My heart sank a bit as the woman at the park gatehouse told me I only had enough time before dark to hike Williams Falls or Pine Point. It was 5PM, sunset was at around 8:30, and the Mount Sagamook Trail was rated as a 4-5 hour hike. I convinced the woman that I knew what I was doing and that I had flashlights. She made me agree to stay on the shorter westernmost trail in case they had to come and look for me. She sold me a park pass for $8 and I was off.
I parked at the trailhead and packed everything in my pack, I put on my boots, and started to hike. Time was wasting. I wanted to be at the top for the golden hour and I needed to be back before it was too dark. Before the park rangers would come looking for me.
The first 300 meters of the trail overlaps with the Caribou Brook Trail. It is a slight incline as it follows what used to be a road. The small set of stairs marks the start of the Sagamook Trail and the immediately the trail begins to climb. After another short distance the Sagamook Trail splits. The left trail takes you out around the easternmost section of the Mountain with a small side trail that I assume goes to a lookout. I have yet to hike this side of the mountain but I promised the woman at the gate I would stay right. To the right is the steeper, quicker and more popular climb up the mountain.
At this point the trail turned steeper and rockier. I tried to pace myself and hurry at the same time. I soon realized how little I had been exercising lately. My legs started to burn and in spite of the cooler air I was sweating. I took a few quick breaks to drink water but then continued at a steady pace. The excitement of getting to the top near sunset was pushing me on.
After a few switchbacks I started to hear people on the trail. I found a wide spot in the trail and took a break waiting for them to pass. I didn’t want them to see me sweating and all out of breath. They might think I needed medical help. I was close to feeling like I needed medical help. A woman from the group stopped and looked at me sternly telling me that it was going to be dark soon. I guess I must have looked like I wasn’t going to make it. I told the woman I had flashlights and was ready to use them so she continued on down the mountain. She and a few other adults were with what seemed an endless row of young teenage kids. I asked them if they enjoyed the view and they all answered with a resounding yes. Some were even so kind as to offer me advice and directions. Something about a silver can that I never did find.
I continued up the trail and continued to pass small groups of kids. While talking to one of the last groups of kids I noticed something out of the corner of my eye that looked like it was falling off my cheek. My heart filled with dread as the kids I was talking to got a whole lot blurrier. The thing that I saw fall was my contact lens.
All I could picture was 20 kids along the trail on their hands and knees at dusk looking for my contact lens so I pretended nothing happened. The kids didn’t notice and kept right on talking. After they left and were out of view I dropped to the ground and tried to find the small piece of plastic among the roots and the rocks. I had a faint hope that it stuck to a clean piece of rock or root and that I may be able to use my drinking water to get it back in my eye. After 5 minutes of fruitless searching I gave up. Time was still wasting.
I thought about giving up and going back to the car but I was so close to the top that I had to keep going. I had found a backup pair of contacts in my camera bag earlier so at least I would be able to see on the drive home. Too bad they were the only things I left in the camera bag that I didn’t put in my backpack.
Loss of clear vision in one eye messes up your depth perception. That is important information that I never thought I would be writing in this blog. Depth perception is important when you are hiking in the mountains and have to plan every footfall. After hiking for a while I started to get used to feeling out my footsteps and not trusting my vision 100%. This meant a bit slower pace but that was alright since my legs were starting to get a bit jittery with fatigue. I am a bit masochistic but I love that feeling. I only get that feeling when climbing mountains so it makes me feel more in the moment.
The trail turned and climbed straight up the mountain. There was a small bench at the top of the climb. This is the place with some of the first views. You get to see how high you have come. After taking some pictures of the hills below I continued on. The sun was getting low in the sky so it was starting to get darker under the trees. I knew that treeline wasn’t much farther and that it would open up to even more spectacular views.
After a short climb the trees opened up to rocks. Looking back at this point gave me a 180 degree view to the north of the mountain including Nictau Lake. Directly below is Heart Island. At least I think it’s called heart island since it is perfectly shaped like a heart. If the island has a different name feel free to let me know.
