I strongly dislike getting up early.
The act of dragging myself out of bed for a sunrise usually involves second-guessing the decision while staring out at the sky trying to predict if something truly worthwhile will happen. When the concept of freezing my nethers off is introduced, I'm doubly unwilling.
Sometimes it's worth just getting over it.
While camped along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park this summer, I knew I should spend one morning adventuring around the peaks and lakes at sunrise. We had zero cell reception (thank heavens), and I'd forgotten to check timing. Jasper is notoriously late for sunset (10:30pm this time of year), and I wasn't sure how early I needed to get up. Ugh, 4:30? 5:00?
My alarm went off at 4:15am, and after the required rounds of internal whining, I got out of my sleeping bag, hopped into the Golf, turned on my seatwarmer, put on my music, and started my journey.
Oh, magical morning! Way better than laying around in a tent! I stopped many times along the road. The moon glowed above the mountains, and the early morning light was exquisite. There wasn't a single other car. I had this enchanted paradise to myself.
My sunrise timing was wildly off, but I sat patiently at the foot of Sunwapta Lake at the Columbia Icefield until 5:45 when it all blew up.
No one else was there; just the mountains and me. The silence, sometimes interrupted by the low base boom/hiss of wind hitting the peaks, was intoxicating. The sun hits the glaciers, the clouds catch fire, the lake starts to glow. The world changes.
One realizes why people risk their lives to climb mountains. The mountains are alive, dangerous, and (excuse my Tolkien) perilous in their beauty. The feeling crawls into my chest and makes it ache with longing to make these moments last forever.
Walking around the base of the lake, studying reflections and analyzing the angle of the light on the mountaintops, watching clouds take on rosy sun glow, making each snap of the shutter count and marveling at how truly wonderful my 14mm lens is at capturing the feel of being there--these are all I really feel like caring about on mornings like these. It's sunrise photo Zen. Nothing else could possibly matter. The lack of mental clutter is astonishing.
When I bring an image back from an adventure like this, it adds to my collection of postcards of the best moments of my life. The moments when I feel most alive. It happens with portraits and weddings, too. It's the joy and privilege of being a photographer who doesn't just seek pretty pictures, but moments that re-inspire that ache, longing, FEELING.
And that's why it's worth getting up, once in awhile, for an epic sunrise.