In praise of the Dawn Patrol

In praise of the Dawn Patrol

Page Type Page Type: Article

4 am alarm: how did we get here?

Collage of Dawn Patrol picturesEach 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!

First Time

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.

Game on!

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.


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Viewing: 1-16 of 16
Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 5, 2008 12:07 am - Voted 10/10

I think...

...I'll have to try this just so I can add a story! Who cares if I'm a little late for work? I never really wanted to work anyway!

Cool idea!


mvs - Dec 5, 2008 7:28 am - Hasn't voted

Re: I think...

A little piece o' the hills in the middle of corporate America gives a nice boost!


rpc - Dec 5, 2008 4:35 pm - Voted 10/10

nice read!

used to do the dusk partols in the columbia gorge...i.e. start at 7, 8, or 9pm after work and do a night hike. then laziness kicked in :)

(still this beats say running for work out by light years)*

(*)which I don't do either


mvs - Dec 8, 2008 10:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: nice read!

Yeah, I was always terrible about running. Lately, I haven't been practicing what I preach with the Dawn Patrol...just too many new responsibilities with the kids! So I've reluctantly embraced running more and it's been pretty fun, but not as nice as a real dawn patrol!


aedwards - Dec 7, 2008 2:21 pm - Voted 10/10

Good idea.

I was thinking about this during the summer.
Am going to at least start skiing before work.
Good way to keep on keepin' on.


mvs - Dec 10, 2008 4:42 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good idea.

Right on, have a great time!


imzadi - Dec 8, 2008 12:12 pm - Voted 10/10

Is there any other way?

Once dark started coming earlier and earlier...there isn't any other way to get in some good summits on a "day trip"...I think our earliest alarm setting was 2:30 am...two hour drive to Saddleback...on the trail by 4:30!!


mvs - Dec 10, 2008 4:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Is there any other way?

You are indeed a great lover of the mountains. If you are anything like me, there is no way you can get up so early if it's not climbing!


mvs - Dec 10, 2008 4:40 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Every Day...

Hey you know how lucky you are, Chief! All is good, looking forward to some ICE :D.


jordansahls - Dec 10, 2008 10:29 pm - Voted 10/10

Does it count...

If you climb through the night and then go to work with minimal sleep?


mvs - Dec 10, 2008 10:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Does it count...

Anytime you are trying to "steal time" in the mountains, during a work week or some such, it counts as something only the truly crazy, dedicated mountain lover would do. So I'd say "yes"!


jackstraw0083 - Dec 11, 2008 3:46 pm - Voted 10/10

Great article!

After reading that I suddenly have the urge to wake up at 4am (which I very rarely have the urge to do), skin up into the Bear Rivers Mtns, and get a lap in before work!...when we get the snow for it I'm following your lead on the Dawn Patrol!


MoapaPk - Dec 12, 2008 10:44 am - Voted 10/10

too hard

I don't do well with early starts anymore; I can't balance too well in the dark. About 3 times a year, I get up very early for trips with lots of elevation gain. But most of the time, I prefer to plan everything to fit in daylight hours, or at least start or end on a good trail!

One good thing about working part-time -- you can get back at 1PM and still put in a "full" day.


mvs - Dec 14, 2008 4:28 am - Hasn't voted

Re: too hard

Yes, that would be "the life" indeed!

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Mar 3, 2009 11:52 pm - Voted 10/10


...I get to join the Dawn Patrol! Great Falls Park, a cragging area about a 15-minute drive from home, opens at 7, and since I have to be at work at 8:30 and the park is about a 30-minute drive from work, a legal dawn patrol is usually out of the question. However, yesterday's snow meant a two-hour delay at school today, so out I went bright and early to hike and scramble (the latter was not easy on snowy and icy rocks, as my sore knee would testify). But it was a great start to the day!


mvs - Mar 4, 2009 6:24 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Finally...

Congratulations on injecting a little wild into the work week!

Viewing: 1-16 of 16