It’s 4am and my alarm clock goes off. Am I the only one who hates the sound of it? I bet not. This time around though it’s not waking me up in the middle of the night because I have to go to work, but because I have planned a sunrise hike up Ha Ling Peak near Canmore.
I instantly regret that I said yes to this. Who in their right mind wakes up at 4am and goes on a hike through pitch black forest just to see the sunrise above the mountains? That’s what I ask myself when I nervously search for my phone to turn the alarm off.
I roll over in bed still a bit disoriented. Jack is already up and getting ready. Sunrise isn’t until 7:20 am, but it takes around 20 min to drive to the trailhead from our house and 2 hours of never ending switchbacks to the top.
- let's not go, we will sleep for another two hours and just go for a sunrise to the nearby lake - I say.
- Don’t flake on me, we are going! - answers Jack, looking at me with disapproving eyes.
Sunrise hike up Ha Ling Peak in Canmore
I know I have agreed to it and we’ve been putting away that sunrise hike for way too long. Deep down I know I want to go, but I also know how hard it is going to be. I am not a morning person. Never was and never will be.
Come on! It will be worth it! says Jack.
I drag my sleepy self off my bed and start getting ready. We have to leave in 15 minutes to get to the trailhead before 5am. I’ve packed everything the night before, so it doesn’t take me long before we set off. We get to the car on the driveway and I spot the aurora oval above my head.
The northern lights are visible!
Excitedly I tell Jack that maybe we should go and shoot aurora instead. My last attempt in changing plans and not going through gruelling hike during unsociable hours fails.
Jack is set on going and nothing is going to change his mind! It’s funny how our brains work when we are tired. I was so excited about the hike the night before, but my excitement disappeared together with the sound of my alarm clock.
We get to the trailhead, put our backpacks and cleats on and set out. It’s 4:50 AM and I know we have to make it by 7am if we don't want to miss it. It would suck to put all this effort in, just to miss it by a few minutes.
The trail condition is awful. The first few hundred metres are just a sheet of ice.
It’s spring in Canmore which means snow melts during the day and freezes again at night. If it wasn’t for the crampons I wouldn't be able to do this. After first 30 minutes I slip and slide down a few metres. I tell Jack to slow down as I am not able to focus on the trail. Multitasking at 5am is not my strong asset.
I have hiked to the top of Ha Ling Peak just a week before but I swear that today it seems twice as steep, 3 times as long and my backpack 4 times as heavy.
We carry on through the pitch black forest. There is no moonlight to guide us through, just our head torches.I moan every step of the way. I am definitely out of shape after the long Canadian Winter.
Every weird sound gives me creeps. The first time we did this hike we ran into a black bear. I don’t need any wildlife encounters right now, I think to myself. After around an hour and 20 minutes we finally make it above tree line, that’s when my head torch batteries decide to die. Luckily we won’t need them any longer as civil twilight replaces the night.
20 minutes later we make it to the ridge line and get the first glimpse of the sunlight above the opposite mountain range. It’s another half an hour until sunrise. We make a decision to split up in opposite directions to get photos from both sides.
We give each other a kiss – just in case. Jack continues to Miners Peak and I continue my struggle up Ha Ling Peak. 15 minutes later I make it to the top. I quickly snap a few photos of myself and descend 50 meters down to find a composition for my shot. The surrounding peaks start lighting up and I know it won’t be long before the sun is out.
It was -7 degrees when we left the house, but with the combination of altitude change, windchill and tiredness it feels like -20. I take off my jacket and put on the extra hoodie I have in my backpack, then set up my tripod and camera and wait for the perfect moment.
We timed it really well, I think to myself. A few minutes later the ridge line lights up. I can see Jack in the far distance, just barely. I wonder if the view on the other side is just as good.
The show is over as quickly as it started. I pack up and set back down to meet Jack. I snap last photo of him standing on the col and we start heading back down.
I can’t stop smiling because of what I just witnessed and I can’t wait to get back down and see the photos on my laptop. The morning grumpiness disappears and I am already asking Jack when are we going to do our next sunrise hike.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.