Why an Alpine Start is Always a Good idea

Those who wake up early know that the greatest adventures are at their finest in the early AM.  Pilots and mountaineers know this: in the morning the weather is generally calm, the temperatures cooler, and you have much more daylight should you need it. So start early. Don’t hit that snooze button …

A quick look outside reveals a big sky full of stars. Under the streetlights, there is not a car on the road, the neighbourhood silent.

You rip yourself out of bed and wonder why this seemed like such a good idea. You look at your bed wistfully, leave the room and head for the kitchen. You wait as the kettle boils and quickly pour it over fresh coffee, the smell perking you up a bit.  During a quick, rushed breakfast of toast and jam, you take out your lunch from the fridge, which you thoughtfully prepared the night before.

Your phone beeps – your partner is waiting for you outside. They want coffee. You pour the hot brew into two travel coffee mugs, grab your backpack and gear, turn out the lights and lock the door. Adventure awaits.

Those who wake up at such hours know the benefits of getting out there early in the morning.

So ignore the snooze button and try it. Let anticipation take over as your alarm rings when it’s still dark out. Get ready for the day.

1.  Less Traffic

You’re the first one out there – whether it be on the trail or on the highway.  If you commit to starting in the dark you’ll need a headlamp for the first little while, but you’ll be miles ahead of the throngs. You’ll have the highway or trails to yourself!

2.  Sunrise

This one is fairly obvious. Who doesn’t love a good sunrise? Often, it’s hard to get out of bed just to watch a sunrise, but if you get up not for the sunrise but for a day out on the mountains, the sunrise will just be an extra added bonus.

3. More Daylight

The days are longer when you start early. This means you can get out and have your big day out and still have time to sit around in the sun at the end of the day.

4. Margin for Error

There is also the safety aspect. When you start early, should something go sideways, you have the extra buffer of daylight that can be critical to getting out of trouble. For example, should you get lost, encounter poor weather, or have an injury, you can find your way back in the daylight, or call for rescue and not have to deal with an overnight.  Better to deal with the darkness of dawn, when light is coming, than dusk, when a long night follows.

5. Calmer Weather

Generally, in the morning the weather is always best. In the summer, thunderstorms and rain generally happen in the afternoon or evening.  In the morning, winds are calm and the air has not yet become convective.

6. Snow and Ice Travel

Mountaineers increase safety by starting on snow and glaciers before the sun hits the slope.  Freeze thaw cycles occur causing the snow to warm up, causing avalanche danger as water seeps through and weakens snow layers.  In the morning, the snow is still frozen from the night before and makes for easy travel as well. No postholing.

7. Longer Objectives

Starting early is a must for bigger objectives.  Climbers know that a long alpine route means you have to start hiking in the dark, so you’ll be able to get down while it’s still light out. Or perhaps you want to finish your backpacking trip a day earlier, and starting early makes it possible to have a longer day out.

8. Time to Enjoy

So it’s not just about accomplishing something – the reason we go outside is also just to savour the natural environment.  Extra time means you’ll have the time to stop and smell the wildflowers, or fish in that alpine lake.



Alicja is an economist, enjoys climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, cycling and gets out into the backcountry as much as possible. See all of Alicja's Blog Posts