Why wake up at 4am to hike up a mountain?
One of the things I love about being a photographer, and a hiker, is the challenge to find unique places to experience nature at its best. In Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park that meant hiking up a mountain in the dark before the sun came up.
On a beautiful afternoon my wife and I hiked up Hawksbill Mountain, the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park, and loved the view. We were doing a whirlwind tour of summit hikes that day with Hawksbill being the favorite of the day. The rocky outcropping and the panoramic views on top of that mountain seemed like the perfect place to photograph the sunrise.
In early July, the sun rises at about 5:45am in Virginia. The easiest trail to the top of Hawksbill Mountain is only about a mile, but relatively steep, gaining about 750 feet in elevation in that short distance.
At 4:00am the next morning, I slipped out of our hotel room with the hope of being on top of Hawksbill Mountain by 5:15am. After our hike the day before we had seen a Black Bear with her cub a short distance from the trail head which was a little disconcerting. The last place I wanted to be was between a black bear cub and its mother in the dark. They are black bears after all. Hiking with a headlamp on would be important to not just see where I was going but also to let any bears know that I was coming. Just to be safe, I played an audio book out loud on my phone on the way up the trail. If they didn’t see me, hopefully they would hear me.
When I left the hotel, I could see that the sky was partly cloudy–a good sign for a great sunrise. One can never be sure what will happen when you get to a location. I’ve hiked miles in the dark only to see a mediocre sunrise or to have it completely obscured by clouds. When I made it to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain, it was very windy and first light was breaking. I could see that something special was going to happen. From the moment I got there until the beautiful dawn colors started to fade, I was treated to a show that was full of jaw dropping beauty.
The following photographs show that beautiful Shenandoah sunrise on top of Hawksbill Mountain. Note the times of each photograph was made in the caption.