I expected it to be cold for my annual tradition of climbing Cadillac Mountain for sunrise on New Year’s Day. Over the past 10 years it has been either cold, rainy, foggy, windy or snowy. A couple of those years proved to be a combination of one or more of those things. I know enough to expect anything and prepare accordingly. So when the day comes I just adjust my gear to the most current weather report I can get and head out. This year the elements threw wind and bitter cold at my hike. There was plenty of wind and cold.
My hiking partner, Sonny Whittaker from Trenton, and I had arranged to meet Scott Fisher, from Ellsworth, at the Eagle Lake Road entrance to Acadia at 4:30 on New Year’s morning. Because I overslept, Sonny and I didn’t get there until about 5:20. Scott was already on the North Ridge trail. It was about zero degrees and the wind roared out of the northwest at about 30 miles an hour with higher gusts, making the wind chill factor about 20 below.
We were prepared with chemical hand and toe warmers, hats, gloves, mitts, facemasks, and wearing several layers. I had a camera and a Thermos of hot coffee in my pack and that was it. Because we were behind in time for sunrise we decided to avoid the trail and walked the road to the summit. There was very little snow on the park road. The trail would have been rougher, icier and slower and I didn’t want to miss the sun come up like last year.
Some years I have been totally late for the sunrise, one year it was too cold and I got there too early. I had waited too long in the cold and turned around and hiked down before it came up. Saying I go to see the sunrise is more about the act of going on a New Year’s hike than actually seeing the sun come up. Nonetheless, I wanted to get up there in time if I could.
We soon came upon a group of young people on the road looking totally underprepared. One guy had socks on his hands for gloves. They wanted to know where the trail was. I invited them to hike the road with us. They joined us and after a while dropped back.
The road had some ice on it, but it was mostly bare. We hiked along at a pretty quick pace. The howling wind was at our backs on the way up. After about 45 minutes we were out of the forest below and dark views of Sargent Mountain and Eagle Lake opened up on our right.
When we were about halfway up we saw the headlights of a vehicle approaching us from the rear. That was pretty unusual, since this auto road is closed in winter. It was a park ranger truck and he drove by headed for the summit. Probably looking for hikers in trouble at the top, I figured, and kept walking.
One of the young people we met before caught up with us and asked how far we were from the top. I answered and he said we’ll make it before sunrise with time to spare. We walked on in ever-lightening skies. Soon we were at an overlook when the ranger truck, headed down, appeared around the corner and pulled over on a pullout.
I walked over to the truck and asked what was going on and he explained that two hikers had called 911 reporting they were lost and their cell phone went dead. He was cruising the road with lights flashing. The hikers knew where they left from and what trail they were taking but not an exact location when they called. He asked if we were all right. We said yes and kept going.
By this time we were cold. We had been walking for about 90 minutes without a break. Granted it was up the road, but it was bitterly cold. Then we rounded the final corner and headed into the wind. It was unbelievably strong. We leaned into it to make any forward progress and could hardly catch our breath.
Then, we were at the parking lot at the top. The sun had still not broken the horizon but was close to it. We may not see it actually rise due to a thick cloud bank that stretched across the horizon. There was one person walking away toward the road who I greeted as he walked by. I finally recognized it was Scott, who got there before we did. I asked if he was leaving or wanted to join us waiting for the sun. So he turned around and led Sonny and I to a wind break. The wind howled across the summit as we walked over to the rock wind break to wait it out. There was no one else up there.
The three of us sat there for enough time to take a picture. Sonny took three pictures before his camera batteries went dead. Two of the pictures were shaky due to his shivering. Scott got one shaky picture before his batteries went dead due to the cold. I fumbled my batteries in my camera backwards and didn’t want to expose my fingers again to correct them, so I never took one.
We had had enough. We left the wind break and crossed the wind-whipped summit again and though it was at most only a couple hundred yards, we again lost our breath and had to force our legs forward to walk in the face of the wind. We walked down the road facing the wind until we got to the trees and were passed a number of times by the ranger truck. The day was bright as the sun had cleared the mountain’s ridge. It was about 8 o’clock, we had hiked about five miles, and felt more than ready to face the new year.
The lost hikers the rangers had been looking for eventually found their way out after daybreak and returned to their vehicle.