Sunrise at Suntop

I turned off the alarm and rolled over to fall back asleep. It was short sighted thinking, passing up a small sacrifice in order to achieve great heights, for a cozy bed and snoring dog. Then I had to pee. The overindulgence from the night before was coming to the rescue, forcing me out of bed and to the bathroom. I stood at the window, still trying to decide if I should go, looking at the stars and shadows in the backyard being cast by the moon. I had wasted ten minutes already, 3:40 AM, and if I was going to beat the sunrise on Mt. Rainier it was now or never.

The sunrise on Mt. Rainier is a great thing. The mountain is so much higher than everything else, that the sun catches it long before the lower surrounding peaks, exploding in light while the rest of the earth is dark. A constant transformation takes place as the sun climbs out from behind the Eastern mountains with a wash of color that changes by the minute. I’ve always thought, with its five mile dirt road leading to it, that the Suntop Mountain Lookout would be a great place to experience the sunrise.

I stashed the car in the trees off the highway and started down the gravel road in the dark. Had it not been for the dense tree cover the moon would have done just as good of a job as my headlight. The sky was as black as ink littered with a dusting of the brightest stars. As I crossed the river, beginning my ascent, my legs became confused. I could feel the pain that the hill was applying, but I couldn’t see the grade that was dishing it out. It made the thought process of climbing much more simple. It is steep, go hard. And so I climbed further into the darkness.

Slowly the sky took on the color of dawn and the light like fire burning on the horizon meant that I needed to hustle up the remainder of the road to the summit. I was chasing the sunrise and it wasn’t waiting for me. The sky was bright orange and red while the valleys were a hazy blue and purple. Beauty can be so simple.

Arriving at the summit, I dismounted the bike and tip-toed past the lookout as to not awake the occupant. I took a seat at a picnic table just before the first signs of light took to Rainier’s summit. I pulled out the fixings to make a cup of coffee while watching the show. The wind was whipping across the range making the already chilly temperatures, bitter cold and they cut through my scant clothing like a knife. I tried warming my hands by the fire of the backpacking stove in vain. The warmth of the coffee kept only a fraction of the warmth in my body. Even still I couldn’t be pried away from my viewing spot that quickly.

As the sun crested the Eastern horizon, the shadows retreated into the far corners of the valleys. The colors of light on the snow covered Rainier finished running the length of the spectrum and now it stood in a blazing white relief to the blue sky. The sun was doing its best to warm the air and I began my bone shaking, freezing descent off the mountain. It was another morning to stand as a reminder that loosing a few hours of sleep is almost always worth it.