East Rock sunrises

A hike to the top of East Rock, a park on a ridge that overlooks New Haven, is a rite of passage for any Yalie. Normally, it doesn’t take place when it’s pitch black outside. But this year, the weekend before Thanksgiving, my housemates and I—sleep-deprived and shivering cold—found ourselves on this journey. We sought what immediately followed the darkness: a sunrise over the city.

The idea for the hike rose spontaneously the day before, suggested jokingly at first until we all looked at each other and realized we weren’t really kidding. Many of my housemates would be leaving for home over break, and they wouldn’t be coming back until 2021. The end had arrived, and we needed something to cap off the year.

Pre-hike fueling: Ghirardelli brownies at 3 am.

We wanted to really commit, so in the hours before, we pulled an all-nighter, baking Ghirardelli brownies, telling scary stories, and filming Tik Tok dances that are too embarrassingly bad to ever see the light of day. Then, at 4 am, we set out, the New Haven streets eerily quiet. We, too, stayed silent as we walked, not wanting to disturb the peace. Slowly, the houses of the East Rock neighborhood gave way to East Rock Park and a forest-y incline that wound to the top of the ridge. Through the trees, the night lights of New Haven started to emerge as we climbed higher. 

The dark, quiet streets of New Haven. The Soldiers and Sailors monument, that tiny white statue in the distance, marks the top of East Rock. 

Eventually, we reached the top of the ridge. I had hiked East Rock multiple times before, but darkness transformed the view completely. I couldn’t make out individual buildings, but instead saw hundreds of untethered street and building lights, all morphing into one constellation.

Up until then, the cold weather had provided a welcome wakeup as we hiked. As a general rule, though, when facing the biting New England cold, you should wear more than a hoodie and jean jacket. I’m not sure what possessed me to make this ridiculous fashion decision in the freezing, sunless weather. As we sat at the top, waiting for the light to come, the cold started to set in, and my experience got a lot more painful. I retreated into my hood. I started to lose feeling in my fingers and toes. Nice as this moment was, I got a bit impatient for the sun to just rise already.

New Haven at night.

Slowly, it did. It started as a sliver of indigo against the black of the sky. Slowly, pastel yellows and pinks set in, the ring of blue getting larger and lighter. Buildings regained their shapes; the tower of Pauli Murray College stood out to me immediately. Yellows gave way to bright oranges. My friends and I watched, playing music softly from someone’s phone. And then, at 6:45—at this point, I really couldn’t feel anything in my toes besides a general stinging sensation—the sun emerged.

Sunrises are the ideal time for deep reflection, and there’s probably a lot of metaphors or conclusions I could draw from this 4 am hike. Something about friendships, or new beginnings, or hope in this absolutely crazy year. But really, as I stood at the top, watching the horizon slowly brighten and the city of New Haven slowly come out of shadows, I wasn’t really thinking about anything at all. Sometimes, it’s nice to stop and just watch what’s happening around you. In New Haven, we’re lucky to have East Rock to do that.

Sunrise over New Haven, the Long Island Sound in the distance.