Night Hike: Jackson Sunrise

Trail Report

We moved off the island in July and one of the things I was looking forward to in living on the mainland was having more flexibility for going on hikes. On a mild and clear December day I decided to go on a sunrise hike of Mount Jackson. I got up at 1:30 am, made some coffee and hit the road.

I got to the parking lot across from Elephant Head Rock at 4:10 am. It was clear, there was a slight breeze and the temperature was in the high teens/low twenties. I brought my larger pack with me as I was unsure of the snow conditions up top, though I suspected that only microspikes would be needed. I also carried my camera’s tripod and many layers as I knew I would be stationary for a while taking photos on the exposed summit.

I headed up the trail, which was well broken out and easy to follow in the dark. I had hiked in the dark several times before when long days during multi-day hikes extended into the evening. Also, I had done a full moon hike of Mount Adams in the summer. But this was my first solo hike in the dark so I was glad that the trail was easy to follow. Occasionally I could see a sliver of moon through the trees, leading me up the trail .

I hesitated at a stream crossing as the boulders were covered with ice and the far side was icy ledge. As I pushed off quickly to produce enough momentum to get up and over the slick ledge my back foot slipped and plunged into the freezing stream. Fortunately, I was wearing my waterproof boots and I quickly caught my balance and retreated from the stream. My second attempt was more graceful and I continued up the trail without further hesitation.

About a quarter of a mile from the summit the trail became significantly steeper and I stopped to put on my microspikes. I had been on Mount Jackson in 2013 when I did the Presidential Traverse and knew that the Jackson branch of the Webster-Jackson Trail descended steeply over ledge near the summit. I knew this would be all ice and wanted to be prepared for it.

The final climb was steep and icy as expected, but I hurried up as my excitement grew. I reached the summit at 6:05 am and was greeted by the moon and stars and the glittering lights of Fabyan to the north. I was amazed at the lack of wind and the mild temperatures and when I crested the icy crown of Jackson I swore out loud at the blood-red horizon to the east.

Orange horizon

Predawn glow from Jackson summit

I dropped my pack and threw on a few layers for added warmth and topped it with my windproof layer. I set up phone for time-lapse video and positioned my DSLR’s tripod for capturing sunrise. As the sky grew lighter I wandered around, took photos and set the timed shutter release so I could pose with some of my favorite mountains.

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As the sun began to rise, a breeze picked up and I had to take breaks from taking photos to warm my hands. When I had a snack a couple of Whiskey Jacks visited me and I was able to photograph one in the orange rays of sunrise.

After I had enjoyed the summit to myself for almost an hour and I half I started breaking down my equipment. As soon as I stopped the timelapse video on my phone it shutoff due to temperature. Luckily I did not lose the video. I warmed the freezing metal brick against my stomach and was able to take a panorama before heading down at 7:25 am.

Snow covered mountain top

Panorama from Mount Jackson summit

The descent in the snow was quick and a half-fall, half-jog; the way I like to descend. At the same spot where I had stopped to put on my microspike I remove most of my layers.

In an hour I had done most of the descent and stopped at Bugle Cliff to check out the view.

Mountains and cliffs

View from Bugle Cliff

15 minutes later, at 8:45 am, I carefully climbed over the ice forehead of Elephant Rock to look down on Route 302 and my car parked below. As I watched several cars pulled into the parking lot. I struck a stunning pose for them just as the brilliant sun crested above Mount Webster behind me (I doubt they noticed).

Sun, mountains and highway

Crawford Notch and AMC Highland from Elephant Head Rock

At 9:00 am I stepped out of the forest and crossed the road to my car. There were a couple of groups preparing to hike up and we exchanged a few words about the trail conditions. If only they had known what an amazing morning it was, they would have no doubt shown up at 4:00 am as well. The clear and mild conditions, and superb sunrise catapulted Mount Jackson to near the top of my list of favorite hikes and favorite mountains.

Each fresh peak ascended teaches something.
—Sir Martin Convay



Video of Mount Jackson Sunrise Hike
Music from Free Music Archive: “Solitude” by Broke for Free

The Numbers

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

Date Hiked: 06 December 2015
Temperature: 20-30°s
Trail Conditions: mud, black ice, packed snow
Weather: clear
Wind: W 10 mph

Highest Elevation: 4052′
Elevation Gain: 2200′
Distance: 5.6 miles
Book Time: 3:50
Actual Time: 3:30

Tracing White Mountains Trails:
Webster-Jackson Trail – Jackson Branch
Elephant Head Spur

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