I took many pictures of the lake below with the mountains as a backdrop. The sun was low in the sky, which made everything look warm and created shadows across the other hills. If this was as far as I could come it would be worth the trip. The last time I climbed Sagamook I was with my sister and my two kids. The kids were only 3 and 6 years old at the time so it took us most of the day to get this far. Tonight I had my sights set on Sagamook Peak and the view point.
I continued on and soon came to the trail junction between the peak and the view point. I decided to go check out the peak first because I wanted to be near the rocky outcrops at the view point when the sun really set. After a final short climb I came to another junction with the Mount Head Trail. I could see a rocky outcrop in front of me that I thought must be Sagamook’s peak.
I climbed the small rocky outcrop that took me above the trees to Sagamook’s Peak. Again I took many pictures of the rocky outcrop and the surrounding landscape. Sagamook Peak is back from the edge of the mountain so there were no views of the lakes below. There were views of the trees that stretched far across to the edges of the plateau, there were views of the distant mountains beyond the edge of the plateau, and there was a view of Mount Carleton Peak. I could see the fire tower as a small speck on the horizon. I got out my zoom lens and took some pictures of the distant shelter. Someday I would be back to hike across the plateau between the two peaks but tonight I had to get to the view point.
On the way back to the view point trail I was surprised to meet a couple that was hiking up to the peak with their dog. I told them the view from the view point was probably a bit better than from the peak. They weren’t sure if they had time for both so they continued on to the peak.
I continued on to the the view point and was dismayed to see a sign declaring the end of the trail. I had come to check out the rocky outcrops that are synonymous with Sagamook. The ones I could see from the Mount Bailey Trail last February. The ones you can see when looking up from the campground. There seemed to be an old trail that continued below the lookout. I took the sign to mean continue beyond this point at your own risk. I was careful not to damage any plant life and continued to the rocky outcrop down to the right of the viewpoint.
After taking lots of pictures as the sun set I set up the camera to do a timelapse while I sat on the rocky outcrop and ate my supper. I had some pb&j sandwiches to eat and they were wonderful. It was late and I had just climbed a mountain so saying I was hungry was an understatement. When I was done eating I just sat there and enjoyed the view. I watched the way the light played off the trees on the distant mountains and the lake below.
I noticed that the couple I passed earlier had decided to check out the view point after all. They were taking pictures at the view point. From across the small valley we discussed how beautiful it all was and how it would be getting dark soon. After taking in the beautiful sunset they told me they were going to start heading back down. I told them I was coming soon but I had another idea for pictures so I had to try it out.
Once I was done I grabbed my camera gear and was on my way. I was in a hurry because I didn’t want anyone to come looking for me and it was getting dark quickly. After dropping into the woods below the treeline I had to get out my flashlight. If I had two contacts I would have waited longer to take it out but the dark only increased my depth perception issues.
About halfway down the trail I caught up to the couple and their dog. It was dark now. They had one flashlight so they were happy when I provided them with more light on the rocky trail. We continued slowly down the trail. I don’t mind hiking in the dark. I do it quite often to catch the magic light. We talked about hiking on the way down. They were on vacation from Ontario and had hiked a mountain in Cape Breton a few days prior. They had plans to climb Mount Carleton the next day.
When we got to the stairs that marked the Caribou Brook Trail we saw flashlights coming up the trail. I guess we didn’t make it down before the park rangers came to look for us. Luckily we were only 300 meters in the trail when they came to look. I hope we didn’t cause them too much of an inconvenience. We were surprised that their truck had the red and blues flashing as we reached the parking lot. They told us we were supposed to be done hiking before dark. They referred to the sign that said the days were getting shorter.
The idea of trying to put a contact lens in my eye in a dark car didn’t sound like much fun so I asked the rangers if the front gate was open. They confirmed that it was open until 10 and then they were on their way. From the radio chatter it sounds like we were the last crazy hikers that they had to find that night.
I stayed and talked to the couple for a while about hiking adventures as we compared pictures from our cameras, but then had to get to the gatehouse before it closed. I got to the gatehouse, put in my contact and thanked the women working there. It had been quite an adventure. As always I didn’t want it to be over. On the drive home all I could think about was my next trip to the mountains. Hopefully the fall colors would be on full display by then.