The 4 a.m. start is never easy. When your life is a seeming waking nightmare of neverending deadlines, kid camps, social media stories, invoices, yard maintenance, strong coffee, constant disturbing national news and the occassional craft beer in the evenings, it’s downright cruel. But you can certainly judge the character of your companions by how they respond to the alpine start.
Our plan was simple: Wake at that godforsaken hour. Drive up to the Indian Peaks. Climb 13,409-foot Navajo Peak, a beautiful perfectly shaped pyramid that’s a bit off the grid. And be back down in town early enough so that work didn’t really know we were gone—and in time to pick up kids from camp.
I was sure that my friends were going to bail. Eric send me a text: “What time will we be back in town?” Jeremiah another, “Got time for a quick chat about tomorrow?” It’s easy to be too busy, because most of the time we really are. But I personally am still shaken from having one of my dearest friends tell me “our friendship was over” because I had been too consumed by the demands of family and work to get out like I used to. Lesson learned. Screw being a grown up. Do it.
I certainly chose the right companions. I walked out my door at exactly 4. Jeremiah sat in the dark on the curb. Eric pulled up in his truck. It was on.
We began our nine-mile hike in the dark. Really, the alpine start is non-negotaible in the Front Range: The storms roll in fast and early here in the summer and there’s no easy escape on a peak like Navajo. Eric, a former guide, set a brisk pace as we headed uptrail to Lake Isabelle. Then the sunrise hit. We don’t get the kind of epic, slow-burn sunsets in Colorado that you do in, say New Mexico or Arizona where there are no mountains blocking the western horizon. But, when the sun rises over the vast expanse of the eastern plain and shoots golden pink rays into the cirques of the first wall of the Rockies, it makes you stop in your tracks.
Socially-plugged-in adventurers that we are, we stopped and documented it all on our phones, then kept pushing up trail. Soon we were scrambling up Airplane Gulley, named for a C-47 that slammed into the cliffs here in 1948 and left debris scattered down this steep chute. The talus echoed with the haunting sound of the wind rattling scraps of wrecked aluminum fuselage. We stopped again, pondered mortality, said some words for departed friends. The summit required a fun squeeze up a class 4 chimney. It’s 9 a.m. when we stand on the top, Colorado spread out at our feet while most of the state is just getting to work. We pop a beer, snap more photos and head back to our lives.
Times are so tense right now in our country that we all need to take breakes like these. Wake up at 4 a.m. Go. It means everything.