This trip report documents the second of a series of so-called "Twilight" hikes led for the Alpine Club of Canada, Ottawa section.
A few weeks after our very successful initial Alpine Club Twilight Hike
, it was time for another. The beautiful scenes from that trip made good marketing fodder for the advertisement for the second outing, and there was a distinct uptick in interest. In the days before the planned second trip date - December 3 - we had a confirmed seven participants. This hike was planned as a Saturday morning outing, necessitating a super-early 2 a.m. meetup time. However, as the weekend approached, the detailed hourly forecast revealed that conditions would be nearly 100% cloudy and snowy at that time - not a good recipe for twilit scenery viewing.
After consulting both the detailed forecast and the trip participants, we shifted the hike to the Sunday evening (sunset) timeslot. Conditions were forecast to be much more favorable, and everyone seemed game to go - even though it was a school night.
We left Ottawa shortly before mid-day, stopping enroute in the town of Cornwall to pick up Ginette, one of today's trip participants. We were down to six at this point, with another participant (Dianne) having to drop out due to a stomach bug. From Cornwall, we drove straight down to the trailhead, arriving at 2:40pm or so. As with the first outing, this was a bit later than I had wanted, and we were again cutting it a bit close to reach open terrain before the 4:17pm sunset time.
Fully saddled up by 2:55pm, we set out, clad in microspikes and yaktrax. There was not yet enough snow depth to require snowshoes at the trailhead, although we did bring them along in case conditions at higher altitudes required them.
As we had neared the Central High Peaks on the drive down, it had grown cloudy. Normally this might be cause for concern, but these clouds had a certain look to them that I found most encouraging - they seemed low and they seemed relatively thin. If true, that meant we had a potentially wonderful situation ahead of us: the presence of an undercast, where the tops of the clouds are lower than the tops of the peaks. In my opinion, undercast is one of the most beautiful atmospheric effects in the mountains.
Cognizant of the approaching sunset, we set out a fairly brisk speed. Stops for delayering were soon needed, but apart from that, we kept up a very solid pace, something for which I'd like to thank today's crew. It was going to be tight - I could tell from my GPS that we were on track for a roughly 4:10 arrival time at the first good lookout on the trail. Any lengthy stop would put arriving before sunset in jeopardy.
For the first 45 minutes, the view above us was primarily cloudy, although the clouds themselves were definitely thin, and let a fair bit of light through. As we passed through the mid 3000-foot level, the air around us seemed misty. This was good - it meant we were in the cloud deck. The sky above began to show through, at first in a very pale blue, but then deepening in color as we continued. Soon we began to see direct sunlight on the trees above us, and at that point, I knew we had it made. We had broken through the cloud layer, and there was definitely going to be some sort of undercast view when we got to open terrain. Hopefully before sunset.
Arriving first lookout
The first good lookout - in fact, the first lookout of any kind along this trail - is at about 3850 feet, on the western ridgeline leading up to Cascade's summit. This was the important spot to reach before sunset, for it faced west, and would give us an excellent view of the undercast and of the sun above it. With our group's solid pace, we arrived at the lookout at 4:07pm - a full ten minutes before sunset and only 75 minutes after setting out from the trailhead.
Turning around after climbing the short slab to the top of the lookout was a revelation: a sea of cotton stretched away below us towards the western horizon. Hanging just to the right of Algonquin Peak was the sun, smeared out a bit owing to some far-off cirrus clouds. Above us, the sky was crystal clear. Magnificent. Simply magnificent. We could not have hoped for better.
Sublime, and Awe-inspiring
Everyone gasped and marvelled as we took in the dramatic view before us. The top of the undercast was fairly low - around 3500 feet, and the bigger of the Central High Peaks towered far above it. Algonquin rose a good 1600 feet above the cloud tops, and its profile made it look almost volcano-like. Colden - with its distinctive concaved slopes and flat top - also appeared igneous in nature. Off to the north and west, only a few slivers of land managed to make the 3500-foot grade, small islands in an endless, airy sea.
We spent more than ten minutes - our remaining daylight hours - snapping photos and gawking at the view. There was no real rush now; the post-sunset light would last for some time and the open summit terrain wasn't far above. We had captured the sunset, and the twilight from the higher terrain would surely be beautiful as well.
Five minutes of easy walking brought us to the edge of Cascade's large, bare summit. The views grew increasingly more expansive as we climbed the thinly-covered bedrock. We could now see that the undercast butted up against the western slopes of the Central High Peaks, and did not continue on the other side. Towards the east, down into Keene Valley, there were no clouds at all.
The winds were very light as we headed up to more exposed terrain. Even so, it felt fairly chilly. We were winding down after some fairly decent exertion (i.e. we were sweaty) and it was probably edging towards -10C (below 20F). It was time to stop and cover up.
Undercast-less to the east
Kristina and the Undercast
We stopped just shy of the actual summit to take another round of landscape and people-above-the-landscape photos. We watched as pale pastel colors gradually darkened towards deep night. Above, a waxing crescent moon and a brilliant Venus hung in the clear sky.
The crew, twilight hike #2