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.
We spent an amazing week in Shenandoah National Park. There are more photographs to share. Stay tuned.
Absolutely stunning photographs well worth the early rise.
Thanks Derrick, it was an experience that was truly worth the effort.
Beautiful photos. Like you, I enjoy the photography and fitness aspect of hiking.
Your story here captures both themes nicely.
Thanks Scott, I really appreciate the comment.
Gorgeous photos. It was worth it to get up early to hike up there.
Thanks Maralee. I appreciate the compliment. I’m I see you have a blog post about a hike up a mountain too. I’m going to take look at that soon.
Just splendid, Rich, especially Breaking Dawn.
Thanks Ralph, That point in the dawn made it worth the effort. It was nature at her best.
Jaw dropping beauty, But no bear.. At 5:45 am I will bet you had that trail to yourself. Your images were well worth the early hike.
Thanks Larry. I did have the trail to myself, unlike early mornings in some national parks where you are photographing with the crowds. By the way, I know you would have loved having a bear or two show up and pose for you. I was glad to have the place to myself.
Great job Rich. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to experience the sunrise with you. Jon
My pleasure Jon. Thanks for your comment and compliment.
Thanks Karen. I appreciate the compliment from a fellow artist.
Breathtaking images! And nice narrative to boot!
Thanks John. I’m really glad you enjoyed this post. I appreciate the compliment too.
absolutely stunning! its like fire in the sky. and thank you for your early walk in the dark, up the mt… sharing in the beauty. definitely on my bucket list to get back to the States & see VA mountains. in the day, minus, bears and copperheads. 🙂 cheers, Debi
Thanks for your compliment and comment Debi. I hope you do get to make it back to the US and see this place and some others you will also equally love.
Lovely site Rich! really would love to see where my great grandparents settled in VA…. one day 🙂 so glad you shared!
Thanks Debi. I have more photos of Shenandoah National Park on the way.
awesome!!! I’d love those! 🙂
A feast for the eyes!! Beautiful shots and so worth the climb.
Thanks Laura, I appreciate the compliment.
What a jaw dropping opening capture! Lowly to see the sunrise transform in the morning. Well this seem to have been well worth getting up early for:) The colours are striking.
Thanks for your comment and the compliment. I really appreciate it. Yes, this time it was worth getting up very early.
Nice job Rich. I like the sunstar image. Nice colors all around. Nice to get rewarded after an early wakeup
Thanks, I appreciate the compliment. It is nice to be rewarded after all that work. There are a lot of times where the times where the reward isn’t worth the effort. This one made up for all of those.
A great idea to show the progression of the morning and beautiful sunrise finale. And I admire your dedication!
Thanks Denise. This shoot inspired me to look at all sunrises as a progression and you may just see more of these series here from other locations. By the way, my wife has another word to describe that dedication you mentioned.
Did a similar blog post (Mar. 2014) but with sunsets called ‘Evolution of a Sunset’ set down at the shore. Creating a cohesive series of any type is what I like about blogging!
I went back and looked at your post from 2014 and actually remembered that one for the subtle change in light and your almost abstract compositions. Funny thing is that I almost titled this post “Evolution of a Sunrise”. I agree with you about blogging. It’s really a chance to literally tell a story with our photography, especially when putting a series of images together.