Dawn Patrol: 5am is the Best Adventure Time

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we talk to three dedicated outdoorspeople on their habit of waking up at 4am to get outside before work - also known as going on Dawn Patrol.
Hailey Oppelt Hailey Oppelt
Communications Associate
December 17, 2019

Borrowed from early military aviation’s dawn reconnaissance flights, the phrase “Dawn Patrol” was adopted by recreationists to describe 5am pre-work adventures, allowing you to fit two days into one. Pulling it off isn’t easy, but with an iron will and a few cups of coffee it can be done. Hear from three of our favorite Dawn Patrollers on what motivates them to roll out of bed long before sunrise, and why it’s so worth it.

Gavin Woody: The Sunrise Chaser

I’ve been doing dawn patrols for about 12 years now, as long as I’ve lived in Seattle. I work a corporate job and have a family that I want to spend time with, so mornings are really the only time available to me. Most of my stuff is done alone, in the dark, and in the rain. Having been in the army, getting up early and working out was just the way we did things - I’m used to it. If I’m getting out before work the alarm goes off at 4:30am. I live in Issaquah so I can get to Tiger Mountain in 8 minutes and run Cable Line any time of year, fitting in 5-10 miles and a couple thousand feet depending on how early I get there. It sounds corny, but I love to see the sunrise. And you never know if you’re going to get it. It’s also just a much richer experience seeing the sunrise after putting in all that work, rather than waking up and seeing it from my front porch.

In the winter I like to ski, which really is the apex of dawn patrolling for me. I always ski with partners for safety, and we have a group of dawn patrollers on Facebook – other working professionals who have families and still want to get after it. We’ll meet in Issaquah at 5am, be skinning by 6, climb until 8, ski down until 9, then get to work by 10. On primo days we’ve skied the Slot Couloir or the Bryant Couloir. It’s like having two days in one. There’s a certain level of satisfaction with rolling into work, knowing that you just had this great adventure, when most people are still on their second cup of coffee. It’s a really good feeling, and it sets me up for a great rest of the day. It’s always going to feel like it’s too early when the alarm goes off, but getting a workout in early in the morning and seeing the sunrise is going to reward you tenfold of what you put in. Just get out there – and bring a strong headlamp.
 

Krystin Norman: The Never-Bailer

I first got into Dawn Patrol when working at Fred Hutch as a way to fit in bike rides, rock climbs, or short skis before work. Now I work as a microbiologist at Fremont Brewing where I need to be in at 7am, so it makes Dawn Patrol a little more difficult. I’ll often Dusk Patrol, getting into work when the brewers arrive at 5:30am so I can slip out early and fit in an activity before dark. I’ll often clean my climbing routes with a headlamp, bike back after sunset, or sometimes fit an actual backcountry mission in after work. I also volunteer with SheJumps and work a couple side jobs in the outdoor industry – I’m busy, but I like to be busy. I sometimes feel like a dog that needs to be walked.

I once tried to climb Mount Stuart on a one-day weekend, planning to go straight from the mountain to work the next morning. That didn’t really work – we ended up having an unplanned bivy after summiting at sunset and attempting to walk down the Cascadian Couloir with a dead headlamp and no spare batteries. Fortunately my climbing partner is an ER doctor and has a very high tolerance for epics, but it was one of the colder experiences of my life.

I’m definitely more of a partner person – for safety reasons, and because having a partner allows you to share the experience with someone else. Once you make plans with someone you can’t bail, the plans are set in stone. You also hold yourself accountable – you can’t bail on yourself because you can’t bail on your friends. Doing partner activities strengthens your friendships and motivates you to get out. I also remind myself that I’ve never gone out and regretted it, even if it’s 36 degrees and raining. The only time I might bail is if it’s really bad out, and my partner already bailed… then I’ll consider it.

Roger Strong: The Overstoker

PHOTO BY JOE STOCK, COURTESY OF ROGER STRONG

On a Dawn Patrol morning, I’ll actually wake up five or ten minutes before my 3:30 alarm to check the weather - I just get excited about each day. I can go on four hours of sleep for three or four days at a time, and I blame my 20+ years of crab fishing for that. There’s so much to do and I feel like the clock is always ticking.

In summer I usually trail run to go solo a climb two or three times a week, hitting the trail by 5am. The days are longer and the light is quicker, and I play this game with myself where I get to the summit just as the sun’s coming up. I have a little ten minute yoga session at the top to welcome the day, then run all the way back to the car before heading to my morning meetings.

But winter is what I really love. The days are shorter and the weather changes every few minutes, depending upon exposure and what storm is bringing (or not bringing) in snow. I feel like winter is this gift, whether it’s ice climbing or ski touring or ski mountaineering. I love it more and more as I get older - my wife and daughter even nicknamed me “The Overstoker”. Ice climbing is one of my favorite things in life, and Snoqualmie Pass surprisingly has it all. I’ll go get a few laps in skiing, then go back to the car, grab ice tools and crampons and solo a couple pitches before work. There’s nothing like it.

I love getting up early, getting blood flowing and breaking trail in the snow. I’ve been blessed to be a sponsored climber and skier for over 20 years, long before my wife and I decided to have a baby, and now work sales in the outdoor industry. I feel blessed my body allows me to get up that early, but truly want to see more people experiencing the beauty of the sunrise. I love that I can reach and inspire more people now than I could as a professional athlete and crab fisherman. I want to see more people beating me to the trailhead and sharing their experiences and knowledge. It’s true, those first 20 minutes kind of suck – you’re sweaty and it’s raining, or it’s snowing, or you ate or drank too much the night before and think you might throw up – but then you finally find your equilibrium and the next two hours are bliss.


This article originally appeared in our Winter 2020 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.