This trip report documents the third of a series of so-called "Twilight" hikes led for the Alpine Club of Canada, Ottawa section.
Happily, the second Alpine Club of Canada Twilight Hike
exceeded the bar set by the first, with an incredible display of undercast. Soon after, I scheduled today's hike - the third in the series - for January 14. I chose the morning (sunrise) option this time, both for the fact that we'd not yet done a morning twilight hike and because early January is when the latest sunrise time occurs (somewhere around January 9th, to be more precise, but close enough). I chose for a destination the summit of Wright Peak - high, open, and a reasonably short hike from the main ADK High Peaks Visitor Center trailhead. And, a good eastward-looking vantage point for a sunrise over the Central High Peaks. We had upwards of eight to ten participants scheduled at one point, but sickness and other reaons whittled our list down to only four by the evening before the hike start.
A morning hike like this (as a day trip from Ottawa) is more challenging to execute for most humans since it means starting the drive at a truly unholy hour. We commenced our journey at 1:00 a.m. from my place. Joel actually took one of the final night runs of a city bus route to get to my place. Must have looked a bit strange to the bus driver.
We had a very efficient ride down to the Lake Placid area, arriving a bit earlier than our scheduled 4:15 a.m. arrival time at the South Meadows roadhead, where we had planned to meet up with Ginette, who was driving down separately from Cornwall. The weather was not what I would consider ideal for a twilight hike outing. Now, it wasn't rainy or snowing or misty; It was in fact totally clear - and that meant that we probably weren't going to get any of the spectacular atmospheric effects that we had encountered on the last two outings.
What it was, however, was cold: the temperature was roughly around -23C (-10F) and that was at the 2000-foot level. It was sure to be even colder 3000 feet further up. Fortunately, the winds were extremely light, meaning that we didn't have to worry too much about excessive wind chill.
The parking lot was mostly deserted as we bundled ourselves up for the walk towards Wright Peak. The last few days had seen some wild swings in weather, with an extended period of rain and very warm temperatures followed by a sharp drop to double-digit negative temps. We suspected we'd not have to start off in showshoes, and we were right: the ground was a rock-hard mix of ice and snow. Microspikes was the choice for now, although we packed both snowshoes and crampons for any eventuality. There was a good chance that things might be extremely icy up high, so we ensured that everyone had full crampons and an ice ax with them.
Breaths and Beams
The walk from the trailhead to the Macintyre Range trail junction was a quick and loud crunch-fest of footsteps. Beyond the junction, the trail became nearly continuously based on snow, but still of the very firm, hard variety, allowing us to continue travel with microspikes. As we gained elevation, the snowpack itself deepened, and we were glad to find that all of the normally rough, bouldery parts of this trail were nicely covered in a firm, smooth surface. A bright waning-gibbous moon illuminated the open forest with a ghostly light, and for a while I hiked upwards with my headlamp turned off.
We noticed the first hints of dawn just as we arrived at what I like to call "Wright's Nubble" - a prominent crag of bedrock just off the trail to the right as one reaches the 3900-foot level. The trail was (to my surprise) still almost entirely firm snow, with the exception of a few exposed icy steps here and there. The largest and most difficult of these was just after passing Wright's Nubble. It was the only spot thus far that was perhaps beyond the capabilities of the microspikes (but with a little care and effort we managed to get by it without changing into full crampons).
We arrived at the junction with the side trail to Wright's Summit at about 6:55 a.m. We had around 30 minutes to get from this point to the summit, if we wanted to coincide with the sunrise. Seemed pretty reasonable, with only about 600 metres (0.4 miles) of distance left to go and 500 feet left to climb.
I elected to put on crampons in anticipation of the final steep climb and potential iciness above treeline, while the others chose to try to continue on with microspikes. There were a few minor sections where my crampons proved useful, but for the most part the trail remained hard-packed snow. At treeline, we discovered that the open bedrock had mostly been cleared free of snow or ice, and the way was almost entirely on bare, dry rock. I elected to remove my crampons and bareboot it the rest of the way.
Conditions were very placid, although very cold. Even the slight breeze up here above the trees generated an unpleasant wind chill, and we stopped to properly bundle up before proceeding. The sky above was completely clear, and there were no cool atmospheric effects to be found. The nearby summit of Algonquin presented a wind-deposited face of snow to us, just a mile or so to the south.
Our pace slowed as we made our way up the steep slabs towards Wright's summit. We were falling a bit behind schedule, and sunrise was rapidly approaching. I went on a bit ahead of the others, managing to capture the first rays just as I reached the summit area. A band of approaching clouds from the south added a nice dash of saturated pinks, oranges, and reds to the scene.
I turned and waited for the others to appear, and one by one, Ginette, Joel and Danny popped over the final rise into the brilliant morning sunshine. The pictures bely the coldness, however. This was no balmy summit today.
Ginette approaches summit