The mercury has officially dropped to sub-thirty degrees as I sit here next to the crackling woodstove with a fresh cup of locally roasted black coffee and reflect on the events that unraveled yesterday.
Ciara and I had been trying to once again watch the first glimmers of morning light while perched high atop a rocky crag before the swaths of weekend warriors pack to fill the mountain tops. We are not awfully picky – any summit with several degrees of an open easterly vista would suffice just fine for us!
We also wanted to make the most of our weekend travels, finishing the day with the first apple picking session of the season – which helped sway our decision even further, to consider venturing back to Vermont this time! As I write this, New York is in its prime for fall foliage; New Hampshire, where we currently reside is not far behind – we have loads of reds and oranges bursting from the hillsides of Smarts Mountain which is bisected by the Appalachian Trail, naturally we assumed Vermont would be looking quite alright, with being stuffed somewhere in the middle of these two states!
For the week leading up to our nighttime hiking adventure, Ciara and I tossed names and locations of hikes and trails back and forth via text message while at work. One stuck; we had both climbed this peak in the past several years, but never together, and I had never taken on the trek from the south.
Okay enough dragging you along – after checking the weather, consulting our maps and the bonus of knowing several excellent apple orchards in the area for afterward, we decided on hiking Mount Abraham (Mt Abe to the locals!) which is found smack-dab right on the Long Trail that runs North to South (..or South to North!) through the Green Mountains of Vermont.
In the past, I had taken on Mt Abe via the Sugarbush ski trails that connect from the east and create a sort of loop to Mount Ellen at 4,083′ first, then running the ridge (Long Trail south) back over several other sub-peaks and past the ski slopes to Mount Abraham. This time Ciara would be showing me the section of Long Trail that departs out of Lincoln Gap and runs to the north!
With the weather reports unchanged and still completely clear for Saturday morning, we had our water flasks filled, jackets packed, rechargeable headlamp batteries topped off and all in the car heading west for a frosty 3am departure.
Arriving at the trail head for Lincoln Gap, we quickly found that we were not the only masterminds to conjure up the idea of watching what we hoped would be an incredible sunrise from the summit rocks of a Vermont four-thousand-footer! We could even see a string of LED lights with their soft glowing warmth in the back of another hikers’ car as they too probably questioned their twenty-seven degree start decision.
Our new solo hiking friend jostled by merely seconds before we set our watches to record as we exchanged our brief “good morning, good hiking!” greetings. For the next several minutes, I could track her headlamp zigging and zagging its way through the forest along the trail ahead of us, both Ciara and I worried that we would be leap-frogging and annoyingly on each others heels the entire 2.8 mile trek up to the summit, which thankfully did not happen!
It’s amazing how time seems to speed up to a blur when hiking up a rocky trail in the darkness; for years I’ve contemplated this topic; could it be that our mind simply chooses to focus on the circle of details which are illuminated by our headlamps, or that we are just not awake enough to be stricken with the burden of time passing, perhaps our minds race down the rabbit hole of internal concerns – the ‘what if’s, or ‘what is out here in the forest’, even the ‘what is watching me that I cannot see?’.
Whatever the case may be, I have simply noticed that miles and minutes always seem to coast by much quicker when the trail underfoot is cast aglow by our headlamp bulbs.
From start to finish though, the four words that tumbled haphazardly through my minds eye repeated over and over and over again: I Love This Trail.
What began as super-soft single track, meandering through the dense Vermont forest, quickly transformed into a rolling masterpiece of rock hopping literally up the shoulder of Abe. The trail continuously proved to us that the original builders did not have a fear of ascending too fast, over the course of the 2.8 miles required to ascent this peak, we climbed 2,270 feet, with barely a flat spot to rest our calves – which is great when all you want to do is beat the sunrise to the upper reaches of the alpine-zone!
Not long into our hike we passed the cut off for the Battell Shelter; continuing on our Long Trail trek, we were taken directly through the camp – unfortunately for the thru-hikers’ still bundled up in the lean-to, we were unaware of their silent presence until my headlamp shone directly onto their colorful sleeping bags – so sorry my friends!
Around the peripheral views around our narrow headlamp beams we could now see through the trees our first glimpse of blue sky – which could only mean one thing: daylight was growing near!
Minute by minute, what we initially perceived as dark blue hues transformed to lighter shades and hence giving way to the deepest reds my eyes have ever witnessed scorching the horizon.
“Awww yeah, let’s gooo!!” Ciara belted out as we came to the first real rocky scramble up the shoulder of Mt Abe and knew that our private sunrise was only minutes from being at its peak color.
Our boys handled the open-rock faces with ease, to be expected though after all this time hiking together. Our Altras performed just fine, Ciara breaking in her new Lone Peaks on this early morning hike and having nothing but rave reviews all morning long!
