A few years ago, I led a few Alpine Club of Canada hikes down to the Adirondacks. The theme was "twilight hiking" -- doing the hike in such a manner that one would catch the sunset (or the sunrise) along with a good chunk of twilight -- right as the summit was achieved. We had three very successful hikes and we managed to capture some exceptionally beautiful sunset / twilight scenes - clouds blazing with deep rich colors, delicate undercasts of cottony clouds, the brilliant gleam of the sun hanging on the horizon. I thought that perhaps we could repeat some of that experience this year, in 2019.
Afternoon in the parking lot
The key to a succesful sunset/twilight hike is to pick a day with the right conditions - mostly sunny but with a bit of cloud, preferably very high cloud or very low cloud - and then choose a hike where you are fairly sure to make it to a good, high lookout (not necessarily the summit) before the sun sets. Today was no exception, and we picked something short and sweet: Mt Jo. Mt Jo is a 2900-foot bump immediately adjacent to the Adirondak Loj / Adirondack High Peaks center parking lot and trailhead at Heart Lake. It has a beautiful ledge view south over the higher peaks, and if the sky conditions co-operated, would be a great vantage point for sunset and twilight photography.
It was indeed perfect weather as we set out for Mt Jo - mostly clear, very still, and reasonably mild, right around the freezing point.
Mt Jo is a very short hike - less than a mile from trailhead to top by the shortest route - so we made it a touch more interesting by doing a longer loop route. I also estimated that by doing so, we'd end up arriving on Mt Jo's summit ledges a few minutes before sunset, which would be perfect (no sense getting to the top too early and then just waiting around).
There was a thin layer of snow on the ground - not enough for snowshoes, but enough to warrant us bringing microspikes and crampons. Crampons were likely overkill, but hey... just in case.
After a brief hike paralleling the shores of Heart Lake, we were soon on the so-called "Rock Garden" trail, bound for the top of Mt Jo. Clearly not too many people use the Rock Garden trail, for it was unbroken. Still, the snow depth was minimal and the trail was pretty easy to follow, even without the old-style orange ADK trail markers.
The Rock Garden trail climbs moderately steeply for a bit, then makes a sharp right and traverses along on the level until it junctions up with the ... I guess "medium long" trail variant leading up Mt Jo. We joined with this medium-length version (which was nicely packed out) and continued up. We probably should have put on microspikes with the increasing steepness and iciness, but we knew sunset was approaching and didn't want to take the time to stop and put them on.
After about an hour of fairly robust hiking, we crested the summit ridgeline. A final steep step (now with steps, something that was added in the 10+ years since I last climbed Mt Jo) led to the summit ledge. The time was just before 4pm, and the sun was still shining brightly. We had over 20 minutes left before true sunset, so we layered up against cooling down too much on the open ledge.
The summit ledge of Mt Jo gives you a wide view towards some of the highest peaks of the Adirondacks: Marcy, Algonquin, Wright, Colden. Heart Lake is visible directly below. It's a view that has graced the screens of many computer desktop backgrounds and screen savers, and even a few movies. Mt Jo gives a prime view without a lot of effort.
We spend the next twenty minutes waiting for sunset, enjoying the late-day light. Overhead, there are layers of clouds that we think might be good for post-sunset reflected light, but it is hard to know for sure yet. There's some hazy cloud over down where the sun will set, which is probably not a good sign, since they will probably absorb some of the light of the last rays of the sun.
The sun sinks over the high brow of lost pond peak, and soon after, the horizon. The light indeed changes, but it's a muted blue and a pale yellow - there are no brilliant pinks, reds or oranges.
What's going on to the west?
Over the next ten to twenty minutes, it rapidly gets darker. Apart from some tantalizing pinks off to the north near Whiteface (which we can't see that clearly due to trees atop Mt Jo's summit), it's all pretty tame. A very pretty tame, mind you, but not the spectacular shows we'd seen on previous twilight hike outings.
And so, by about 4:30 pm, we decided that we'd gotten the best of today's sunset, and that it was time to start heading back down.
We already have our headlamps at the ready as we begin the walk back down. We take the short variant of the trail, and soon we are descending a steep gully, grateful for the grip of our microspikes (which we had donned while waiting on the summit for the sunset) on the hard-packed snow that coats the many trail boulders.
The short trail is quickly dispatched, and we're back down on the flats and the Adirondak Loj / Heart Lake complex in no more than 30 minutes.
We finish off our short but pleasant twilight hike with a Mexican dinner at Casa del Sol in Saranac Lake.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Mt Jo Loop - click map to view
Mount Jo Long Loop - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet