Every year when I set out on my traditional New Year’s hike up Cadillac Mountain, one thing’s for certain: It’s never the same as the year before, or any other year for that matter. It has been that way since that first predawn hike to watch the sun come up over the new millennium, in 2000. But, for all the uncertainty, there’s one element that remains unchanged. I may have companions or I might be hiking solo, but it will be dark.

This year, I was joined by my friends Scott Fisher from Ellsworth and Don Littlefield from Orrington. Don and I met Scott at the gated entrance to Acadia National Park on the Eagle Lake Road. It was 4 a.m., and there were a few cars parked near the gate by the time we arrived. In 20 minutes or so we were mounted up and walking up the road by headlamps to the start of the North Ridge Trail.

Starting up the trail, we followed someone ahead of us who broke the trail out with their snowshoes. We had put ours on soon after starting the trail and were trudging through a few inches of snow and darkness. Up on the low part of the mountain, we could see the lights of Bar Harbor glowing warmly below the ridge to our left. Above our heads a blanket of clouds obscured the stars. Occasionally a sprinkle of rain would splatter our rain shells, but nothing constant or heavy fell.

Gradually we worked our way up with Scott leading. After about 20 minutes of hiking the people whose tracks we were following turned sharply right. Fisher hollered back, “I’m going this way.” His headlamp went one way, and Don and I went another. He and I just figured Fisher knew where he was going. Since Don and I weren’t all that convinced, we stayed with following the snowshoe tracks in front of us.

After about five minutes of busting through brush we suspected we weren’t on the trail and Fisher had chosen wisely. When we came out on the auto road to the summit, we realized our mistake. Once on the road, we decided to stay on the road. It was about an hour to go before sunrise. It was warm and windless from the time we started out on the trail, and it looked like we might not see the sun actually rise because of the cloud cover. In any event, the road was easier walking than the trail.

We took off the snowshoes and bare-booted the snowmobile-packed snow from that point to the top. We met a couple of guys from Connecticut whom we met last year on New Year’s Day. Apparently it has become a tradition for those two, as well. We exchanged greetings and hiked more or less together to the summit.

It was growing lighter with each landmark that came into view. Off to the right we looked over Eagle Lake, ice-free. Sargent Mountain rose in the view as well as the lights of Northeast Harbor. Offshore we could see the lights of Islesford and Cranberry Island.

Soon we were at the top in the predawn light and joined Scott, whose headlamp we saw on the trail near the auto road. There were around 20 or so others on the summit and we all gathered in the rocks out of the slight, cooling breeze. Still, it was fairly warm, especially when compared to other years.

While we waited, we exchanged New Year’s greetings with those nearby, a couple of brothers from Bangor. The guys from Connecticut were there, as well as Lili Pew and her female companion, who skied to the top and were skiing down.

We had about 15 minutes to wait, and then the sun began to rise over the dull, blue-steel-colored Atlantic. Overhead the gray blanket of clouds was thin enough to allow us a great view of the sun as it slowly escaped the horizon. The colors weren’t particularly vivid or grand, but rather subtle and muted.

After we were all assured the sun had indeed risen again for the start of another year, Don, Scott and I turned to head back down. Scott said, “I’m taking the trail.” Don and I stuck with the road. We invited Scott to join us for breakfast in Bar Harbor. “I may pass,” he replied. After a couple of more whoops of “Happy New Year!” we headed down.

Don and I greeted a few stragglers on their way up, the sunrise witnessed by them on their hike to the top. We agreed that this was a pretty good way to bring in the new year. We witnessed the first light of the first day. We will have hiked about 6 miles round trip before 8 in the morning, climbed a mountain, looked out over the Atlantic, and kept a tradition going. It’s bound to be a good hiking year, with a start like that.