I love sunrises. But waking up early to catch them is hard for me. Especially when it’s 19° F outside and I have to hike up 2,300 ft. for it. But alpine starts are always worth it.
By 3:40 AM we were at the base of Crystal Mountain Resort after a short walk from the Toaster. Snowcats lit up different areas of the mountain as they laid down corduroy for the new day. The sky was miraculously clear for once, the stars were out and the moon was behind one of the peaks – slowly making its debut.
We stuck to the edge of the ski trails to stay out of the way of snowcats in case they showed up where we were. But we had the slopes to ourselves. Tyki behind me like my shadow and Jerud by my side. The dark made everything around us seem bigger. The runs seemed wider, the mountains taller, the way up longer. Our goal was the top of the gondola at 6,856 ft.
I’ve been wanting to do this since we first moved to the mountain. But the weather hadn’t been cooperative; you don’t move to Washington for sunshine and blue skies (unless it’s the summer). With the resort and employee housing sitting down in a valley, sunrises aren’t as easy to see as staying in the desert. Here, you’ve got to earn them.
We had just gotten our splitboards this winter; they were too good of a deal to turn down. We enjoy snowboarding at a ski resort, but skinning up through the woods is what we prefer. Being in the backcountry, earning our turns, and getting away from the crowds. Being new to splitboarding we still have a lot of learn. And there’s nothing like learning through trial and error.
Going up and riding back down before the resort opened wasn’t to get first tracks of fresh powder. It was simply to watch the morning light hit the top of the mountain ranges and Mt. Rainier. It’s a good thing too because the snow condition was shit. It turns out skinning up icy corduroy on a steep blue run doesn’t work very well. In fact, it so doesn’t work that we slid backwards down the slope several times, freaking Tyki out and wearing ourselves out.
But I love doing stuff like this. Sure I’m sore and my knee is going to turn black and blue. But we got to skin up the mountain by the moonlight on a peaceful and windless night. The only sounds were the swooshing of our boards against the snow and our breathing. Oh, and of course the occasional high-pitch Tyki barks to remind us we’re not going fast enough. We experienced the mountain a whole new way, something lift ticket holders don’t.
We got to the top just as the night was lifting and the gentle pink, orange, and mauve crested the peaks across the valley. Mt. Rainier was still waking up, draped in smoky blue. It wasn’t the best as far as sunrises go. But it was the best because we earned it.
And it’s always a treat to see the ever-elusive Rainier. There we stood: layered up, cooling down, hands freezing, toes numb, sipping on hot chocolate. Surrounded by all the things we love.
The highlight for Tyki was he got to run back down an entire mountain as fast as his little legs could take him. A mountain that is otherwise off-limits to him.
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