Getting up for sunrise

Navajo Pass was a shot in the dark. Or at least, as much a shot in the dark as any spot is in Washington. It was probably going to be gorgeous – other people’s photos backed that up. There would probably be enough camping – it was hard to tell from the descriptions. I had done an obsessive amount of research and it appeared to be the only spot in the state that would have lovely weather and no smoke. I wondered how many other people had done the same amount of research… were we headed to the most popular spot in WA for the night? Only time would tell.

It was our annual backpacking trip with my mom (plus Nelson and Michelle were tagging along again) for an epic overnight at Navajo Pass. The trail up to Navajo Pass was supposed to be an easy five miles, perfect for my mom and then you could add on a little extra to top out on Navajo Peak – after you had dropped your packs of course.

We got to the trailhead at a leisurely 10am and were equally shocked and crestfallen to see how many other cars were already there. It was going to be a bloodbath to get a campsite. As we were piling out of the car large groups were headed up the trail. I stopped to fill out our Wilderness Permit (Navajo Pass is within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundary) but I insisted that everyone go on ahead – I would catch up. Which I did a couple of minutes later. At that point my mom was wanting to slow down a little bit so I encouraged Nelson, Michelle and Kyle to speed on ahead to the pass and get us a campsite, I would meander up the trail with my mom.

It was an incredible day for a hike. It was warm out but there was a mountain breeze in the air. Clouds puttered by overhead and we enjoyed the rushing of the creek we were hiking next to. The trail to Navajo Pass is classically Teanaway – with rusty red colored soil painting the landscape and Ponderosa Pines dotting the hills. We climbed gradually through the dry, arid hills. Eventually the path comes to a T and we headed to the right and began switchbacking up, guessing the whole time about where we were headed. With such open views it’s hard not to anticipate where you will end up.

The switchbacks popped us out in a shockingly green meadow with campsites clinging to the outside, separated from each other by trees. I don’t know what I was worried about, there were so many dispersed campsites up there a small army could have camped there no problem. I was wondering how in the world we would find our people with so many little nooks and crannies when we saw Nelson coming down the trail towards us. He turned and lead the way to some rocky ledges looking down on the meadow and Kyle and I staked out our claim on a flat little spot behind a large rock. Or rather staked out our tent. Even though there were at least 40 people camping around the area our spot felt secluded and private.

After we had all set up our tents we lounged around on a rocky outcrop near our tent, snacking and gabbing and taking pictures. People passed our site on the trail, about 100 yards away, on their way to the pass which we could see from our perch. After we were well fed and watered we decided to wander our own way up there and followed in their footsteps.

Walking up to the pass was like crossing the moon – not a plant in site, just red dusty soil and rocks strewn left and right. The trail cut through them, a couple shades lighter than the surrounding dirt. We followed a wide arm up to below the ridge and the switch-backed up steep trail to the pass. As we crested the top of the hill we all gasped. We were looking into the backside of The Enchantments and the contrast could not be more different. We were surrounded by orange, crumbling rounded mountains but across the valley were steep, foreboding granite peaks, snow still clinging to their sides. We couldn’t see Mount Stuart but we quickly identified the other mountains using Gia GPS and stared at them, a little dumbfounded at the amazing ways geology can shift so dramatically from one place to another.

After we had soaked in the views and Kyle and I had sworn to return for a sunrise summit of Navajo Peak we descended back to our camp and gathered our things into our designated kitchen area, complete with logs and rocks for leaning against. Dinner was satisfying, despite the recent snack bonanza, and after dinner we all enjoyed whiskey, either straight or in our hot coco.

Unfortunately our night sleep was not as peaceful as I had hoped. A wind was whipping over the mountains and erratically shaking our tent, making it almost impossible to fall asleep. I am an excellent sleeper but wind is my one sleep nemesis. It is so unpredictable and the anticipation of a gust, hearing it way off and wondering when it is going to hit the tent and how hard, will keep me tense all night long. I managed to doze on and off but of course, the wind only actually died down a short hour or so before my sunrise hike alarm went off at 4:15am. Kyle and I both groaned.

Navaho Pass-34
This is the face Meesh and my mom made when Kyle farted while taking their photo… 

I waffled between wanting to go or not. It would be so easy to just lay back down and go back to sleep. Kyle actually put all his clothes on, took them all back off and had to put them on again before I decided that yes, I did want to go! At that point we were a little later than we had planned so I basically sprinted to the summit. Kyle was having his early morning nausea so I ended up waiting just below the summit for him. Turns out we shouldn’t have worried, we had to wait a full 30 minutes for the sun to really come up. It was FREEZING cold on the summit and windy and we were wearing all of our clothes. Both of us proceeded to do a number of freezing cold summit dances, hopping around and swearing loudly. Despite the cold it was gorgeous up there. We were shocked we had it all to ourselves. A bank of clouds was trapped in The Enchantments, looking like a giant fluffy lake lapping against craggy summits. Stuart was surrounded in wisps of clouds, obscuring its giant mass.

Finally, FINALLY, out of nowhere the sun appeared above a line of clouds, a giant red ball in the sky, completely unexpected and utterly welcome. We shouted in surprised and smiled as the sun it our faces. We watched a wave of clouds travel all the way up the valley below us, cover the area where our tents were and then recede. The clouds sent out tendrils as the sun started to brush them. Everything was awash in an orange glow, highlighting and enhancing the golden rusty rock that surrounded us. We took it all in and finally decided to head back to camp. We practically ran down the trail and reminded ourselves: it is ALWAYS worth it to get up for sunrise.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

7 thoughts on “Getting up for sunrise

  1. This trip looks gorgeous! I’m so bad at getting up for a sunrise but we had to do it last weekend during our backpacking trip and it reminded me that sunrise is such a gorgeous time!

  2. Not sure whether you’ll see this but didn’t want to comment on the post itself …

    Great, inspiring story and nice photos as ever but maybe leave the tongues shot for your private album?

    Peter Thody

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