Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Dawn Patrol

A number of years ago I read a fascinating article about a group of climbers and skiers in Salt Lake City who did most of their climbing and skiing early in the morning before work. The group -- lead by the now deceased super-climber Alex Lowe -- commonly did more before the world got up than anyone. They skinned up steep snow slopes and got first tracks before anyone else was awake. They swung their ice tools well before the sun came up. And they put other early morning athletes to shame in the amount that they got done before rolling into work at eight or nine o'clock in the morning.

Lowe called his early morning club, the Dawn Patrol. And since that article was published more than a decade ago, many individuals throughout North America have created their own Dawn Patrols.

Approximately a year ago, I moved from guiding over 200 days a year into the American Alpine Institute administrative offices in Bellingham. I have two small children, both of which are under the age of two and I just could no longer be gone as much as I was, guiding full time. The change has been very good for my family. I'm still guiding seven to ten days a month, so I haven't left it completely and probably never will. But my personal adventures have been seriously impacted by these changes.

The Martin Family on a Hike in the Chuckanuts outside Bellingham
Photo by Karen Zulinke

If I go out climbing or skiing on the weekends and it's not for work, there is a definite level of guilt. I feel bad that I'm not spending my time off with the kids, but am instead going out to recreate without them. Eventually they'll be able to join me, but right now they're a bit too young for anything but riding the backpack on easy day hikes. The result is that I've been thinking a lot about the concept of the Dawn Patrol.

This spring, I've been trying to take a page out of Alex Lowe's book and I've been trying to do some dawn patrols of my own. It's not terribly easy...especially with small children who don't necessarily always sleep through the night, but the few times that I have gone have been incredibly rewarding.

This Spring, Dana Hickenbottom -- another program coordinator -- and I, have gone to Mount Erie in Anacortes twice. The first time we pulled down on a couple of 5.10 sport routes well before our fingers could even come close to warming up for them. And the second time, we completed a pleasant three pitch 5.7 on a nice warm morning. On that second trip, Dana was attacked by at least two very nasty ticks, but tick attacks and potential lyme disease aside, we still had a fantastic time. On both occasions we were basking in the glow of an early morning climbing adventure for the rest of the day.

Mount Wilson in Red Rock Canyon at Sunrise.
Though I never Dawn Patrolled in the decade that I lived in Vegas, I certainly had a lot of early morning starts. It would be easy to Dawn Patrol sport climbing and bouldering in Red Rock. Photo by Jason Martin

I've also gone hiking in the Chuckanut Mountains just south of our offices three times this spring before work. It's unbelievably rewarding to be deep in the forest, in a small and low coastal range that is usually swarming with hikers and mountain bikers, completely alone. Indeed, yesterday morning I worked my way up to an incredibly pretty viewpoint called Raptor Ridge. I reached the point at about 6:30 in the morning while tight patches of fog were still draped over the trees below on the valley floor like cotton candy. The morning air is the best air...it was still cool and fresh and clean...

It's hard to get up so early in the morning to find adventure, but most of us do it all the time in the mountains. If we try, we can certainly reach down deep to find the same motivation that gets us psyched at 2:30 in the morning on a summit day to get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning on a work day in order to find adventure just outside of the cities that we live in...

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Geordie Romer | Leavenworth WA said...

Finding partners in crime always seems like the crux. Like you I used to be super active as a backcountry ranger in the North Cascades and a climbing bum in the winter - Josh, Canadian Rockies, etc. I still live in the mountains, but the new gig means I can't play as hard or as much as I want to. Best wishes to you and the family.