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In Search of Dawn Patrol

 In backpacking, Mountain Skills, mountains, Outdoors, Skills, Snow Skills, Trekking

There’s a special breed who live for dawn. While you’re asleep we tip-toe out of bed. We yearn for the unspeakable hour. A 2am wakeup call means nothing. There’s anticipation in the air when we lace up our boots by headlamp; our foggy breath obscuring our vision. A morning cup of joe high in the mountains sounds like the perfect coffee date.  Nothing beats skiing a fresh line of powder shortly after sunrise. The pyramid shadow of the mountain points us to the next horizon. We live by the sun. We are dawn patrol.

Sunrises Don’t Disappoint

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there’s something magical about watching the world wake up deep in the mountains. Beyond the reach of automobiles and technology.  In the moment watching the sun crest the horizon I feel connected. Connected to the rhythm of the Earth slowly turning to another day.  New life breaths into your soul. Here, you can truly let go and live in the now.

Beat the Crowds

The main reason I started waking up for dawn is because I want to beat you to the trailhead. Those early mornings are a small price to pay for some solo action on the trail. Just after sunrise is my favorite time to hike. The forest wakes up, you can smell the dew, animals are everywhere searching for breakfast. It’s a lively time to be on the trail. Early mornings provide you with the intimate moments with nature that we all seek.

Dawn Patrol

It’s Safer

Thunderstorms are a serious threat in a mountainous environment. They kill people every year. Last year in Colorado alone, 38 people died of lighting strikes. Storms tend to roll around near noon. Don’t get caught in a sticky situation, an early start on most of Colorado’s easily accessible peaks will allow you to be safely below tree line before noon.

The spring climbing season is no different. As the snowpack melts it becomes unstable, often resulting in wet slide avalanches. If you plan to go out into the wilderness where you will be traveling in avalanche territory, get educated and opt for the good old alpine start.


The Magical 3-day Weekend

Here’s a little-known secret: every weekend can be a three day weekend. When you’re awake by 2am you can easily squeeze in an extra day. It’s not uncommon to wake up for dawn, take a nap at 2pm and arise at 4pm for an afternoon of relaxing. Getting up early means you can squeeze two days into one.


Join the Dawn Patrol Tribe

Everyone should go on dawn patrol at least once in their lives. Even if you hate the thought of getting out of bed before 10, switch it up and go have an adventure at sunrise. Dawn brings new light and perhaps it will turn a light on within yourself that you never thought you had.

If you've fallen in love with the wilderness, you've certainly fallen in love with sun rise. Here's why you should get up and be in the mountains for dawn. Join the dawn patrol tribe!

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Showing 14 comments
  • Stacey Billingsley

    I’m not normally a morning person, but when I travel, I want to experience everything, so I jump out of bed early. Also, if crowds may be an issue, I want to be there before they are. You have some beautiful photos here.

  • Only By Land

    The ratio of sunset pictures on Instagram to sunrise pictures must be around 95:5. This shows how few people make a Dawn Patrol run! You have given fantastic reasons to get up early, when you have the world to yourself. I must confess when I’m traveling I prefer to wake up early when it’s quiet to enjoy the peace and take better pictures. I must go to bed early though!

  • Brooke

    I remember the days when I got to hit the slopes before all of the tourists showed up for the day! I was a lift op for a couple of seasons back in the day so we still didn’t get there as early as the patrol but man there is nothing better than hitting fresh powder before it’s been chopped up and not having to weave out of people’s ways while you are carving up the mountain!

    Enjoy your time -it is always too short

  • Carola

    Great post! In cities, I usually put in at least one day of sunrise spotting during every visit. But I like your arguments for doing the same on treks/hikes. 2 am might be a bit extreme, though 😉

    Happy continued travels!

  • Nicole

    I’d love to get up for sunrise but I’m just not a morning person! I’m so guilty of posting sunsets on Instagram. One day I’ll get up for sunrise.

  • Carmen Baguio

    I am definitely a morning person. When camping, I’m the one to get the campfire going and start breakfast. It is the perfect time to hear all of the wilderness sounds.

  • Henry

    Yes yes yes! The worst part about getting up for an early morning mountain adventure is that your body anticipates the early wake-up and keeps wanting to double check the time every couple of hours to make sure you don’t oversleep. All of my favorite mountains have been climbed with an early start; Rainier, Kili, Kala Pattar, even something as ordinary as Quandary in Colorado is better before dawn.

    • foxintheforest

      That ALWAYS happens to me! I’m almost used to it at this point. However, one time it was a lifesaver because I woke up for a sunrise hike on New Year’s Day and forgot to set an alarm. Woke up literally as I thought my alarm should be going off. Totally saved the adventure!

      I wouldn’t do Quandary anytime other than dawn. It’s too crowded otherwise ;).

  • Mo Palepale

    So, where do I sign up? 🙂

  • Robin

    I’m a morning person too, but part of the appeal of early hours is solitude. Maybe we don’t want everyone there…

  • divsi

    Proud be a part of the Dawn brigade! 🙂 I may laze around when I dont travel and tend to wake up late, but when I am traveling I love to wake up before dawn and see the sunrise 🙂 Its just so much more convenient plus gives you great shots and no crowds! and a lot of me time as well!

  • Iza, Fill My Passport

    I try to wake up early when I travel so that I can do a lot of things during the day. I like to eat breakfast early and then start my adventure. I have tried hiking at around 6 am so I can be finished before noon.

  • Anna

    I’m a dusk person but I don’t mind dawn every once in a while. Your post reminded me of the sunrise I saw in kalapathar overlooking Mount Everest. Truely amazing.

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