Jones: Shorter days still have enough sun for outdoor fun

  • Snow is made at Sunday River in Maine. The ski area began making snow last weekend and will open for the season on Friday. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 11/12/2019 10:47:37 PM

Last week, I was sitting on top of a hill and watching the sun set. I’d been camping for a couple of days, and my life had been ordered by the natural rhythms of the rising and setting of the sun. The sunset was gorgeous, and it would soon be time to head down the hill to my camp for an evening of relaxing by a camp fire. I’d turn in early to the warmth of my sleeping bag, get up in the morning just as the sky began to faintly lighten. That’s the natural order of things – the way humans lived for a hundreds of thousands of years.

For some reason I still don’t quite understand, I happened to glance down at my watch and discovered it was a little after 4:30 p.m. (analog watch, not that accurate) out in the human world. Out of idle curiosity, when I got back to “civilization” I checked the sunrise and sunset times. Turns out the sun had risen that morning at about 6:23 a.m. and set at 4:35 p.m. – in hilly terrain, you may not see the sunrise at the exact moment it pops up over the horizon or the sunset when it drops below. We’d had just over 10 hours of sunlight that day. Plenty of time for fun outdoors.

By the time we reach the Winter Solstice – 11:19 p.m., Dec. 21 – we’ll be down to about nine hours of sunlight, a full three hours less than we had on the Equinox on Sept. 21.

The later sunrises and early sunsets at this time of year are simply a fact of life, and not really much of a problem if you pay attention. Problems arise when people try to blend “human” time with the natural cycle of day and night. You can’t, for example, sleep late and still have all the daylight you might want.

A lot of hikers who need to be rescued at this time of year are those who got a late start and simply ran out of light before they made it back to their car or campsite. That’s why, in addition to the extra clothing and gear you need to stay safe in the wilds at this time of year, you need to carry a small flashlight or headlamp whenever you need to leave the road.

Oh, and get going earlier – preferably as soon as there’s enough light to see. That way you’ll build in as many daylight hours as possible.

It used to be that flashlights and headlamps were heavy, fragile, bulky, dim and burned through both batteries and bulbs at an alarming rate. But today’s LED lights are lighter and more efficient. The best headlamps today from companies like Black Diamond, Petzl and Princeton Tec are expensive ($30-60) but worth every penny for the features they offer and their reliability, but a $5 light from the your local discounter is far better than anything that was available 20 years ago. There’s no reason not to carry a primary light and a spare. Hint: a really good headlamp is a great Christmas present for any outdoors person.

With the days getting shorter for the next six weeks or so, my advice is to use every available moment of daylight to get out and play. Then, carry a light so you can make it home safely once the long dark nights closes in.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Early season ski options

On Nov. 3, Killington Mountain Resort & Ski Area in Vermont started spinning its K-1 Express Gondola and the new North Ridge Quad lift to access Rime and Reason, historically two of the first trails to open in New England. Theoretically, you could already have seven days of skiing notched for the year.

Next up was Sunday River in Maine, which started spinning its Locke Mountain Triple on Saturday. The had skiing over the weekend, shut down for the rest of the week and then will re-open on Friday when, weather permitting, they’ll be open every day until May.

Neither have started turning lifts yet, but both Wildcat Mountain in Gorham and Sugarbush in Vermont have lit up their snowmaking systems and will open soon. Sugarbush has set Nov. 23 as their opening, while Wildcat will open as soon as they have top-to-bottom snow on the Lynx trail.

Yup, it’s ski season. Hope to see you on a chairlift soon.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel and can he reached at

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