only taking them off for the final section on the Lake Road at the end of the day.

There was only a dusting of snow in the woods, similar to what you might find in late October. Brown leaves and downed limbs pushed up through a thin layer. To our left, we could hear the sound of running water in a nearby brook.

Dial isn\'t one of the taller Adirondack mountains. It\'s only 4,020 feet high, making it the 41st tallest of the 46 High Peaks. But on our way to Dial, we did have to climb two other uphill sections: the shoulder of Noonmark and then Bear Den Mountain. That adds some elevation gain to the trip.

A little less than a mile from Lake Road, we entered state Forest Preserve land. This short uphill section is on a shoulder of Noonmark Mountain, which had been burned by a 90-acre forest fire in the summer of 1999. The sections that were singed are now covered with saplings or bare.

Prior to getting to the top of this hill, we found ourselves on a stretch of trail that was extremely wet. A small stream, covered by thin ice in places, ran over where we should have been placing our feet. Instead, we were forced to hop rock to rock or find solid footing on the side of the trail. Luckily, we escaped without plunging our feet in the water, which would have been problematic since temperatures were hovering around freezing.

After making our way through this section, we found one of the best parts of the hike. As you start to head downhill again, there\'s a good view of the Great Range and other High Peaks to the northwest. The best viewing area is slightly off the trail to the right if you\'re heading toward Dial like we were. The flat, rocky area has some burnt logs strewn about. From here, you can also see Bear Den Mountain, Dial and Nippletop.

If you\'re the type of person who just wanted a moderate hike, you could stop here. There\'s a good spot to relax, and the views are great. It\'s a little less than 2.5 miles from the AMR gate to this spot.

But if you want to continue on like we did, you\'ll have to climb over the 3,423-foot Bear Den Mountain before even starting up Dial. There\'s not much of a view on Bear Den or Dial as you\'re heading up them. For the most part, the hike is in a wooded forest, which could be good for those windy winter days.

During the last stretch of Dial, we saw three other small parties of hikers. They appeared to have all started at about the same time that morning (earlier than us) and had chosen to do a loop hike in the area that takes you over Nippletop and then Dial.

When we finally did reach the top of Dial, we were welcomed with a spectacular view of the Great Range from atop a boulder. This is considered North Dial. There is also a South Dial peak, but it doesn\'t have any views. We didn\'t bother heading over to South Dial. We were content to stop here and enjoy the view. Plus, there wasn\'t enough daylight to continue forward and then finish up our trip.