Dawn Patrol: 7 Reasons to Start Before 7

June 10, 2015

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

Shut off the alarm – anticipation takes over. No snooze button today. Yank open blinds, the only light from a halogen streetlamp outside. Scanning the sky for storms reveals endless stars. The neighborhood is silent as garbage trucks have yet to roll.

Five minutes later. Water dribbles through coffee, heaped carefully in a filter the night before. While the promise of caffeine purrs, raspberry jam meets a thawed bagel. A premade lunch resides in the fridge: 3 PB&J’s, an apple, two craft IPAs along with a 50/50 bag of trail mix and beef jerky (which probably didn’t need to be in the fridge, but oh well).

The coffee is scalding, a dark Ethiopian ambrosia, and it hits like smelling salts.  You cycle through a mental checklist. Again. As you drop your loaded pack by the door, your phone dings. A text at this hour could only be from one person: your dawn patrol partner.

“Outside. Bring coffee.”

Those familiar with such sacred AM reveries don’t mind setting alarms, knowing that adventure is at its finest in the AM. If you’ve postponed early morning missions until noon, here are 7 reasons to wake up and smell the wildflowers.

1. Less Traffic

Beat the crowds – be they bumper-to-bumper on the freeway or backpack-to-backpack on the trails. Rely on a headlamp for 30 minutes to get miles ahead of the mob.

2. Watching the Sunrise

Nothing trumps tromping up a ridgeline with pink and purple tendrils of light creeping over the mountains. Photographers and soul seekers alike pursue these golden hours.

3. Margins for Error

Better to fumble in the dimness of dawn than the darkness of night. The “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” axiom is solid; weather, wrong turns, equipment failure and injuries are to be expected.

4. Beat the Weather

For example, wise Colorado hikers begin 14er attempts early as trip-threatening thunderstorms hit after noon; keep an eye on the storm clouds as the day progresses. In the same (weather) vein, early starts mean avoiding hammering high noon UV rays.

5. Snow and Ice Travel

In warmer months, snow travelers increase their safety margin by shoving off before first light. Freeze-thaw cycles warm the snowpack as the day moves on, dramatically escalating avalanche danger as water proliferates and weakens layers.

6. Longer Objectives

Sending a multi-pitch climb or shaving a day off a backpacking loop comes easily with early morning starts. More sunlight, more time to crush obstacles in your path.

7. Stop and Smell the Wild Flowers

In the absence of faster/higher goals, perhaps you’re out to meet trail or talus with relaxation in mind. Extra AM hours encourage a stress-free pace.

Find a partner willing to wake up and go early.  Plan an adventure, put that coffee filter in place and set your alarm.

Tomorrow is going to be as amazing as it is early.

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