“Get up. Today we climb.” I pull back inside the tent after sticking my head out the window. Unfamiliar constellations shine down brightly from the clear, black southern sky. High whispies obscure a few stars to the north, but nothing dramatic. The moon is nowhere to be seen and the wind is gone with it. Christian kneels in his down bag, emits a curse, then sits in the vestibule, dons his boots and quickly evacuates the tent to relieve himself. I do the same but make a bee line to the student tents to let them know “it’s a go.”
The alarms beep at 0130. Headlamps and rustles emanate from colorful nylon tents that at this hour are merely dark dome shaped objects, not all that different from small boulders. Sleeping bags are shed and clothing donned. Stoves fire up, water is boiled and coffee is made. Breakfast is easy, quick and filing, not complicated and dainty. It is scarfed down, gear is grabbed and tracks are made as headlamp beams break the darkness. The alpine start is hard and early, but coming to the decision the night before can often be the crux of the alpine start.
“Well what time should we get going?”
“I don’t know, what do you think?”
“Well it is only a grade III…”
“Yeah, but it is popular, I bet we will be in line…”
“It is a weekday though and there is nobody else camped in this valley.”
And so the conversation goes. Neither really wants to suggest too early of a time to start, so facts, opinions and ideas get tossed around.
“Well lets work backwards. What time do we want to be down by?”
“What time do we want to be at the base? How long do you think the approach will take?”
Finally, one brave soul tosses out a time.
“What about 0500? I could go earlier if you want.”
This last sentence is tacked on to let the other know that “as much as I want to sleep until 0600 and I think we would be fine leaving then, I am willing to get up even earlier if your pansy ass thinks it is necessary”. It leaves an out for the suggester of the time. Sometimes though, the initial time suggester throws out a time and is met with the response “0500 works fine for me, but I could go earlier if you want to.” This response communicates to suggester that a) maybe you are mentioning a later time than you think in order to not sound ridiculous or piss me off and b) I want to start earlier and this is my way of suggesting it.
All of that of course leaves the question what does “get going” actually mean. As in “what time do you want to get going in the morning?” Does that mean roll out of bed or start walking or be at the base? All of this is best clarified the night before as things left unsaid, particularly between people who have not often climbed together can lead to rough starts. For some “getting going” means that is the time for which they will set the alarm. For those individuals an 0500 start means an extra half hour of sleep than for those whose idea of “getting going” means hitting the trail or leaving camp. Needless to say miscommunication here could really piss someone off.
My watch alarm beeps at 0420. As per usual I am awaking and watching it long before it beeps. I sit up with no need to wipe the sleep from my eyes. Having slept in my clothes there is no need to get dressed. I quietly slide out of the Megalight, taking pains not to disturb my co-instructors. As I sit putting on my shoes I instinctively and curiously look up, hoping to spy stars in the small breaks of trees above. I stand, zip the door shut and grab my pre-organized gear and pack. I have clipped it all together so that if I grab one, I grab it all, but I scan the ground in search of any dropped items anyway. I wander throughout the dark trees, the faint glow of my headlamp showing me the way. Much to my delight I see two headlamps dancing around our kitchen as I near. Then I see Chase and Karyn in the bear fence organizing food. I grab my food duffle and say good morning. We leave camp early, 0458 and make tracks to the west, dropping to the base of Haystacks west face as the dawn’s early light touches Temple and Schiestler to our west.
Later, as we sit at the base of the Grassy Goat Trail clouds unleash drops of rain upon us. The roll of distant thunder echoes off the surrounding cliffs. I look over to the west and, watching the clouds build, treat some water and enjoy casual chit chat with Karyn and Chase knowing we are safe in the valley. And that is when the hard work of the alpine start is the most appealing.