Cresting up over the top, we had by then encountered several frozen pools of gathered rain water filling in cracks around the rocky summit, peering around with headlamps we could now see evidence of the previous days windstorms – low laying alpine scrub oak engulfed in directionalized hoarfrost, shimmering with rainbows at each hint of light.
What a sight!
We had reached the summit at 6:17am, just in time to find the sky alive with every shade of peach, tangerine, grapefruit, and the deepest hues of dark beet, surrounded by the yet-to-be-lit indigo blue around our 4,000 foot summit, casting a warming glow on the deep sea of rolling cloud cover to our west.
I could count on one hand the few times we had stood atop a mountain and witnessed such a breath-taking undercast; just last week in the White Mountains we had witnessed the foggy cloud cover blow free from the summit rocks of North and South Twin mountains, but this was something different altogether – today we stood high above the low-laying cloud cover, where it only remained on the west slopes of each ridgeline.
Luckily, we did not have ample wind at the summit, which was absolute perfection for walking around gloveless to get a time-lapse sunrise on our GoPro, several panoramas and hundreds of iPhone shots of all angles from the open rock summit of Mount Abe. By the time we had our fill of sunrise and watched our burning orb rise into the sky, my fingertips were beyond ready to dive back into my gloves. Being 29 degrees at our early morning departure – it most certainly was no warmer from where we stood above four thousand feet!
Naturally, our trek back down now seemed completely new, with views far into our periphery and into the surrounding forest scapes! For the first mile or so back to the Battell shelter and camp, our senses were absolutely beaming to life with the aromas of evergreen, spruce, dotted with notes of cotton candy and sweet fruits – oh, how I would love to bottle up this scent.. or better yet – just never leave this forest that I love so dearly!
As we descended the slippery slopes, we could hear the party train coming around the corner. Ten, maybe twelve people made up this group – and I would believe that each and every one of them had asked Ciara what kind of puppy dogs we had (German wire-haired pointers), were they related (yes, they are brothers), do they like hiking (they do better on steep slopes than we bipedals do, plus if they were off leash they would cover 45 miles while we cover 5, in other words: they love the mountains also!), will this tire them out (we could walk one mile and they would sleep all day, or they could wear their full packs and cover 30 miles with us, never showing signs of tiring! They are rockstars!).
I love the reactions we get from folks we pass as we descend, inquiring as to when we began, how long it took, was it cold up top – and my favorite which typically comes judgmentally from the ‘dudes’: did you actually make the summit??
Today, my response was: Yes! We had the luxury of being alive to see the sunrise, and we just happen to find ourselves standing atop the summit of Mount Abe.. and it was pretty darn epic! The most incredible part of being able to watch this glowing orb of sun rise high and begin a new day for us is to see the smiles that shine bright on Ciara’s face, I’m sure I had a grin just as big – but hers is much nicer to look at!
Sending our new friends wishes of a good climb together, we proceeded south down the Long Trail and continued our amazing morning of cheerful laughter and light conversation. Like a light switch being flipped on, out of the dense evergreen forest we plunged deeper into a picturesque fall foliage postcard, now twisting and turning more gradually backtracking toward our parked car.
Looking at each other, we knew what each other thought: we never regret beginning a hike in the dark when we realize how many other hikers’ the morning glow will bring onto our trails, we must have passed nearly thirty other hikers’ by the time we could hear the road and found ourselves back at the Lincoln Gap trail head.
What were two parking lots dotted with four vehicles at 5am was now a full used-car parking lot on either side of Lincoln Gap Road, alive with cars and trucks traveling in either direction, waiting for their chance to jump on a parking spot!
Now with no regrets of frosty fingertips only forty-five minutes ago atop the summit, we were completely thrilled to have just had witnessed what we may call – the finest sunrise from atop any mountain of our lives!
At just shy of a six-mile round trip – Mount Abe proved to be a splendid mountain top to breathe in life while letting all of the unnecessary daily thoughts that clog our gray matter just slip away and be in the moment together.
I feel this will be a tough hike to top moving forward, but that is really okay – as each hike is unique in its own way, we might not know just for what exactly at the time of planning an excursion, but while en route we are sure to find just what we are meant to learn whether we ‘make the summit‘ or not!
Happy trails and good climbing!
Overall stats for Mount Abraham:
Recorded with COROS Pace
- 5.69 miles
- 3hr 46 minutes
- 2,270′ elevation gain
Favorite Gear of the Day!
What is more important for a sunrise hike than simply being able to see your way up to the summit rocks? Not too much really.. that’s why my vote goes out to our headlamps!
Black Diamond makes a little bit of everything, which is usually a downfall for most companies.. but I have yet to see where Black Diamond has cut corners in any of the alpine gear that they make – everything is manufactured to perform for the long-term and get you through the darkest, coldest, hardest days out in the back country.
Just pair some rechargeable batteries and keep them topped off for hours of bright LED power for your next sunrise hike or nighttime trail run!