The Gamble of Sunrise

Is watching the sunrise, mountain top to mountain top, worth a 4.15am rise? Getting up very early to experience or accomplish something is a gamble few of us make. After pondering the long list of considerations revolving around the possibility of satisfaction, one is left with good old opportunity cost, “Would I be better off sleeping?” If you can catch such a sunrise any day then maybe you would trade the early rise in summer for a later rise in another season. But, The BB and I cannot.

After we’d bought the tickets for Mammoth Mountain’s* inaugural Sunrise from the Peak in July, friends of ours advised, “It’s only sleep.” They opted not to join us. There is magic even before the sunrise, watching blue-black sky and landscape fade as we drive to the Adventure Centre. First, mountain ridges etch against the sky then colour leaches into trees and rocks and grass.

The blokes operating the gondola were surely hired for their enthusiasm. They sent us up the mountain with rousing calls.

Gondola coming up Mammoth Mountain

Hot drinks at the base were repeated at the summit, with the addition of fresh fruit, pastries and doughnuts. Certainly this was value for money.

At the summit, most people scattered to vantage points but a few waited for the short photography ‘class’. We set up a few hundred metres from the gondola, grabbed some tips from the professional photographer and began clicking under his guidance. Atmospheric conditions created streaks above the horizon – a little drama for the photographs. At about 5.35am, a tiny but intense sun blipped over a far peak. Mammoth Mountain sunrise

We courted it directly then turned our backs and captured its handiwork.

Mammoth Mountain, sunrise

The summit offers 360° views. Such a vantage point makes a map of the landscape. The large lakes, the town, the golf course, roads, valleys were laid out below. That morning the rays did not find the many small lakes scattered around the ranges so they remained hidden – something for another dawn. At our feet, dew created jewels of grasses.

dew on plants

There comes a point, with exposure to the chill, when hands stop functioning meaningfully. It’s time then for the optional half-hour guided walk. We discovered that Mammoth Lakes was named in the 1870s for its purported vast mineral wealth and the mountain, part of the Sierras, is an active volcano.Mammoth Mountain, sunrise, lakes

There’s no compunction to return to the base via gondola at the scheduled 7am event conclusion. Some people opted to walk off; others remained to enjoy the vista or visit the interpretive centre. The participants of the Morning Scenic Ride were beginning to arrive when we left.

Choose your own time to visit the top but dawn, affecting one’s entire day, is perhaps the richest and most fulfilling of all.

It’s the beauty of wilderness. It’s the pleasure of doing something different; the joy of being present as the world assembles itself; the quiet before everyone else starts; the knowledge gained. For some, it may even be the satisfaction of being one of the few.

It’s definitely not the lack of sleep.

*Mammoth Mountain is located west of the Mammoth Lakes township in eastern California. Check their website for details of sunset, sunrise and full-moon rise events plus Morning Scenic Rides.

This article first appeared in The Sheet.

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