Set your alarm for 4AM – The Case for Sunrise Summits

It’s the night before your mountain summit. It’s already 11:30PM but you’re just way too excited to fall asleep. Your alarm is set for earlier than usual, 6am…Wait…5? You don’t remember so you go check for the third time. The phone screen lights up your face showing alarms for 3:15, 3:30, 4am. Now you’re definitely not falling asleep anytime soon.

You probably could have set an alarm for as late as 7am and still be off the summit before noon, which is the typical hazard time for alpine thunderstorms. But you didn’t. You’re going for the 4am. Why? Because there’s nothing like a sunrise summit.

Coffee tastes so much better

When you do manage to eventually fall asleep, the alarm will immediately buzz. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. You check the time, 3:15.

You regret those two late night hours of scrolling through the #mountainculture hashtag on Instagram. You should have been sleeping. Foggy, you crawl out of bed and begin your morning routine. You find the coffee and that sweet caffeinated nectar has never have tasted so good.

Find the Best Trailhead Parking Lot

When you roll into the trailhead parking lot at 5am, you’ll maybe discover that you are of only one or two cars already parked. You pull in without a problem. 

Have the Trail All to Yourself

For the few cars that are already here, you’ll notice that very few of their owners have actually set foot on the trail. Today, you are a pioneer.

As you cinch up your backpack and set out for the day…er, for the dark, you’ll notice how quiet it is. The further you venture from the parking lot, the more silent it becomes. All you can hear is that faint crunch of dirt below your boots. All you can really see is the faint glow of your headlamp in front of you. (Why do you always forget to change the batteries?)

You have a much better chance of seeing wildlife 

Because it’s still so quiet and still so dark, a lot of the wildlife is still sleeping. You catch the gleam of eyes in your headlamp and after first thinking that it’s a bear, nearly pee yourself. But on second look, you find that it’s a doe, still bedded down and wondering why you’re shining that crappy light in her eyes.

As you continue to hike and climb in elevation, you may watch as the rest of the world slowly stirs to life below you. The sun is creeping over the ridgeline and with it comes life. Pikas and marmots emerge from their holes to stretch out and bask in the new morning sun.

Take as much time as you want

Sooner or later, you’ll start the last few pitches of your climb. The sun is just now beginning to climb up into the sky, but you are in no hurry. You take plenty of opportunities to stop, take photographs and take in the view.

Have the Summit all to Yourself

Depending on what mountain you climb and what time of the year, if you wake up early enough, you may keep this entire experience to yourself. “It’s crazy” you think, “that I still haven’t seen one other person up here.”

You’ll make the final pitch and summit your mountain, the rest of the world underneath you. This kaleidoscope of mountain sky colors is yours to appreciate in silence. There’s a reason why ‘alpenglow’ is your favorite word. What a perfect start to your day.

Weather is less likely to be a problem

After a long-while on the summit (or maybe even a nap), you’ll eventually begin the descent down. On the way, you’ll greet many of happy hikers following in your footsteps. “Hello.” “Hi.” “Good morning.” They have no idea what they’ve missed.

At nearly 11am, a bout of thunder will make you jump. You look up at the sky to see those clouds rolling in like clockwork. You’re certainly glad not to be on the summit right now.

That mid-afternoon nap

When you return to the trailhead at last, you stretch out your limbs and check your watch. It’s only 11:30, so you hang up the hammock on a nearby tree, pull out a clif bar and nestle in for a well-deserved nap. You fall asleep to the sound of far-off thunder rumbles. 

Suddenly, your alarm starts to buzz. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. You roll over to check your alarm.

4am. It’s summit day.

About Alex Gulsby

Alex Gulsby is a freelance writer and outdoor adventure blogger. When she’s not pecking at her laptop at the local coffee shop, Alex enjoys camping above treeline, worrying her mother, and riding her inflatable toucan down rapids that she shouldn’t.

You could probably convince her to climb just about anything for a good summit beer.

Read more of her writing on her website, Wander Writings.

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