A key element of having the heart of a true adventurer is being able to do things on the spur of the moment, to do things others are not willing to do and yet to be prepared for all of the “what if’s” during the adventure. That spirit got these friends the adventure of a lifetime on an ice laden mountain in the middle of winter. The payoff? Seeing the nation’s first sunrise.
Adventures with Friends
One Thursday morning I called up my dear friend, Brain Fitness Specialist and Puzzle Artist Alli Berman, and asked her what she was planning for her birthday that Saturday, Jan 24.
Excited, she said: “I want to climb Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine during the night so I can be the first person on the mountain to see the nation’s first sunrise!” The challenge with that is Cadillac only sees the “Nation’s first sunrise” in the fall and winter, when the sun rises south of due east.
To accomplish this birthday dream it meant Alli was flying out of JFK the next day, a Friday, into Portland, Maine, then renting a car and driving 3 hours to Bangor, dropping her bags at the hotel, getting a bite to eat, checking out the town, then getting up at 2:30 in the morning for her 3:30am meet-up with a guide familiar with the terrain, driving to the mountain on freezing roads closed to cars, and then spending three hours trekking up the mountain wearing 7 layers of clothes, headlamps, walking sticks, hand warmers and clamp on, to make it in time to see the sun come up.
Our mutual friend Gail Jacobs was also coming to “celebrate.” Gail is a great friend to have along because besides having a lot of stamina, she’s able to do research in a flash, and is a professional masseuse. And, while she may not enjoy the adventure as much as we do, she is always there to try it or at least call 911 if we do something stupid.
Before the Trek
On Friday morning, we three musketeers met in Portland.
After driving and checking into our hotel, we took a quick dip in the hot tub, ate The Blaze, one of the three restaurants open that time of year in Bangor (the food was absolutely delicious) and then went to the room to sleep for a few hours.
Before heading to sleep we double-checked the time of sunrise for the morning. Then set our alarm for 2:30 am. When the alarm rang, we got dressed with the clothes we had laid out the night before. (Face it, one is rather groggy at that hour of the morning and you need to prepare at night when you are conscious.)
What to Pack for a Mountain Climb
We did a quick double check of the contents of our knapsacks:
- extra socks
- face masks
- hand warmers
- hot water
- both head and hand-held flashlights
- walking sticks
- first aid kit
- glow-in-the-dark sticks to attach to our knapsacks
- extra batteries
- masking tape
- tiger balm
- chap stick
- tissues (for our sure to be runny noses)
On to the Mountain!
Fifteen minutes later, we parked the car in a desolate lot. By 4:15am, we were ready to trek 1,528 feet up the mountain to the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard. It was a calm night, 19 degrees. The sun was due to rise at 6:55am. So we had about 2 hours and forty-five minutes to do this dark, icy climb.
Had we been climbing the normal time of year like everyone else does we could have gone up one of the many available hiking trails. But for this treacherous journey, we were taking the “safe” way which was the one paved road that cars usually drive. In the dead of winter, that road is closed due to the icy conditions. So we went around the gate and began our accent. (Don’t worry it’s not illegal to do, it’s just not your average journey.)
It’s a beautiful climb in the spring and summer, with a breathtaking summit. Or so I’m told. Breathtaking had a whole new meaning in the dead of winter in the middle of the night, when only coyotes and night crawlers dare go out. Oh yes, and us crazy New Yorkers.
Questioning My Sanity
The road was extremely icy and slick, (did I mention that?) with only our lights to keep us steady on the path.
It was a long climb. I questioned my sanity, but kept thinking, “Just get to the top, Capo, too late to realize you don’t like the cold. Remember it literally is a cool adventure.”
To occupy our time, we sang, scared ourselves thinking we saw eyes peering at us from the woods, walked in silence, asked how much further, counted steps, and just kept walking.
Running to Catch the Sunrise
We apparently were walking much slower than we anticipated, and our guide seemed to be getting somewhat worried that we wouldn’t make it to the top to see the sunrise if we didn’t pick up the pace. But we were going as fast as our little feet would take us. The funny thing with sunrise is that it doesn’t care about your shoe size or walking pace, and it refuses to wait for you to get up there.
Sure, we could get there late, but then we’d miss the brilliant photographic colors that are more short-lived than with sunsets. The burst of colors is over in about 45 seconds. So you have to make it in time to catch it, otherwise you are just taking a picture of the sun at the top of a mountain. With a time deadline in mind we really had to push to get there.
At one point we were practically running up the hill. Not an easy feat with crampons clickity clacking. We sounded like we were some dumb chicks in a bad horror movie running from a zombie.
Not Alone at the Summit
It was a long hard journey, but we made it. And it was well worth the view. We planted the flag I made that said, “Happy Birthday Alli at the top of the world.”
Then we turned to take pictures and to our chagrin there were other people up there as well! We didn’t see them at all during our climb, so we are not sure how these stealth climbers got up there. (But we were first up! Believe me, we asked!) We did however also see a guy on a bicycle, so that wiped out all illusions that we were the craziest people up there.
We stayed up there long enough to see some owls and a Peregrine falcon and note some evidence of other creatures. Then once we felt our hands beginning to turn blue, we breathed in our last mountain top air and began our descent using hot chocolate and breakfast as a reward. Some 23,000 Fitbit steps later, we were back in the hotel lobby, having accomplished an awesome shared birthday dream. Alli of course felt she didn’t take enough pictures, but that is a whole other story.
For those of you who are adventurous at heart make sure you take a guide to do this. (This is good practice if you ever dreamed of climbing Everest some day.)
For those of you who just want to experience this exhilarating climb up this popular mountain, go in the spring, summer or fall. Then you can stay up there a few hours and bask in all the sun’s glory. Besides, you would have the drive-up option, (the cheaters way). Or can take one of the many hiking trails if you want to challenge yourselves a bit.
It’s worth the view and it’s always cool to see the first of something.