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Outdoors with Ruthie: How to catch a sunset on Jay Peak

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Adam poses on the summit of Jay Peak as the sun dips below the horizon.

Sunrise or sunset? There’s a very different feeling coming down a mountain in the dark instead of climbing up a mountain in the dark. You know the light is coming on a sunrise hike; you climb the mountain with the sky growing brighter. The landscape slowly takes on color, and when you clear the trees, the sky is bright (even on a cloudy day).

A sunset hike is the opposite; you leave your car in daylight and ascend the mountain with the low-lying sun bathing the landscape in golden light. When you clear the trees, the views are breathtaking, with golds, reds, lilacs, and the last of the blues painting the sky....but the night is coming!

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Adam walking through marshmallow trees on the descent to the car.

Walking in a world of color: Last week, Adam and I arrived on Jay Peak’s summit to a glorious kaleidoscope of colors and clouds. The wind was fierce, and the temps were well below freezing; it was a small price to pay for the scenery.

Clouds hung low over Mount Mansfield and the Green Mountains, and the Adirondacks were deep purple against the light from the setting sun. The snow around us danced and sparkled in the fading light as the wind blew.

Don’t frostbite your nose! At one point, I ducked behind a snow-covered rock to dodge the wind. I always know it’s cold when I feel the bridge of my nose start to burn. Time to pull up the gaiter!

After admiring the colors and watching them fade to soft pastels, we turn around and hiked through the latter half of the evening, eventually letting our headlamps light the way.

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Here we are freezing in a whole lot of wonderful!

Here we are freezing in a whole lot of wonderful!

What time did we leave? We started hiking at 4:15, knowing the sun would set around 5 pm. We knew it would take under an hour to ascend since we weren’t filming any video.

The first part of the hike passed through sunny, open hardwood forest; as we ascended into the conifers, the light grew more muted. We hiked through a marshmallow forest of snow-draped conifers, navigating the well-packed trail to the summit. Skiers and snowboarders were the last to use the trail, and it was smooth and easy to follow most of the way.

Old hikes are like old friends; it’s good to see them: If you have a hike you’ve done a few times, you learn to look for your ‘favorite’ spots. I’ve got a few on Jay. The big tree that leans off the trail and provides a great peek at Mount Mansfield is one; I have to climb it every time I hike Jay.

Just below the summit, part of the trail runs flat and smooth through weathered conifers that are open enough to provide a glimpse of views into the valley below. At sunset, the snow was lit golden and pink in the late afternoon light.

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Adam walks through one of my ‘favorite’ spots on the Long Trail to the summit of Jay Peak.

On the way down, the light faded slowly, and our eyes adjusted surprisingly well. We reached the car around 6 pm and headed home for dinner.

Some hikes stay with you for a while; sunrise and sunset hikes are like that. You’re a little out of your comfort zone, and there’s a spark of adventure that’s a bit different than a daytime adventure.

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