It is the sunrise on a new month, the month of November. Leading deeper into the fall and ultimately into the winter. Less daytime and more nighttime is our future. Yet, we want to give you that glimmer of hope on the horizon, that glimmer of sunshine that crests over the mountains as it greets you to a new day. That glimmer that is felt upon your skin from the sun, but more felt deep within your soul as the colors begin to meld into hues of burgundy, purple, pink, and awash the sky in light. So, as the sun continues to leave us further and further behind this Winter, we wanted to let you experience with us the feeling that we have come to coin, "the sunrise in the heart."
SUNRISE IN THE HEART
There is a special moment in time when the sun has not yet reached the horizon. A piece of time in that day where you can feel the world awakening, before there is any light. A piece of time in the "day" that is not fully day yet. A world of possibilities, a world of choices, and a world of freedom lay before you as the sun rises. Yet, you have already began your day before the sun. You have already been awake for 3 hours, night hiking (or would it just be dark hiking, since its the morning?) to reach the summit of a peak to watch everything around you be awash in the glow. It seems that in almost every hiker there is some inner desire to reach the top of a mountain before the sun. Yes, it is because the colors that meet you at the top are epically beautiful. But, we also believe it is something deeper within. Colors are pretty, but the feeling associated with being on top of a mountain before the sun, is your own personal sunrise. It is a feeling in the heart and the soul, it is a feeling of extreme happiness, and it is a feeling of ultimate wonder. We cannot exactly express what the inner drive is for hikers to be on top of a mountain before the sun so we named it ourselves, "sunrise in the heart". If you take into account this means waking up at 2 or 3 a.m., it being brutally cold because....well you are on top of a mountain in the dark! Then you take into account packing up everything in the dark, stumbling however many miles is needed to reach the summit, and cussing as you trip over rocks, roots, and the fun mysterious object that very well could be Sasquatch's droppings. So, when you tally everything about being on top of a mountain before the sun, it sounds more effort than it is worth, it actually sounds quite miserable. It is in fact the complete opposite. As you watch the sun crest and bathe the world in light, you have already felt the "sunrise in your heart" sensation and your inner sun and the physical sun meet at the top of this mountain, and combine to bathe not only the world in light, but every fiber in your being.
Looking back we had this inner desire, even before we knew it was a desire, let alone before we knew its name. Come back with us 5 years to the Appalachian Trail. We were very inexperienced hikers, lugging around 50+ pounds of excess on our backs, and while loving the journey for what it was, would not consider ourselves especially "strong" hikers. Everyone is a strong hiker that does any amount of miles, that is why we put it in parenthesis, but in our personal judgment of ourselves, we knew we could do more. Yet, no matter how we weighed ourselves in this hiking year we had that inner desire within that pushed us harder, woke us up at 2 a.m., cussed and hissed at us in the dark, to go forth and reach that peak for sunrise. This led us to many sunrises upon mountain peaks. Many sunrises within our own hearts in the dark on the way there, that exploded with feeling as our two suns met on top of the mountain. It was long ago, but there are still a few mountains that stick out themselves to us very strongly from this trail, the sunrise in the heart was especially strong these days.
The Culprit! OHH There is so much wrong with this picture, this in itself is a whole different story. Pair of boots on the pack, pair of flip-flops, really thick gloves, and Nalgene's to name only a few….ughhh our back hurts thinking about this....
The first mountain that this feeling overtook our body, mind, and soul was Clingman's Dome. Clingman's Dome is in the Smoky Mountains National Park and is the tallest mountain and the highest point on the Appalachian Trail clocking in at 6,643ft. A beautiful National Park in its own right, but this moment was something extra special. We got to the shelter that was about 4-5 miles below the peak the night before. It was cold, in fact it was extremely cold. We had to delay our journey into the Smokies by a day when we were in Fontana due to a blizzard coming through, unnaturally cold for this time of year. All we wanted to do was cuddle into the shelter and heat our damp bodies around the fire. So, when it was brought up around the warmth of the fire, that we should wake up at 3 a.m. to get to the tallest point on the AT before sunrise, it was met with a chorus of groans. The idea sounded fantastic, but that would mean packing up with numb hands, breath freezing upon our bristles in our fledgling beards of still new-ish thru-hikers, and no reprieve from the cold for hours. Yet, the facts that were laid before us did not dampen our soul as our body remained damp, instead an inner feeling spoke, go forth, there will not be this time again. The idea was cemented, our camp would wake up at 3 a.m. and freeze our way to the top.
It was exactly as we thought, cold, frigid, freezing, downright brutal. Yet, when we arrived before the sun on-top of Clingman's Dome, the cold was no longer there. We had beat the sun by about 10 minutes, so still no warmth from the sun, but there was a warmth brimming inside of us from somewhere. The feeling on top of that mountain could never be replaced, never replicated, never copied, but at that moment we knew for a fact we would continue to chase this "high". It was beautiful, the "sunrise in our heart" had given us overflowing warmth, happiness, and a sense of fulfillment. Oh, yea the colors were pretty cool up there too.....
Mt. Katahdin, the 3rd tallest mountain on the AT, and the northern terminus. Tried to get up here for sunrise...heavily underestimated the climb..... "sunrise in the heart" feeling while not being met with the physical sunrise, was overflowing here!
