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Sunrise from Mt. Wilson

Sunrise from Mt. Wilson, Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from Mt. Wilson, Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado

The imposing north face of Mt. Wilson had compelled my awestruck attention as I stood on the summit of Wilson Peak the day before. Heavy spring snows had left Mt. Wilson's north face covered with extensive snowfields even though it was late June. In fact, the upper snowfield reminded me of the famous White Spider on the north face of the Eiger. The snowfield ended at the northeast ridge, an airy, fourth-class arête with an intimidating crux just five feet below the summit. Finding my way up that in the dark promised to be a challenge, particularly since I'd never done the route before.

The alarm jarred me awake at midnight. By now, the hike up the valley was familiar, even where the trail disappeared beneath the lingering snowfields. Before the trip, I had downloaded a GPS track for the route from Now it proved quite valuable. I left the valley floor, following the GPS's guidance, and began wandering up the indistinct, rocky buttress that forms the lower half of the route. Sections of easy tundra alternated with broken cliff bands. The GPS guided me toward the easiest breaks in the cliffs.

At the base of the big snowfield, I paused to lash on my crampons and deploy my ice ax. Continuous, ever-steepening snow led me to the northeast ridge. Soon the way up was all too clear: straight up the northeast ridge on delightfully solid rock. Then I reached the crux: an awkward move over infinite air on the right side of the ridge. My big pack, full of heavy camera gear with a tripod lashed on the back, pushed me off-balance. I'd seen a photo of the crux move on that showed a giant handhold. In the dark, that handhold was nowhere to be seen or felt. I looked down again. This was no place to slip. My experience getting off-route on Wetterhorn and Sunlight had taught me one thing: if the way seems too hard, back off. There's probably an easier way.

I retreated a few feet and considered my options. The guidebook had mentioned another way, along the left side of the ridge. This alternate route had a longer section of difficult climbing, but supposedly no single move was as hard. I worked my way along the left side of the ridge for a few feet and picked a new line. It looked feasible - at least as far as my headlamp could reach, about 20 feet. The climbing was steep, but the holds were solid, and there were no off-balance, barn-door moves to negotiate. I emerged onto the small summit just as the first glow appeared to the east. I still had an hour to wait until sunrise.

Soon the light show began. I photographed looking east, then west as the clouds lit up over Kilpacker Basin, then northwest as the red sunrise light hit El Diente, then south as the rugged south ridge of Mt. Wilson caught the light, then finally northeast again as the light from the rising sun reflected off the east-facing cliffs below me and bounced a warm glow onto the shadowed sides of the towers jutting up from Mt. Wilson's northeast ridge. Those glowing pinnacles, combined with the spectacular sight of Gladstone Peak and Wilson Peak jutting up against the dawn sky, make this photograph one of my all-time favorite Sunrise from the Summit images.

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