Jackson – December 15, 2018

Maverick and I set out for our very first sunrise hike yesterday. It’s something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Sunrises and sunsets are always something very special to me and being able to watch one atop a mountain would be amazing. But that also ensures you’re either hiking up or hiking down in the dark by only the light of a headlamp. That’s something a lot of people don’t want to do. Sunrises also require waking up very early, something I’m not too great at.

We hadn’t been hiking in over a month now probably, partly because it’s been hunting season so my weekends had been devoted to that but also because Maverick has had an issue with a paw pad. It seemed to be doing okay lately and hunting season is over, so after only 3 hours of sleep, I woke up and quietly packed up the rest of our stuff Saturday morning and headed up north.

I was so sleepy driving up, I worried I wouldn’t even want to hike once we got there. We parked at the trailhead and Maverick was immediately bouncing around and whining to get out, as if he knew where we were even though it was still pitch black. We were the only car there, the only ones silly enough for such an early start. I was honestly a bit apprehensive. Partly scared. Partly wanting to back out. Partly wondering what the hell I was thinking. So naturally, off we went.

Hiking alone, in winter, in the dark, is definitely a different experience. Though I’m never truly alone, I know I always have Maverick. In the dark though, it’s just the glow of his eyes in my headlamp. There’s no chit chat with friends when you hike solo. In winter, the snow blankets everything so that a hush falls in the woods. And at night, the whole world still sleeps. So combining that all, you feel like the only soul around. It’s something special.

This trail kicked my butt, that’s for sure. Maybe it was from having not hiked in so long. Maybe it was from being in snow and I wasn’t used to it. Who knows, but it was a struggle. As we broke treeline, I knew there wouldn’t be the marvelous sunrise I had been hoping for. The winds were howling. The clouds had socked us in completely. But equipped with my new OR shell jacket and Burton gloves, the biting winds weren’t a problem. And Maverick was not at all phased either. The alpine zone is spectacular always, no matter what the sun is doing, but in winter it’s something otherworldly. It’s truly like a different planet. I am in absolute awe of it. And having it to ourselves was wonderful. We can dance and jump and bark and play as much as we want. But when it was clear the sun was not coming out for us today, we headed back down.

Maverick naturally found every stick he could, even if it meant taking out my legs in the process. Or digging giant logs out of the snow they were buried in. I hadn’t seen him this happy in months. Maybe it’s because his first real hike as a puppy was Mount Pierce in February, but there’s something about winter hiking for him. He comes alive. I might not be with other people when I hike, but you wouldn’t know it by how much I laugh thanks to him.

We didn’t pass another soul until the final mile of trail. Normal people had finally started to head up for the day. The comment I got most was “you’ve already been to the top?!” Followed by “wow what a gorgeous dog” of course.

I guess I take pride in doing difficult things. I guess I like when things are somewhat crazy. When things don’t go as planned. Maybe that makes me weird.

But there were three lessons I thought of while hiking Mount Jackson for sunrise:

1) There are two things in this life you can be absolutely certain about. And those are that the sun will rise each morning and set each night. Whether you choose to get up and admire its beauty is up to you, but the sun does not care either way. It will continue to rise and it will continue to set. Some days it’s hidden in clouds, some days it’s absolutely vibrant, but your opinion of it does not matter to the sun. Each and every day it will rise and it will set regardless.

I think we can all learn from the sun.

2) Even when you think you’ve “messed up” on a hike, it’s still worth it. Like if you hike one day and it ends up raining. Or the clouds sock you in and you say “I shouldn’t have gone today”. If you hike for sunrise or sunset and the colors are less than stellar or not there at all and you kick yourself because you should have done a different peak or picked a different day or waited at summit a bit longer. But you see, no matter what, a hike is still worth it even if conditions aren’t perfect. A day spent in the mountains is never wasted.

And 3) don’t butt slide. I’m not saying I hate you if you butt slide, I’m just saying I would just laugh if you slid straight into a tree. You might think it’s fun to sit down and slide down those steep sections of trail. But you know when you do that you flatten out any toe holes that were there when you went up? And when the temperatures drop, or the winds of the summits hit, that flattened snow you just created is going to freeze up and create the worst icy slide possible. So every future hiker is now scrambling to climb up. And everyone going down is going to slip and fall and slide even when they don’t want to.

So please, for the love of all things holy, do not butt slide down a mountain.