A cautionary tale about hiking for sunsets

December 13, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Autumn Twilight at Jordan PondAutumn Twilight at Jordan PondThe view of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Mark in Maine at dusk from atop Bubble Rock.

I made a second trip this year to visit Acadia National Park in Maine. The first trip was in August. I had gone there with my family and we had so much fun, we decided to return in the fall to see what it was like with the leaves turning. It was fabulous. I'll share some photos from that trip in a subsequent blog post. But for the moment, I'll share a little cautionary tale.

For this trip, I wanted to see if I could get a nice sunset or twilight photo overlooking Jordan Pond. The Bubbles Divide Trail leads to the tops of The Bubbles, which are small mountains overlooking the pond. I'd never done the hike before, but from the maps, the trail looked promising.

I left in full daylight by myself, as my family was off having dinner. It was my intention to arrive at the top of the mountain well before sunset. I made sure to pack a map and a flashlight, because I knew that sticking around for the sunset would mean hiking back in the dark.

The trail wasn't especially long or especially difficult, though it had recently rained, which made things quite slick and muddy.

The trail deposited me near the summit of one of The Bubbles. Unfortunately, there's no actual view of Jordan Pond from the summit. So I had to do some searching around to find an actual vista. As you can see from the photo above, I found one. It was the top of a cliff overlooking the pond.

When I got to the top of the cliff, it occurred to me that I wasn't certain of the way back to the trail. I didn't see a clear or marked path to the trail. Now I figured it wouldn't be especially hard to retrace my steps and find the trail. There were also quite a few other people around I could simply ask. However, from previous experience hiking, I knew two things. First, everyone would likely leave right after the sun dipped below the horizon, when there's still some remaining light. However, I normally want to stick until it gets dark. And second, everything looks very different in the dark, especially unfamiliar trails and landmarks.

So, before I settled down and unpacked my gear to shoot the sunset, I retraced my steps back to where the trail emptied out onto the summit and I committed it all to memory. I did not want to find myself a couple of hours later alone and lost on the top of the mountain.

I returned to my spot atop the cliff and settled down to wait for the sunset. Lots of other hikers came and went. And then just as I predicted, everyone left shortly after the sun dipped below the horizon. I stuck around a while longer to see if the sky might turn interesting colors and I prayed that some of the distant clouds might move in closer (they didn't).

When I finally decided to pack up and leave, it was cold, very windy, and almost completely dark. Everyone had already left except for one other group, which consisted of about five people. They saw me get up and asked if I would come over and take a group photo for them. So I obliged them and they seemed very grateful. And then, with some embarrassment, they asked me if I knew how to get off the mountain. They explained that they had been wandering around the mountaintop for a while looking for the way down. When they saw me, they figured they would wait for me to leave and follow me down. I told them I'd be happy to lead them down the mountain and they all let out visible sighs of relief.

I lead this group of fellow hikers back along the route that I had memorized. On our way to the trail, we ran into another group of hikers who were heading right towards the area we just came from. One of the new hikers pointed over my shoulder to the place we had just come from and asked if that was the way down the mountain. I said no, it actually leads to a cliff. At that point, the new hiker looked very confused and pulled up his map. After fumbling with his map for a moment, he confessed he had no idea how to get down. They also had been wandering around in the dark trying to find the trail. So I invited this second group of hikers to join us.

And that is how I ended up leading two groups of hikers in the dark down a mountain I had never climbed before. I was so glad that I had taken time earlier to familiarize myself with the way back. It really pays to plan ahead and take into account that everything looks different in the dark.


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