Sunrise, Sunset, each New Year following another…

31 Dec 2006/1 Jan 2007

Very many years ago, when I was about as old as some of you are now, I went mountain climbing in Scotland with a very dear friend of mine. There was this mountain, you see, and we decided to climb it. And so, very early one morning, we arose and began to climb. All day we climbed. Up and up and up, higher and higher and higher. Until the valley lay very small below us, and the mists of the evening began to come down, and the sun to set. And when we reached the summit we sat back to watch this magnificent sight of the sun going down behind the mountain. And as he watched, my friend, very suddenly and very violently vomited.

— Alan Bennett, Beyond the Fringe

Several years ago, on New Year’s day, two friends of mine and I decided to go for an afternoon hike. We were trying to find a trail we had heard about which led up the back side of Rocky Pine Ridge. We went up Tunnel, beyond the dry falls, and found a likely canyon which seemed to have the vestiges of a trail which indeed led up to the Ridge. But there it petered out. We were left on the ridge, but far from any part we knew. We set out, in what we imagined to be the right direction. Through the chaparral. Which is not easy. Occasionally climbing rocks so we could orient ourselves.

And the sun began to go down.

We were all experienced hikers with lights and had no qualms about hiking in the dark — on a trail. Being lost in chaparral was another matter, and we began to worry.

As the sun neared the horizon, I finally saw the rock castle that marked the top of the trail we normally took, and suddenly the sunset was no longer dangerous and became beautiful. The rocks around us were stained red and the clouds to the west blazed up.

I had run the Resolution Day races for the first time that day (and was very proud of having run the 10k at a 6:40 pace:-)) and had watched the sun rise as I biked toward them. So this was one of the few days when I’d actually seen both the sun rise and set.


I was thinking of that day a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that I should like to do that again (well, not the part about getting lost). I could hike up Cathedral to watch the sun rise, and then hike back up to watch the sun set. Then I thought — it would make a better story if I watched the sun set on New Year’s Eve, an ending to the old year, and watched it rise on New Year’s Day, as a beginning. So I decided to do that, and to see if I could get some people to join me.

I hiked up Cathedral to see how long it took. About one hour, fifteen minutes. I checked the times of sunrise and set (On the 31st the sunset was at 16:59, and on the 1st the sunrise as at 07:04 — at sea level — at elevation the sun will set later and rise earlier, but I didn’t bother to rewrite my program to check for that).

So allowing for the fact that I’m a fast hiker, and that groups always take longer than they should to do anything, I decided to call for a start time of 3:15pm on the 31st and 5:20am on the 1st.

I got some “Maybe.”s. I got some “That’s a wonderful idea but I’ll be out of town.”s. Dennis said he was interested. Aha! a definite response.


The route up to Cathedral starts at Tunnel Rd. and follows the Jesusita (Inspiration Pt.) trail for a way. It goes up the road, across the bridge, and then over the stream crossing — there it diverges from Inspiration and heads up Mission Creek (along the seven falls trail). At first this is easy but it soon has you scrambling up a steeply sloping rock face and then climbing steeply up a rocky trail. It levels out (a bit) after a quarter of a mile or so, and the Cathedral route leaves the river and climbs steeply up the hillside, eventually reaching a razer-backed ridge with ocean views to the left, and the canyon of Mission creek (about five hundred feet below now) on the right, and steep drops on either side.

The ridge is covered with manzanita bushes and rocks. Clambering over, among, around the rocks is a fun challenge. Halfway up, there is a place where one must climb through a small tunnel. The trail continues steeply up the ridge-line, until it bends to the left underneath the peak and climbs up (steeply, of course) the other side of the mountain in the final ascent.

Actually, I should add that what I call Cathedral Peak isn’t the true Cathedral — that peak is about ½ a mile beyond the terminus of this steep trail. Again reachable by another razor-backed ridge-line trail, but not quite such a steep one.


On New Year’s Eve I got off my bike a little after 3 to find Denis and his friend Steve there already. We wait around for a bit, but no one else shows up, so off we go.Rocky Ridge in the mist There are some clouds around Rocky Pine Ridge, and they seem to be increasing. There is a cloud trying to work its way over the top of the ridge near La Cumbra. Dennis remarks happily that more clouds make a more interesting sunset. They do — up to a point, of course. You certainly get more colours if the light can bounce off clouds — but too many clouds can obscure the sun and lead to no light at all.

When we get to the first steep bit, Steve starts to flag. I guess I hadn’t made it clear enough that this was a difficult trail. We wait for him to catch his breath and then press on. But I’m still going too fast. This is worrying. I had not expected to be moving this slowly. We haven’t even reached the Cathedral turn off, and that’s where things get really hard.

Dennis says he’ll stay back with Steve (Dennis knows the route). At first I try to wait for them, but I start to worry about missing the sunset. So, regretfully, I have to leave them behind.Moon and mist over ridge When I get up to the ridge I can see that the clouds are creeping up all around us now. There is fog down below in mission creek canyon, there are clouds up by Rocky Pine Ridge, clouds are spilling over the tops of the mountains from the San Ynes valley, there are even wisps of clouds blowing across the ridge I’m on.

The moon is just rising over Rocky Pine Ridge, a waxing gibbous moon.

As I climb up the ridge the fog seems to be racing me to the top. Rocky Pine is now out of sight behind clouds. Luckily the peak I’m heading for still seems bathed in sunlight.

