Fewer Daylight Hours, What to Do?

With the days getting shorter, it is becoming increasingly hard to get some vitamin D. Sunshine, of course, is directly linked to a person’s mood. The more darkness there is, the harder it is to be in a good mood. Living in Maine makes this abundantly clear. Every year we are faced with short days and long nights as the weather gets colder. What a depressive state it becomes when it’s cold and dark when you wake up and and also when you get out of work. So what is the solution to being able to get some much needed sunlight? An activity to fight back against the encroaching cabin fever.
Sunrise hikes are the best option! The benefit of lengthening nights is that the sunrise is not as early as in the summer. When the sun rises later in the morning, it is possible to get a good night’s sleep and to see the sunrise. Seeing the fall foliage in the light of the morning inspires a strong start to the day as well. Waking up with a hike can be invigorating and gets the blood pumping for the day.
Here are some tips on encouraging you to get out of your blankets and into the hills on these chilly mornings!

Dark Morning Hikes

Make sure to get out there early, it’s better to wait a little bit at the top (if you’re properly prepared) than to miss the sunrise. Check online to see when sunrise is and try to arrive before then. Because you’re headed vertically, the sunrise will be slightly sooner than at ground level.
Know the time it should take you to hike the route and leave a little earlier. It will be dark on the hike up and a familiar trail looks differently in the shadows. A slower ascent or a few wrong turns can be guarded against if you have enough time.
Definitely make sure you are wearing the proper clothing and bringing the right equipment. The weather is volatile and quick to change this time of the year. Try to wear some orange on the hike down as hunting season is getting close too.
The part that makes sunrise hikes tricky is that it is cold and it is dark on the way up. Once the sun arrives, it is usually warm and light, but that’s not always the case. Preparation is key.

Prep Up

Hiking in the cold and the dark has some considerations to be made. For one: it’s cold. And two: it’s dark.

One: Cold

Hiking in the cold definitely requires you to be smart with your layering system. Getting too hot and sweating on the way up is both uncomfortable and dangerous.
-Properly layering with a moisture-wicking base layer, a light warming layer, and a wind shell can be key to overcoming blustery but humid conditions. This will change depending on the day and as the season lengthens, but remember that moving will warm you up so don’t overdress-.
-Wear proper footwear. This is one of the biggest parts of hiking in general. The proper sock and hiking shoe combo is your first defense against the trail. Aim for wool socks because they will keep you warm and they won’t let your feet get sweaty if it’s a little warm. Smartwool and Darntuff are two great brands with high wool content.
-Make sure to pack a big warm coat in your bag. After hiking to the top of the mountain, your body will cool down. Sitting and waiting for the sunrise in a sweaty light coat is not ideal when it’s chilly at the top. Pack that blanket that you would have stayed with in the morning and you should have a cozy spot to sit and get ready.
-Bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee. Not only does this keep up your regular coffee routine, it will warm you from the inside when your outsides get chilly.
-The weather is generally getting colder, so keep an eye on the temperature range and make good decisions on when you should go outside or when it might be a day to really just stay in.

Two: Dark

Moving through a familiar trail in the dark is a distinct feeling. You recognize the general look of the trail, but the particular features are more difficult to distinguish.
-Bring a headlamp and maybe some extra batteries. Of course you should check that your headlamp works before you leave the house, but extras are a good fail-safe.
-Make sure your phone is well charged. You have a backup flashlight on your phone and in case of an emergency you’ll be able to contact someone.
-Tell someone where you are going. This applies to regular hiking too, but having someone else know approximately where you are is super helpful in case of emergencies.
-Step carefully. Because visibility is poor in the dark be careful to walk well. This can be forgotten on a trail you know well, but changes in the trail and unexpected missteps are harder to correct in the dark.

Three:

Have fun exploring a less noticed world. The silence of darkness and the solitude of being in the woods at night is unmatched. Seeing that sunrise can brighten your whole day. The feeling of accomplishing something before getting the day even starts is also invigorating.

Get Chasing

With these considerations I hope you decide to chase the sun this season. We all need more Vitamin D up here in Maine and who says that hiking has to be limited to the weekends. Late morning sunrises are the perfect opportunity to combine exercise and weekday fun. Being able to see the sunrise before going to work makes it a little easier to face the darkness at the end of the work day.
Note that daylight savings time ends on Sunday, November 3rd this year – aka really soon. Falling back an hour means that the sunrise and sunset is earlier. This makes it all the more important to get some sunlight in when the sun sets at 5PM.

P.S One of the coolest parts of Maine is that it is the most Eastward state. We are the first state to see the sunrise. In the winter, the first place to see the sunrise in the United States is on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Every year on New Year’s Eve, you can hike up with dozens of other crazy people who withstand the bitter cold and wind to see the first sunrise of the year. I did this in 2018 and it was a magical experience, frozen gloves and warm hearts abound. What a way to start the year!

Ethan Merrifield is a reader, a runner and, now, a writer. Always active and looking for ways to challenge himself – outdoors and intellectually – he has returned to Midcoast Maine after college and is searching for his next adventure.

Some pictures provided by Riki-Lynne Willmon

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