I haven't hiked alone in years. It's one of the many perks of marrying your soulmate - you both love the same things. Unfortunately my other half had to work this Saturday, and I've been itching to push myself outside to catch the sunrise, so I decided this would be a great opportunity to see the sunrise.
It's early in the year still for ridge hiking. Most roads are closed, and the ones that remain open are in such a condition that would make toast out of both our vehicles. On top of that, there were only a couple places that were guaranteed a sunrise on this particular morning, making the two-hour drive to Baldy Mountain during the witching hour an easy choice. During the Summer, this place is much more hot and dry, making hiking it now ideal. Almost everything else is covered in snow and ice still - and trying to route-find in the snow and dark is not something I'm great at yet. Mount Baldy was unquestionably my best shot.
I got to the trailhead around 5:20, after driving in a few circles making sure I was allowed to park where I did. The moon was full, and the whole canyon was fairly well-lit. I headed through the obvious gate across the street, and started ascending a long-abandoned farm road, which immediately disappeared where a boot path began; up and to the right, following a gully to the ridge-line.
This would be the route; a rapid and steep ascent to the ridge-line, followed by a no-nonsense, grueling bee-line up to the summit. While I appreciated the directness of the route, I think I sold the difficulty of this hike short due to its popularity, much like I did with Mt. Si a few years ago. I found myself taken aback by the consistent grade of the trail and lack of switchbacks, and struggling to keep the pace I knew would be needed in order to reach the summit before the sun did. I woke up in the middle of the night and drove hours to be here for one reason, so I put the pain aside, focused on my breathing, and settled into a solid pace.
Eventually though, very near the top, my legs gave into fatigue. My calves and thighs were at the point where each would severely cramp under even the slightest strain. Fatigue happens to people all the time, of course, and isn't something that can't be remedied with a small break, some water, and a fig bar. But the sun was ready to crest the horizon, and I was still a concerning distance from the top. My headlamp had become unnecessary awhile ago, and the sky was igniting the night sky rapidly.
I threw my bag off in frustration and sat, vigorously rubbing each of my tightening thighs. Three minutes, I told myself. I guzzled about half a water bottle, and crammed a couple trail snacks into my mouth as I stared out over the now-visible landscape - a gorgeous rolling blanket of deep magenta. In the distance to the north, city lights from Ellensburg were just visible.
I slid one more snack in my pocket for good measure and glanced at the clock.
Sunrise was at 6:43, so said Google.
I turned and looked up the ridge behind me and sighed. The sky was flooding rapidly with light.
Come on, man.
I felt awfully unfit, and more than a little demoralized at the situation I was sitting in. I could see the road down below me, a single pair of headlights hugging the banks of the river that snaked it's way through the canyon. How am I already this tired? I wondered, growing impatient with myself. If I couldn't make it to the top for sunrise, I knew I'd hold it against myself for the rest of the Summer. I do that. I can't just let myself fall short of a stated goal - particularly when there's nobody else around to pin the shortcoming on. Admittedly, I tend to make goals around photography and being in the wilderness the most important goals in the universe,I couldn't yet see the radio tower that crowns the mountain I was on, leaving me to wonder exactly how much further I had to go. Not far, I told myself - out of no particular conviction.
Giving my legs a few more good rubs, I hopped up and quickly ran a stress test on my legs. Way better. I really had to go, though. I slung my bag back on, and immediately felt the familiar creeping spasm up my left calf. fuck. I thought back to what persuaded me this solo hike would also be a good idea to test my overnight pack weight. I'd tossed nonessentials into my pack willy nilly - a prism, extra water, a telephoto lens, the camp stove (for coffee at the top!) - figuring I would gauge myself in seeing what a full pack would feel like later this Summer in the alpine. Stupid, I thought now, trying to ignore the cramping as I turned and started uphill.
It couldn't have been five more minutes before I was patting myself on the back for lugging all the weight up so quickly. The tower was there - merely a football field away. Soon after, I was at the tower's base staring at the horizon where the sun had yet to arrive.
6:36. Nailed it.
I looked around and saw the sky was singing hues of its impending rise to nobody but me - always an emotional moment. Mount Rainier peeked its dome over the foothills to the west, reflecting the coming sun's magenta light. Mount Adams in nearly full view, far off in the distance to the south, and the Stuart Range to the north. Rattlesnake Canyon stretched out below me, it's entire 12 miles in view, and Umtanum Ridge extended off towards the sun.
I made some coffee as promised, using the rest of my water. This made me glad I brought both extra water, and the camp stove. I stretched. My legs wouldn't forgive me for days, but they will surely thank me for the extra conditioning in the near future.
The sunrise was beautiful. Mt. Hood even appeared briefly from behind a blanket of thick clouds - merely a magenta triangle against a dark indigo backdrop. It seemed eons away, and all at once, I was impressed at how much was visible from the top of Mount Baldy. There's not too many hikes out there that you can just wake up in your own bed and climb only a couple miles to see three of the prominent Cascade volcanoes. That on top of the treat of sunrise itself, Baldy really surpassed my expectations. Hiking solo did as well. I really thought it would suck, but I found myself far more engaged with the mountain around me without needing to be concerned or aware for another human. I took more photos and video than I typically do, and therefore this little hike is more documented than most others. I hadn't expected that.