A sunrise hiker’s checklist

It was 4 am when my alarm clock went off. I am usually one of the snooze button hitters, but not this time.

The day before, I had talked a friend into doing a sunrise hike with me and I had promised to pick him up at 5am. I had been putting this sunrise hike away for way too long. This time the forecast was perfect, my backpack was packed, my breakfast prepared. There was no return. We were going to catch that sunrise.

I am not a morning person (I guess nobody is at such unsociable hours), but some preparation helped me get through that morning. All that was left to do was getting dressed, making tea and getting into the car. I think when it comes to early morning missions, preparation is paramount.

We had planned our hiking route the day before and headed to the spot in Altenberg where we’d leave our car. Speaking of preparation – that was also the time when I realized that I had left my headlamp at home. Well prepared as always, my friend Ben helped me out with his headlamp and lit the way for both of us. Thank goodness, because it was pitch-dark.

Blarergraben was the way to go to ascend our local mountain Schneealpe. We had both taken this route before, so there were no real surprises waiting for us. I definitely recommend taking a known route or at least checking it out by daylight before. The Blarergraben trail for example requires some degree of surefootedness and a head for heights. It might hold some bad surprises if you come unprepared.

Even though we knew the way, everything felt different on this hike through the night. The sky was dark and clear and full of stars. My view of the surroundings was pretty limited, only following my friend with the headlamp.  I couldn’t really tell how far we had gone or how far we still had to go. I mostly watched my feet and just set one foot in front of the other. I didn’t feel tired, but everything felt more exhausting and seemed to take twice as long.

At around 6:30 the first signs of daylight appeared. The sky turned from an inky blue to a greyish red. We had more than half of the trail behind us and already made new friends with a lonely chamois. The headlamp was no longer needed but our last energy was.

We got into a bit of a hurry to reach the summit before sunrise. Next time I’d leave a little earlier and plan for more breaks. Sunrise was scheduled (funny thing to say) at 7:16, but already the sky changes before sunrise were amazing to watch. I wish I’d had more time to enjoy them too.

We reached the summit, me out of breath, at around 6:50 and were glad that we had made it before the sun had. The wind roared and we hurried to put on our jackets. As surprisingly warm as it had been the way up, as windy was it up there.

We dropped our backpacks and enjoyed the burning red vastness in front of us. Then it all went very fast. The colors of the sky changed every minute until the sun appeared from behind the massive mountain range of Rax.

With our fingers completely stiff (seriously, I couldn’t even put the lid back on my camera), we dropped by the nearby mountain hut to warm up a little.

At around 7:45, we got back on the trail we had come from. Along the way down, we met the first hikers to also ascend Schneealpe and couldn’t help but feel proud that we were already on our way back.

Richer of one more great experience, I can say for sure that this was not my last sunrise hike. If you are also planning on going for a sunrise mission, here’s a checklist of things that I recommend doing or packing:

  • Pack your stuff and prepare your clothes the night before. It will save you precious minutes of sleep and spare your nerves.
  • Choose the route you are going to take the day before. Spontaneous decisions are for when your brain isn’t half asleep. Definitely go for a trail you know and have hiked before.
  • Check out the exact time of sunrise for your location and leave early enough. Just use Google or any weather forecast service to do this.
  • Use warm clothing and put on several layers. As surprisingly warm as it was this time, you never know how cold it will get.
  • Bring a headlamp.
  • Bring tea to warm up. But make sure it’s not too hot to drink when you’re already dying of thirst. (Yes, true story.)
  • Bring cereal bars or snacks. You never know when your empty stomach will demand food.
  • Bring paper tissues for your runny nose. (Why in the world do I always forget about them?)
  • Bring your camera or phone. Also, make sure to wear suitable gloves to operate your devices.
  • Take your time. Don’t hurry when hiking up, taking pictures or enjoying your well-deserved sunrise.
  • Bring money if you want to buy hot drinks or breakfast. (Scraping together our last 5 Euros for two cups of tea wasn’t exactly intended.)
  • Have a ridiculously big breakfast directly after your hike.
  • Choose wisely who you are going to go with. It requires some mountain commitment to wake up this early and then NOT complain all the time. (Lucky me, I know such motivated people.)

I think you’re all set. 🙂

First daylight ©nia.outdoors
Catching sunrise at Schneealpe ©nia.outdoors
Just in time for this ©nia.outdoors

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