4 am alarm: how did we get here?
Each picture in this collage was taken on a morning trip, usually before work.
At first, Dawn Patrols don't happen for the fun of it. An enthusiastic hiker or climber gets out every weekend he can, which is unfortunately not every weekend of the month. Sober calculation reveals that the high summer offers something like 10 to 15 available trips. Weather, weddings and other kinds of attrition may bring the number down to 8 or 9.
And then look at the pile of guidebooks. Look at the emails and trip reports, lovingly saved or bookmarked. You can't wait to get into the Napeequa Valley, or finally explore the eastern valleys of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Suddenly, available time seems too short!
Some personalities will adopt a zen-like pose at this point: want is the bringer of misery. Live in the moment and accept what Is.
I admire these people of course!
But some of you are the other type. The type with a little more ambition and less common sense. You start thinking, what kind of bargain can I strike, what kinds of change can I make to gorge myself like a tick on the lovely hills?
Well there are many. But maybe you've already imagined and discarded the drastic, the savage. There is already a life to navigate and balance, full of relationships, responsibilities and opportunities that have nothing to do with the hills. If you can turn your back on that then stop reading now: you need never get up at 4 am again! Go get your cabin in Talkeetna! But if all that non-mountain stuff is part of your life too, loved in it's own fashion, then the Dawn Patrol is not a drastic choice. It's about increasing throughput. It's about keeping you "in touch" with whats going on with the snowpack. It's about keeping in shape of course. And hey, this is summitpost, I can be honest: it's about checking off tickmarks too!
Those scruffy mountains on the nearby horizon! Sure, you know their names by now, but you never get into them. The scenery is okay, but when you have a weekend you'd rather drive a couple of hours to the great stuff. But still you'd like to tag them. That's how it started for me. Snowshoeing up a pitch black logging road, my work clothes in the car. Clearcuts and slide alder at dawn, a golden sunrise made it worthwhile even though I wasn't even near the peak. Once at work I felt like I had a secret. Other than being a little tired I was in fine shape. But hell...I saw the sun rise behind Three Fingers. I was looking down into a trailless valley and front pointing down an icy slope before the 10 am status meeting! Not bad...not bad, I thought.
And so it began. Turning from once a season, to every 6 weeks, finally to something I did every one or two weeks: Dawn Patrol!
If you build it they will come
You can't keep the gleam out of your eye. Before long, you'll have partners. Maybe you'll find them 'round the coffee machine at work. Enjoy the momentary feeling of basking in authenticity. When you were leading your first WI3 pitch at dawn, then you can greet the announcement of yet another re-org with stoicism...zen, even. Some good folk at work will want some of that too. Well that's great!
But don't make it too easy on them. I have a rule: no cell phones. Sure you can have one in your pack in case of emergencies. But if you want a series of flake out false starts for your first Dawn Patrol with a partner then give out your cell phone number. Much better to take a strong, even crazed stance:
"I'll meet you at the park n' ride at 5 am. You know my car. Bring gaitors and a headlamp! Sorry, I don't have a cell phone. The last chance to back out is 9 pm the night before. I'll check my email then, but not in the morning."
Let that sink in.
"If you aren't there, I'll wait 10 minutes, then go ahead and leave."
Don't let the Dawn Patrol neophyte wear you down with requests for cell phone communication!
Eventually they'll understand. It makes for a simpler world. A world where your word counts for something, even if in a small space. Remember, you are carving out a piece of wilderness in the middle of a comfortable middle-class week! The first line of defense is limited communication.
With a partner, your power increases. You can vet each other for longer trips on weekends, or just get to know each other better. You can get more technical, visiting the local dog n' top rope crags when they are colder and more lonely.
Now enjoy yourself. The hikes and climbs and new friendships will multiply, and your confidence grows. The rest of your life will set the throttle, keep you from disappearing all day or every morning. But the gnawing frustration we sometimes face is much abated. Life is good.
If you have an interesting photo from your own early morning trips, please attach it with a caption. When I get a few of them, I'll incorporate it to the text.