Next we had done the AT's tallest mountain in the dark, why not the 2nd tallest. This mountain would bring a whole new level of discomfort and happiness! The 2nd tallest mountain on the AT is the infamous Mt. Washington nestled in the heart of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. This mountain clocks in at 6,288ft but the caveat of this mountain is it has some of the most notoriously BAD weather in the United States. When we say bad, we mean extreme. There were once wind guts recorded in excess of 200+ MPH on this mountains peak. It is an extremely gorgeous but extremely unforgiving mountain. Of course we were going to hike it in the dark! We slept upon the creaking boards of the Lake of the Clouds Hut the night before. There was no question as to our wake up time or that we would beat the sun to the top. We had been doing this for 1,500+ miles now, and while we do not name every mountain we felt the sunrise on our faces and in our hearts on, there were countless.
Sign on the way to the top of Mt. Washington... Quite ominous in the dark when this is all you see....
Our next sight was a ghoulish sign as our headlamp illuminated it in the dark. It read STOP! and DANGER! in giant letters, telling us of the extreme weather and the previous deaths that would meet us above. We could not see anything besides this sign, so our steps wavered only for an instance and kept pushing to the top. As we crested the summit of Mt. Washington we had again beaten the sun by about 10 minutes. As we looked around us, all we saw for miles in each direction was clear unblemished sky. Not a gust of wind, not a drop of rain/hail/sleet, only epic beauty. The sunrise decided to finally meet us on top of the mountain as we baked within our own sunrise in the heart feeling of being so immensely happy. This is what it was about. We still did not know what the "is" was or what the "it" was in that previous sentence, but we were determined to maybe one day find out by continuing to experience this.
This has led us to many sunrise's felt upon our face on top of mountains and even more felt within our hearts. Mt. Whitney which weighs in at at 14,505ft and is the tallest mountain in the continuous 48 states, we were on the top for sunrise after freezing and stumbling our way up in the dark. Mt. Elbert located in the Rocky Mountain Range comes in at 14,433ft and is the second tallest mountain in the continuous 48 states, do you even have to ask? Of course, we were on the top before the sun, after pushing 7 miles and 4,000ft in a few hours. Out of breath, breaking through many protests from our bodies to stop, and full in heart we arrived at the top. The cold was a consistent feeling to get to the top of every sunrise mountain, but by the time you arrive, your heart and soul are so full only warmth meets you.
There is the sun rising in the back, you can't see it but it has rose in our heart for hours now!
On every trail we have done since there are countless peaks that we chose to arrive at the top before sunrise. Some may not be the tallest, some may not be the most "important", besides that they are the most important mountain to us at that moment. On the PNT we were at the top of many mountains in the Olympics for sunrise and sunset, on the IAT....well there were not many mountains, but we were always hiking at-least two hours before the sun, on the AZT, many a desert sky-island mountain was met with the day, on the NTNST... well once again not many mountains...almost all road... but the sunrise in the heart feeling met us every morning through pain and exhaustion as we hiked to meet the sun. On the GDT, more mountains were seen with the sunset than sunrise due to extreme weather, but we still felt the presence of the sunrise in our heart through the hypothermia and consistently wet bodies. On the VIT, we met the sun on top of the Beaufort Range and on top of the Forbidden Plateau as the world unfolded before us, and inside of us. Every trail we have done, and every trail we continue to do, the sunrise in the heart feeling has only continued to grow.
This feeling that we have come to coin, "the sunrise in the heart" feeling was built from the physical sunrise on a mountain peak. That is where we found it time after time again and again. That is where we continue to find it, never a question it is there. Yet, as we have continued to grow as hikers and continued to experience this world, we have began to find that feeling in everyday situations as well. We have had the "sunrise in the heart" feeling from passing a lone cow as they grazed in a field, we have had the feeling at night as we were beyond tired but still had one more mountain to climb in the dark, we have found the feeling in love for the wilderness and love with our partner. We have found the feeling when seeing a smile spread across a strangers face, we have found the feeling when we hear a story from the outdoors, and we have found the feeling inside of this itself. The sunrise in the heart feeling is also felt, when we are able to share it with you.
Makes the sunrise in our heart SOAR with happiness! Look at that beautiful expression....
So, while the "sunrise in the heart" feeling began on top of a mountain in the dark, waiting for the physical sun to rise. It has grown to be so much more. It will always be found there on each new mountain. But, it also has now been found in everyday life. As winter arrives and waking up at 2 and 3 a.m. to summit a mountain before the sunrise, becomes less and less feasible (not impossible, we know there are many badass hikers out there, but not comfortable....) we wanted to share with you the journey and this feeling as it can be transitioned into everyday life. We wanted you to know that "sunrise in the heart" is always there, and having a name you now may be able to define it, and find it!
As ElevenSkys continues to grow and become more and more a part of each person's sunrise, whether it is with our shorts or hats, we got you covered to go find that mountain peak! Yet, we also want to help you find the "sunrise in your heart", when the mountains are blanketed in snow, and the majority of hiking transitions to dreams and planning. It is not always "out there", it can very well be "in here". In this moment, in tomorrow, and in this fall and winter. So, look for it, it is here! Feel the "sunrise in your heart" each day!
With all the warmth of the sun, and a little bit of the biting cold of the winter,