July 1, 2014
I decided to try and climb my first peak, Kelso Mountain, in the dark to watch the sunrise from the summit. I had climbed a couple other mountains in the dark before at night, including one Halloween full moon hike in which my friend and I dressed up like werewolves and howled at the moon at the top, but this was my first time going solo and on a mountain without a trail. I knew this time I would be going alone as it's quite difficult to convince a friend to wake up at 2am.
I was inspired by a photographer named Glenn Randall who made it his goal to summit all of the Colorado 14ers (many of them multiple times if the clouds obstructed his summit view) for his "Sunrise from the Summit" series. A friend and I met him one wintery day in the mountains as we were returning to our truck after a long day of hiking with our snowshoes. We started a conversation with him and soon found out that he was about to sleep in his SUV, and he was planing on hiking up around midnight to climb the mountain we had just attempted. I could only imagine how physically/emotionally exhausting this would be. I returned home late that evening about the time he was probably starting up the trail. I later found his website which showed that he was only a few peaks away from completing his list. His photos were outstanding! Each sunrise was so unique. I still look them over from time to time for inspiration.
The first part of the hike was fairly straightforward. As I walked along the Grays Peak trail, I could see the stars and Milky Way so vividly. Every so often I would turn my headlamp off and just stand there staring at the sky wondering about the infinite size of this creation and how great and unthinkable the Lord's work is. I had read in a route description online that you are to go straight to the saddle between Kelso Mountain and the Kelso Ridge on 14er Torreys Peak. This is not correct. I reached this saddle and started up toward Kelso Mountain and quickly ran into an exposed 3rd class wall. Being alone and in the dark and having my dog Molly with me, I decided this was a no-go. I quickly descended back down to the standard Grays Peak trail. At this point, I had no idea where the route was because any details on the mountainside were still pitch black. Route finding is much harder in the dark. So I decided to just walk farther down/east and pick a spot to leave the trail and head up in the general direction of the peak. I soon found a steep grassy slope that seemed more like trip reports had described. This lead all the way to the summit. I reached the top with 20 minutes to spare - plenty of time to get my camera set up and give the dog some food and water. I set up my video camera to take a time-lapse video of the sunrise:
The clouds were lingering right at the top of the peaks. At first, I was frustrated that these popular 14ers weren't totally visible, but once the sun came over the clouds, the beautiful show of light that appeared was more than worth the effort. I think the clouds actually helped create interest to the scene. Right as the sun came up, I could hear a few people over on Torreys peak shouting a victory "WAHOOO!" Apparently I wasn't the only one out here this early. Once the sun was up, I lingered on the summit (took a nap) for a couple hours until the clouds cleared to get a shot of the peaks in full view.
Though Kelso is an easier mountain, I can start to appreciate the amount of commitment and effort that goes into climbing peaks in the dark. I'm still recuperating two days later. I may want to try and do this again sometime on a different peak, but that won't happen anytime soon.
See more art and mountain photography at: aaronspong.com