I woke up early on a Tuesday. I’m not talking 6 AM “ugh I have class at 7” early. I’m talking 2 AM “I fell asleep three hours ago” early. Why would I do such a thing? Visions of catching a sunrise alone at Chasm Lake below the towering Diamond face of Longs Peak, that’s why!
My plan started a couple days before when I found out that I would have a Tuesday and Wednesday off from work. These are my two favorite days to go hiking for a couple reasons: 1) they aren’t weekend or near-weekend days so there are virtually no crowds on any trails and 2) hiking on Tuesday or Wednesday helps get you through the hump of the week and gives you something to look forward to before the weekend. So when I heard I had a Tuesday/Wednesday off I immediately knew I would capitalize on it and go for a nice lone walk in the woods.
I decided to stay closer to home and pick a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky has a lot of trails to choose from but I wanted to do something above tree line; I wanted to marvel at the color change of the trees below that we are starting to see here in early fall. I chose Chasm Lake because it was a nice moderate to strenuous hike of 8 miles round trip and 2,500 feet of elevation gain.
The weather wasn’t looking promising but I wasn’t about to give up my day off hiking plan just because the forecast said 100% chance of rain. There was a supposed window of time between 4 AM and 11 AM where it was only cloudy and the rain was expected to mostly clear by 6. I decided that I would bring my camera and tripod with me to try catching the sunrise against the East-facing wall of Longs. I just bought this new camera and was super excited to use it to capture my favorite time of day, sunrise.
At 2 AM my alarm started beeping after falling asleep just three hours prior. Moose squinted at me from his cocoon of blankets on my bed as I scurried around collecting all the final necessities for my hike. I brewed up some tea that I poured into a thermos and was on the road by 2:45. After taking a wrong turn, I arrived at the trailhead of Longs Peak along Highway 7 around 4:30. I would still have a full two hours to hike the 4 miles and 2,500 feet to Chasm before the sun’s official arrival at 6:47. I had hoped to be up to the lake by 6 so that I could decide where the best spot to set up was and sip my tea as the sun came in. Behind schedule though, I knew that was no longer an option, as I would be cutting it close on time.
I kicked off my Birkenstocks and laced up my boots ready to hit the trail in a full on mist/drizzle. When I walked through the empty lot up to the trail sign with my headlamp, I realized that I was likely the first one on the trail that day. I started up the mountain making it about 200 yards before I completely freaked myself out and turned around. I was headed back to the car and had decided to start after it got light out. Screw pictures of the sunrise. Screw being up at the lake alone. Mountain lions target lone hikers and a bear was going to eat my face it I kept walking up that trail by myself in the dark, I just knew it.
I quickly jogged back to my car, hopped in, reclined the seat all the way and began to curl up till it got light out. About 10 minutes into my half-snooze, a truck pulled in and began gearing up for the hike. I thought in my head how stupid it was that I woke up at 2 just to chicken out because I was a little scared of the mountain lion stories I had read the night before (stupid, I know). I somehow convinced myself that if I let this group of hikers go up about five minutes before me, they would scare off the predators and I could follow behind by my lonesome with nothing to fear. Or at least the bear would eat their faces off and I’d be able to run away before it noticed I was tailing them.
I hit the trail about five minutes behind the hikers around 5 AM, clearly too late to make it the four miles for sunrise photos. Nevertheless, I hauled ass trying to get up there as early as possible to still get some solid shots of the lake and hopefully have it all to myself. I didn’t stop the whole time, trudging up through the pines and into the barren alpine slope through the fog. The darkness began to lift and the first signs of light came in just as I reached tree line. Knowing that I only had about 45 minutes until the official sunrise and another two miles to go, I picked up my pace to get to the lake.
With the incoming light and slightly warmer temperatures, the fog started to clear and the rain completely stopped. I rounded the edge of the trail where Chasm cuts off from Longs and leads to a waterfall just below the lake. When I reached the waterfall around 6:30, I knew that all was left was the last scramble up some rocks to the lake.
Shocked that I might actually reach the lake before sunrise, I shot up the final scramble and hustled my way to a high point that overlooked the pristine alpine water. I found the perfect spot with a sprawling view of the lake to set up my tripod and get some glorious shots of first light hitting The Diamond with the crystal waters of Chasm reflecting the mountains below. I hastily threw my bag near my feet, unhooked my tripod from the side, and dug out my camera with minutes to spare.
I had done it. I had woken up at 2 AM, conquered my fears of hiking alone in the dark, hauled all my cumbersome photo gear on my back, and about killed myself via exhaustion from booking it up the mountain four miles in less than two hours.
As the sun began to round the edge of the wall that kept it from lighting up the scene in front of me, I excitedly clicked on my camera reading the message on the lit screen…
“No memory card”
Note: Luckily, I did bring my phone with me so I was able to catch some pictures of the hike with it; they’re no Ansel Adams captures, but they’ll have to do.