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Climbing in 18-Degree Weather to Shoot the Sunrise

Don't let cold mornings deter you from experiencing the best light the sun has to offer.

By: Roark Nelson + Save to a List

One of the things that I love about photography is how the quality of light can make or break a photo. When shooting outdoors it is those early hours in the morning that I love the most. There is something profound about sitting freezing in the quiet cold air with nothing but your thoughts running through head and the singing sound of the wind moving around you. Then the sun rises, and this place that had been pitch black before is revealed to be a place of impeccable beauty.

On this particular occasion I woke up around 5am in the back of my Prius snuggled within both of the 0 degree sleeping bags I had brought, and completely covered in frost. I checked the thermometer quickly and it read a balmy 15 degrees. Getting out of the comfort of my sleeping bag was easily the hardest thing I did that day, and after gathering my gear I walked over the car adjacent to me to check on my two buddies who I had somehow convinced to brave the cold with me. After brewing a quick cup of coffee for everyone we walked about 100m over to the Feathers, a beautiful dramatic line of basalt columns that is one of the iconic features of the Vantage climber area in Washington.

This is when we began to get really uncomfortable. One of my buddies, Garrett, helped me set my line so that I could get into position and start shooting before the sun crested over the hill. Once I had ascended the line to the position I wanted, I was stuck waiting for about 5 or 10 minutes for the sun to rise into the valley. If you have never spent a lot of time in a climbing harness hanging off a wall, it is not the most comfortable of things to do and it definitely is not made any more comfortable in 20-degree weather.

Once the sun had risen, it was time to climb. Garrett made quick work of the route we had selected, all while bathed in the beautiful orange glow of the first light. We made sure we had gotten the shots we had wanted and then hastily ran back down to our camp to make a very very hot and well-deserved breakfast. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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