The ridge is covered with manzanita, and even to my colour-blind eyes the red trunks stand out against the green leaves. Many of the bushes are covered with the bell-shaped flowers of the heath family and — yes — there are humming birds up here, whirring around all over the place. Perhaps they like the flowers? (but the flowers are white — I didn’t think humming birds noticed white flowers).

I stop to photograph the manzanita, and suddenly the mist is all around me. Oh dear, will there be any sunlight at the top?

Two small furry creatures run across the trail in front of me. They are hiden behind a low rock and all I can see is the top fur on their backs. I can’t identify them, and by the time I reach that spot on the trail they are long gone.Ridge out of mist A little higher and I have pushed through the fog. It also seems to have dropped down the face of Rocky Pine Ridge leaving that floating in a sea of mist. As I climb higher the mist dissipates further. I turn several times to watch the peaks rise from obscurity.

And finally I reach the top. The horizon is almost clear now — a few clouds, just enough to make the sunset interesting, but the clouds are still trying to climb over the mountains from San Ynez.Sunset from Cathedral Peak I’ve made it up with a few minutes to spare. The sun is setting through the clouds and is quite spectacular. The city is mostly covered with clouds which writhe underneath the sunset. I need a video camera to do justice to the sight. The sun sets, slowly creeping down below the horizon. As it finally slips below I stand for a while on a rock to watch the colours slowly fade to the west — and, good heavens, someone is coming up the trail behind me, I didn’t think they’d make it.
Sunset from Cathedral PeakAh, no. It’s Martin. And he’s running. I didn’t think it was possible to run up this trail. Martin rushes past me for another 20 feet until he finds the end of his run. Then he announces that it took him 52 minutes to get up here today.

We head down the hill together in the fading light. After a bit Martin finds my pace too slow and zooms ahead. I’m even more afraid of running down this trail than I am of running up itFading light.

And then I’m out, and at my bike. I never saw Dennis and Steve again (Martin had seen them on his way up), but I check for their cars and those are gone, so I assume they got back ok. (They did).


I’m up before 4, out of the house on the bike at 4:30 and at the trailhead at 5:10am. Four people have said they might join me. As I wait, a car drives up (there is no traffic on Tunnel Rd. at 5am), ah, I think, someone has made it! — But no, the car reaches the dead-end, appears confused, turns around and drives off. Who on earth is going to be wandering around the boondocks of SB at 5 in the morning on New Year’s day?Aside from me, I mean.

I wait a little longer. No one else shows up.

So up I go again. It is black. There is a faint glow off to the west showing where the moon set about half an hour ago. The stars are out. It isn’t as cold as I feared.

When I get to the ridge I meet the wind. I comes roaring across the ridge top. Somehow I seem to be out of the worst of it. I hear it lashing at the trees, but very little actually blows against me.

Now there is a faint glow off to the east, and the moon is long gone.

A little higher and I get a good view of the city sparkling below, and the faint line of colour off to the east. I take out the camera, knowing it won’t work, and take a picture. The picture is dead black.

I start to worry if I will have enough time to reach the top… I hike more slowly in the dark, I hadn’t thought of that.

I realize I don’t really need the headlamp any more; there is almost enough light now, and, yes, I can get a photograph of line of colour on the horizon.

A little further and I take the headlamp off. I’m out in the wind now, it’s quite blusterous.

The rocks beside me glow red in the morning blush, but the picture I try to take of them is almost black still.

I turn the corner and here’s the peak. I climb up on to the rocks at the top and the full force of the wind hits me. I’ve got about 10 minutes before sunrise, and it is cold. I take some quick shots of the horizon and then drop down out of the wind and put on a few more layers. It is still cold.Sunrise from Cathedral Peak There are no clouds this morning. A little haze over the city. More haze between here and the Islands (I can only see Santa Cruz, and only the top of it). Dennis would have been disappointed.

I try to find a vantage out of the wind. Well I can’t, but here’s a spot with less wind, and good heavens, the sun is rising now!

So I take my photos. But it’s cold in the wind.

I turn back down. It’s scarcely 5 minutes past sunrise when I hear my first humming bird, buzzing somewhere nearby. As I descend into the manzanita I hear them all over the place. Humming birdAt one point I see three of them hovering near a tree in front of me. I pull out my camera and two of them zoom off to do acrobatics in the air. The third perches. I can even photograph him. Of course he’s just a tiny dot in the picture.

I keep going, and the humming birds keep tempting me. They hover briefly a few feet in front, but are gone by the time the camera comes out. If I stand still they don’t come back. If I go on, I’m never prepared when they appear.

And then… I cross some boundary and they are all gone.

Almost at Jesusita, I look across Mission creek at the mountains on the other side of it. And the mountains are reflected in the creek. A beautiful instant.

Reflections of the mountains

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2 Responses to “Sunrise, Sunset, each New Year following another…”

  1. Resolution Day 2008 « George’s Meanderings Says:

    […] Generally I watch the sun rise on the way to the race, stopping every now and then to take pictures, of course. Of course for the last few years the race hasn’t been on New Year’s day so last year I had the freedom to hike up Cathedral Peak. […]

  2. Solstice traditions « George’s Meanderings Says:

    […] rather proud of what I did in 2006/7 when I decided to do a hike up to the top of Cathedral Peak to watch the sunset on New Year’s […]

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