Behind the Lens: Waiting for the sun

Shane Kenyon walks on the summit of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain in the eastern Adirondacks at sunrise. photo by Mike Lynch

When I arrived at the trailhead for Cobble Lookout at roughly 5:45 a.m. in November, the road and forest were completely dark and there wasn’t anyone else in sight.

The lack of vehicles was a sharp contrast to other times I’d visited or driven by Cobble Lookout this summer and fall. Those days the parking lot had been completely full and parked vehicles lined the road.

Cobble Lookout had been a quiet spot to get away to get away from the crowds a few years ago, but that isn’t the case anymore – at least during the day.

But I didn’t have to deal with any of those issues. I had a different objective from most other hikers. I had gotten up early and was planning to walk through the dark woods to catch the sunrise.

Cobble Lookout was one of three places I hiked this fall for the sunrise. Poke-O-Moonshine in Chesterfield and Baker Mountain in Saranac Lake were the others. The purpose of the hikes was to get photos and information from the field for an article that is running in the January issue of the Explorer. I picked small mountains with fairly short hikes in order to keep things simple. My goal wasn’t to do a marathon hike. It was to catch the sunrise from different vantage points in the Park.

The experience was vastly different in each place I visited. Baker Mountain, situated in the village of Saranac Lake, was surprisingly loud. I could hear machinery grinding away across town as I hiked up the mountain. Cobble Lookout was very quiet, and the only noise I heard came from a large bird – perhaps an owl – passing overhead twice. The place felt wild and remote. At Poke-O-Moonshine, I could hear cars passing by on the nearby Northway at the beginning of the hike, but it the most interesting place by far. There are large glacial erratic boulders in the woods near the trail and countless stone steps to climb.

Of the three, I also found Poke-O-Moonshine had the best view. Cobble Lookout and Baker have nice vistas, but seeing the sun rise over Lake Champlain and Vermont was amazing. Plus, there are rolling hills that filled in the foreground perfectly.

There were a number of reasons I wanted to do this article. As a multimedia reporter, I knew there were a good chance at getting scenic photos in the beautiful pre- and post-dawn light. But I’ve also wanted to get a better feel for what other hikers have been experiencing this year. With parking lots filling up super early in the High Peaks Region this summer and fall, hikers have been arriving super early to get a spot and heading into the woods into the dark. Plus, there seems to be more and more sunrise hikers in recent years, or at least people are publicizing it more on social media. Either way, there’s more anecdotal evidence of that activity growing in popularity in certain places, like Cascade Mountain.

Early morning view from Poke-O-Moonshine. Photo by Mike Lynch

Because I hiked in November, after the peak hiking season, I knew I wouldn’t see many other people. As it turned out, I only ran into two other hikers during my trips. But I could see why people are drawn to the activity. Going into the dark woods pre-dawn isn’t that exciting, but being atop a mountain to start the day is an exhilarating feeling. The lighting enhances the already scenic views. Plus, you can get your exercise in for the day before breakfast.

But there were little things that stood out, too. The morning I hiked Baker Mountain, there was no sunrise lighting up the horizon, but I enjoyed the blue light that morning on the mountains and a nearby beech tree. At Cobble Lookout, I also wasn’t impressed with the actual sunrise colors. Yet, the pre-dawn reddish-orange glow behind the mountains made the trip worthwhile. On Poke-O-Moonshine, not only were the colors from the sunrise amazing, but the alpenglow lit up the nearby fire tower, trees, and High Peaks.

More than anything I think what the trips did for me was help me see the Adirondacks in a new way, giving me a sense of the restorative powers of the region’s natural beauty. That feeling more than anything else helped me better understand why people have been flocking to the Park during this difficult year, no matter what time they needed to arrive.

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