Sunrise Hike: Crocker Cirque


With all that was separating me from the mountains was a few hours of state highways, I had no excuse not to leave for a hike when I would normally be getting ready for bed. Knowing that Crocker Cirque Campsite was just a short hike in the woods, it was a non-decision to pack up and head out for a hike in the middle of the night. Normal people would call this behavior crazy, but that’s okay, I’ve never pretended to be normal.

I arrived at the hiker’s parking lot on the Caribou Pond Road just after 12:00 am. With it being a clear and cool Friday night I was not surprised to see three other cars in the lot. I threw my gear on and headed up the road on foot to where it crossed the Appalachian Trail. I headed north on the AT and after about an hour of hiking by headlamp I started to keep an eye out for the side trail to the Crocker Cirque Campsite.

Just when I started worrying that I had passed the campsite and started looking for a good clearing to hang my hammock, I came to the side trail. There were a few tents erected on platforms, so I headed into a clearing and started unpacking my overnight gear at around 1:00 am.

I quickly had my food hung and was curled up in my sleeping bag, swaying slightly in my hammock below the glittering stars when a light turned on and headed toward me. The light bobbed and weaved through the trees and then stopped close to my tree. The lady paused and looked around, and just as I was about to speak to let her know of my presence, she noticed my hammock and quickly headed back toward her tent. I swear I would have spoken up before she started preparing to relieve herself, but at first I was curious what she was coming to talk to me about (caretaker collecting a fee maybe?) and then I was struggling with how to make her aware of me without scaring the crap out of her.

After a few short hours of rest I was up, had my bag packed and leaving Crocker Cirque Campsite at 3:20 am. There were some feeble switchbacks as the trail steeply climbed the northern wall of South Crocker Mountain. I don’t know why they bothered with the switchbacks, they didn’t make the climb any easier. When I reach some talus the trail leveled off and completed the course to the summit at a moderate climb.

I reached South Crocker at 4:20 am as the eastern horizon turned from dark bruises to many shades of pastel.

Sunrise and distant mountains through trees

Pastel pre-sunrise from South Crocker

I set up my iPhone to take a time-lapse video and attached my GoPro to capture the sunrise at normal speed. I sat back to watch the show while I heated some breakfast and coffee.

Food, chocolate and coffee

Enjoying breakfast on South Crocker while waiting for sunrise

As the sun broke the mountainous horizon and the world woke from its cool slumber, the black flies started their antagonistic hunt for human sweat and blood. I paced and waved my hands about like a fool; trying to stay in motion to prevent being landed upon while weighing the pros and cons of watching “all” of the sunrise or continuing on to North Crocker Mountain.

The sun rising over distant mountains

A magnificent sunrise from South Crocker Mountain

Sunrise behind a tree, with distant mountains

The distant landscape ignited by the sun

At 5:15 am the black flies won. I gathered my gear, cleaned up my breakfast and left for North Crocker Mountain. Right after leaving the vista and heading back to the summit of South Crocker Mountain I noticed the herd path that lead to Mount Redington. It was very obvious, but I had missed it on my way in due to the lack of light.

The trail to North Crocker Mountain descended moderately and then climbed steeply from the col. I didn’t expect there to be as much elevation as there was, but as it approached the summit the trail leveled off considerably.

I got to North Crocker Mountain at 5:45 am and dropped my bag next to the summit sign. I hiked a little way down the boundary swath cut through nearby trees. About 5 months previously I had visited the summit while it was blanketed with deep snow and took a photo of Mount Abraham in the distance. I tried to replicate the photo so I could compare the scene with and without snow.

Winter and summer photos of a mountain

A comparison of the view of Mount Abraham from North Crocker, January and June 2016.

With not a lot to see on North Crocker Mountain I headed back the way I came and hit South Crocker Mountain at 6:30 am. I popped in on the vista again and headed back down the mountain without much pause.

Layers of distant mountains

Mountain layers

When I got back to the talus scree I had a descent view Crocker Cirque and the tarn below.

Close up of a distant pond

Looking down on Crocker Cirque tarn

When I got back to the side trail to Crocker Cirque Campsite I stopped back in as I wanted to check out the tarn. A few campers were packing up to head out and a few others looked as if they had just gotten up. It was funny (to me) that they had all been in their tents when I arrived and I had slept for a few hours, gotten up, hiked two Maine 4000 Footers and was back down to the campsite before any of them had started their hikes.

Mountains rising above a pond

Crocker Cirque panorama

Out in the open of the cirque, the moon (which had lit my way up the mountain earlier) was just setting over South Crocker Mountain above and was reflected within the tarn. I took a few photos and then headed out to my car.

Mountains and moon reflected in a pond

Moon reflection in Crocker Cirque tarn

I saw a couple and a solo hiker on my way out and got to my car at 8:00 am. I hopped in  and headed home knowing that I would be there before noon. My behavior might be considered obsessed or crazy by some. But, I got to hike under the moon, camp out in my hammock, enjoy breakfast and coffee from a mountain top while watching a magnificent sunrise and hike a couple of mountains all in less than twelve hours. All while those normal people were lying in their beds or repeating lackluster Saturday morning routines wondering what they could be doing different to enrich their lives.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
—Robert Frost


Video of Crocker Cirque hikeVideo of Crocker Cirque hike
Music from Free Music Archive: “Go Easy Low” by Aglow Hollow


Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

Date Hiked: 25 June 2016
Temperature: 50°s
Trail Conditions: dry
Weather: clear
Wind: none

Highest Elevation: 4228′
Elevation Gain: 2250′
Distance: 6.7 miles
Book Time: 4:30
Actual Time: 5:40


Related posts:
Winter Hike: North Crocker – 24 January 2016

South and North Crocker in other blogs:
Fumbling Around in the Woods – 17 December 2014
The Pursuit of Life – 29 November 2013|
1 Slower Hiker’s New England Peak Hikes – 30 May 2013
On a Path with Heart – 08 November 2012
Matt’s Hikes – 12 July 2012

Corrie or Cirque Formation.” Cairngorm Landscapes. Web. 26 December 2016.

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2 thoughts on “Sunrise Hike: Crocker Cirque

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Photographs of 2016 | Maine Wanderlust

  2. Pingback: A Look Back on 2016 and Ahead to 2017 | Maine Wanderlust

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