Goodnow Mountain - Looking back on a sunset hike

Goodnow Mountain - Looking back on a sunset hike

Have you ever had one of those days where you just needed to get outside and leave everything inside behind? Inside your head I mean. You know that lousy day at work, fight with a family member, or maybe the stress of higher than normal heating bills? Well, a sunset hike might be just the ticket - at least it was for me on a cold and frosty pre-winter evening.
It was about 3:00 pm and the cold had started to settle in for the night and we found ourselves at the trailhead for Goodnow Mountain. The skies were as clear as I had even seen them, but the lack of cloud cover also made for what was turning out to be a bitter cold air. The day had only produced a high of about 10 degrees, and here at 3:00 pm it was approaching 0 degrees. The overnight low was predicted to be a whopping -25 degrees and I can imagine we might just witness this first-hand before we got off the mountain.

Getting dressed for success

The car was warm and still running so we decided to get dressed inside rather than out. Fighting the steering wheel and the horn I managed to put on heavyweight long underwear and mountaineering socks. Everyone else managed to do the same, with a bit more ease. I then put on a short sleeved wicking shirt over the long underwear, making a definite fashion statement. The waterproof, breathable pants turned out to be the more difficult garment to put on in the driver's seat, but that wasn't anything a few key words wouldn't resolve. I had just picked up a new pair of -40 Icebug boots and I was waiting for the perfect time to break them out – this was it. I was now ready to get out of the car and put on the final layers. I would start out with a fleece jacket under my waterproof breathable Gortex shell jacket – too many layers for hiking, but I would shed some once I got moving. Next of course was the wool hat (my temperature regulator) and then gaiters.

Checking my pack

Now I had to check my pack just to assure we were ready. I had packed some extra stuff, especially for a night hike, just to be prepared; my winter pack is pretty large even on a regular basis. I had everything: water, food, change of socks and long underwear, headlamp and batteries, camera, fire starter (matches and dryer lint, not Drew Barrymore), sleeping bag (just in case), tarp (for vapor barrier just in case), first aid kit, face mask (for summit), dry gloves, down jacket (for hanging around on the summit), and a small stove (to make pine tea at the top). Now went on the snowshoes and out came the trekking poles, we were off.

Goodnow Mountain Trail

This trail is laid out and maintained by SUNY ESF and is great in winter conditions – a bit wet in spots during the summer but well frozen during the deep freeze. The initial trail got me thinking about de-layering a bit, but I waited a while longer since the trail remains pretty flat for some distance. Even under easy conditions the fleece became just way too much, it had to come off. We all stripped a bit, there's nothing worse than overheating on the way up and then freezing, near solid, when you hit the top in your sweat-soaked clothes. Soon we passed by where the old trail comes in, hardly noticeable now, especially in winter. If you didn't know what to look for - and where - you might never spot it. We pushed on uphill, now much cooler; we had a slight chill at times, possibly from getting a bit damp from being overdressed. If we kept moving we were fine. We decided to take a short break and hang out at the old horse barn located not far off the summit. We didn't stick around too long; just long enough to get a drink and a granola bar for energy. The sun was starting to get lower on the horizon - we needed to hurry a bit in order to catch a sunset if there was one to be.

Early Sunset
An early sunset on the trail near the summit

We moved along much quicker now, the sky starting to turn a light-colored orange out over the High Peaks. I snapped a couple quick shots as we moved. As we passed through the forest I snagged a few branches of balsam for some hot tea for in the cab of the firetower.

The summit came very soon after. It was very cold up on the top, but hardly any wind to shorten our stay. We all put on our fleeces again and then our down jackets over everything – we were toasty. We didn't need the facemasks we brought, but you know the old saying, "it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it." Suited up, stove and food out, camera at the ready and snowshoes off, we climbed the stairs up to the cab of the firetower.

Sunset over the High Peaks

The sunset soon became pretty magnificent, the camera was smoking by the time I was done collecting pictures.  Ah, and then it was time for tea. Getting the water boiling in my Jetboil, I added some orange peel from the orange we had just ate, and then stuffed a couple empty tea bags full of balsam needles. I let that seep for about 10 minutes until there was a nice oily film of balsam sap on the top of the water – it was like liquid Christmas in a cup. I have used white pine, red pine, red spruce, and black spruce needles before, but balsam always seems to have the most flavor; spruce is a close second. Pine needles always seem to need to be chopped up and seep longer. They also should be off a young shoot, which nearly always grows near the top of the trees, making them hard to reach. Plus, the chopped up needles - no matter how good you seal the tea bag - almost always end up in your teeth like spinach greens.

View from the tower
View through the tower window
Another view from the Goodnow Mountain Firetower

We spend a good part of an hour in the cab, at times huddled behind the walls for warmth, but soon we would need to leave. It was hard to believe it wasn't even 6:00 pm yet, it felt like midnight. The descent of the staircases got the creaking out of my bones before I had to load up my pack for our exit. We butt-slid what we could, when we could, but honestly there wasn't that much – we looked more like a dog on a carpet. We would soon be back at the car and to avoid any unnecessary hiker vs. car steering wheel confrontations I opted not to change my clothes, but to crank the heat.

Stewarts in Long Lake would be our 5-star dinner experience for the evening; they are fast, easy, and quite refreshing after a day in the hills. Hamilton County has many opportunities for sunset hiking opportunities you should check out what we have to offer. Maybe a "quick stop dinner" isn't for you; we can feed the heartiest of appetites.

Map of Goodnow
Map of the Goodnow Trail