Why I will never do another sunrise climb – 4 travel misadventures that taught me to say NO
June 30, 2016
Sometimes it’s best to admit when something is not for you! Read about 4 of my sunrise climbs and why I will never do it again!
I was reading a delightful travel blog the other day. The author was talking about how she loves to get up with the sunrise and explore a new place. It was a beautiful capture of some amazing places but it reminded me of all the times I had gotten up for a sunrise adventure and regretted every minute of it.
I am not a morning person to be fair but it seems many tours (especially for natural wonders), feature "see the sunrise from XYZ". They involve getting up at 2:30 am to hike or to be driven to a high point to experience the amazing sunrise.
What they don’t mention is that these trips can be physically harrowing – climbing a mountain in the dark is no joke. FREEZING even in summer. Boring if you have to wait a long time at the summit and to top that off if you catch an overcast day you may not even see the sunrise you paid so much to view.
Normally I am quite self-aware, I do something once and if I don’t like it, I move on but there is something about sunrise climbs that keeps calling me back. Misadventures despite being uncomfortable at the time, make great stories after. I sometimes even find myself suggesting dawn climbs, it’s like an addiction I can’t kick. Here are some stories of my more harrowing dawn climbs:
Mt Agung – Bali - Indonesia
My first ever experience of solo travel. I met a group of other solo ladies and we decided to go in together to hire a guide and climb Mt. Agung and view the sunrise. We set out around 10pm following our guide - a little Indonesian man with little English. We head out into the dark, climbing a steep thin track so washed out we were sometimes shoulder level with the ground. A few hours in I think we realized what we had gotten ourselves into. It was hard going and the guide was pushing us, our supplied head torches were fading fast and it was just a little bit scary.
The last hour and a half we came out onto loose scree and crawled up and up through the darkness. We reached the top only to realize there was still hours before sunrise. We huddled together drinking tea, perched on a rock in the freezing cold, while our guide napped (I kid you not he rolled over and went to sleep). The sun finally rose on a hazy view of the green folds, Bali sloping down towards the sea and we realized we were perched on the edge of a cliff. One girl in particular, freaked out when she realized what we had been climbing up the night before. Needless to say, the trip down was much slower and more careful than expected.
Pros: Met an amazing group of ladies, learned to remove leeches…
Cons: COLD, long wait at the top, pretty dangerous all things considered, view nice - sunrise average.
Lesson: Make sure your guide knows what they are doing!
Tangkuban Perahu – Java - Indonesia
Not more than a few weeks after my first dawn-mountain experience I found myself in a similar situation. In an unexpected location (the volcanoes I had intended to climb erupted). I got “touristed” hard (traveller slang for getting sucked into buying something overpriced or somehow shady). I signed up for a package including hotel and a jeep ride to a viewing point for sunrise over the crater. The accommodation was abysmal, dirty and cold and I quickly discovered that not only were there other options (I had been told this was the only hostel) but others had paid less for the same tour.
Needless to say, it was an unpleasant night and our 4am wake up and bumpy jeep ride through the crater to the viewing point wasn’t much better. The viewing platform got fuller and fuller and fuller, once again proving that there other options (mutter curse). We waited and waited in the bitter cold, for the sun to rise but when it did the day was cloudy and we couldn’t see more than a stream of clouds passed our viewing point. On the rare moment, the clouds cleared and the clicks of camera shutters was deafening as everybody tried to capture the fleeting view. Eventually we gave up and headed to a live crater, which was fun to explore, though not much more than vapour clouds and a sulphurous residue was visible.
Pros: The bus ride up through tiered rice paddies with chickens in baskets was my favourite part. View of the live crater viewed after was also good fun.
Cons: Expensive, cold, boring, no sunrise, many tourists.
Lesson: Don’t ever believe there is only one option, shop around!
Mt. Fuji - Shizuoka - Japan
Years later in Japan, a friend and I decided to climb Mt. Fuji. Being as cheap as I am we decided to catch the first public bus in the morning and the last bus out, and avoid tours that involved spending tonnes of money on overnighting on the mountain (to see the sunrise). Thinking we were clever we were up before dawn and on the public bus no problem. Heading up from the 5th station on foot we set a good pace.
The paths are wide and well maintained as the mountain handles a good amount of tourists. We quickly discovered that Fuji is well, a giant pile of gravel. Despite the well-maintained paths, a huge amount of the climb is in loose scree that has your legs screaming in minutes. Several hours into the climb I began to feel light headed, almost tipsy. As we continued pushing up, (we had a serious deadline to make) I was surprisingly out of breath and had a growing pain in my skull. We climbed up through the clouds from a clear but grey day, to beautiful but icy sunshine above the clouds. By the time we reached the summit my head was in agony, I was breathing like I was having an asthma attack and even threw up at one point.
After admiring the lonely but majestic Torii gates, we consulted our watches and realized we had just over two hours to get back down to catch the last bus out (we had not accounted for sightseeing time). We ran… What is recommended to take 3 hours 15 min, we did in 2. My bad knee gave out halfway and I was crying and limping from the pain in my head and knee but we did it, up and back in 8 hours! Don’t ever, ever, try and climb that high, that fast, I don’t care how fit you are, altitude sickness is agony! Luckily the charming Japanese hostel and idyllic surrounding area were the perfect place for recovery from this somewhat self-inflicted adventure.
Pros: Lovely surrounding area, easy enough climb, public transport available.
Cons: Altitude sickness, boring and gruelling climb, cold, time pressure, oh and did I mention altitude sickness!!!
Lesson: Climbing at altitude fast is dumb, do more research when dealing with unknown elements!
Mt. Sinai – Dahab - Egypt
I have to admit that I should have known better by now but I did it anyway. A couple of friends and I joined a tour, to climb Mt. Sinai and view the sunrise. We set off about 3 am walking into the desert. The sky was clear and full of stars, we wound up and around the mountains in a small group (though there were a lot of tours on the track). The path was easy and didn’t get steep till quite near the top when rough rock stairs took over. We reached the summit happy only to realize there were 2.5 hours still before sunrise. The guide deposited us on a ledge and headed away back down the mountain to a tent with the other guides.
The wind rose bringing not only bitter cold but fine desert grit, which tore at everything so you could barely see without squinting. Eventually, we caved and hired an overpriced camel blanket from an enterprising young man. My friends and I huddled under the camel blanket on a rocky ledge for two hours, while a mini sandstorm raged. It is some of the coldest I’ve ever been in my life! By the time dawn broke we were just glad to be able to get out of there but as the sun started warming our aching bones, we realized what a stunning visage had appeared. Mountains as far as the eye could see, nobly and twisted, carved by the sand and the wind. The climb down was full of wonder and interesting history tidbits from our guide, who had miraculously reappeared as the storm departed.
Pros: Truly stunning scenery, cool to visit biblical landmarks,
Cons: So COLD I can’t even describe it, long boring wait at top, lots of tourists.
Lesson: I don’t like climbing mountains in the dark to see the sunrise, stop bloody doing it!
There have been a few other climbs since then such as the Tongariro crossing in NZ and the Rockies in Banff in Canada, even some dawn adventures but I also learned to say no. No, I don’t like being up early, I don’t like being cold. Honestly no I don’t care about the sunrise. You may be opposite, you may love sunrise climbs, more power to you, go for it.
But if you’re like me and keep getting suckered into these tours, remember there are other options. Day tours often show the same view for a fraction of the price and you can always enjoy the area without the climb as well. Either way, I hope you were amused by my tales of ineptitude and dawn adventure.