To see the dawn from the top of a mountain is to witness the birth of Time.
I’ve seen my fair share of sunrises, and even though they’re usually associated with the universally disliked early-morning departures from the land of the sleeping, every single one was a thousand times worth it. And so, it was a no-brainer when a friend invited me to a dawn summit of Mount Tamalpais on the one weekday this year I happened to be off work.
By the time my alarm rang at 3:30 am, I was up already and munching on breakfast. For many, this would perhaps be more of a “midnight” snack but oh well.
The roads were beautifully empty and the silence of the early morning beyond peaceful. Darkness held the world in its soft embrace and sparkles of dreams flew across the sky on their way between the stars and the dreaming.
We met at the clock tower in Mill Valley. For trail runners, that’s the spot. Jam on Tam laps start and end there, and most of us have adopted it as the official start to the steepest way up Mt Tam. After roughly 2 miles of road ascent, the Temelpa trail charges straight up. In 1.7 miles, it hides 1,781 of elevation gain. It’s a rugged, washed-out trail filled with rocks and roots and respect.
We started up the mountain. There were four of us, and once the climbing got steeper, I was soon left behind by the other ladies. Those strong women seemed to be gliding up the slope while my laboured breathing must have been so loud even wildlife rather took its leave.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I haven’t been doing much running, having to come out of not one but two injuries. I knew I was going to be lagging, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the others. I went for it nonetheless. There were times when knowing this would have stopped me from doing what I loved. Not anymore.
The mountain’s healing presence was seeping into my mind. She cares. In some strange, convoluted way, she cares. She’ll whip my butt every time I come for a visit; I’m always leaving with a few new scratches, with a few new blisters, with a few new aches and pains. But the more painful her lessons are, the stronger and wiser I am when I leave her embrace.
Soon after starting on the Temelpa trail, the views came into sight, leaving me as speechless as always.
San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and Mill Valley shone like a golden treasure deep below. The sky in the East just started to reveal the first signs of light and a gentle breeze drew goosebumps onto my skin. The air was dry and filled with tiny specks of dust that rose from the path, disturbed by those who walked it before me.
From above, I could hear my companions’ howling. From below, the light of several headlamps broke through the branches of the trees and bushes and revealed our fellow climbers. Here on the mountain, we were all siblings, we were all one kin.
I howled to send the message along and more distant howls came from shining spots of light.
The final scramble to the top is the most brutal but the most fun. It’s more so bouldering in parts, and it’s the best part of the whole journey. You go straight up exposed rock and boulders, hoping you don’t slip because you know you’d go all the way.
We reached the tower and tapped the door. It was there, solid as always, the one certainty on the top of the mountain. If it were a few months earlier, Christmas lights would have been wound around the fire lookout along the barbed wire, offering the cold and exhausted climber a moment of warmth and light.
The sky behind Mount Diablo in the East was burning. It was hard to look at, so bright that the knowledge of the day’s coming was undeniable. Only a few more minutes, only a few more seconds. The world was buzzing with energy, ready for the first sunrays to caress the peak where we stood.
There’s this moment right before the sun appears behind the horizon where time stops. It crumbles down into nothing and for never and always, our breath is taken away from us, turning into the song of the dawn.
This moment washed over us, speechless, lost, and found.
And then we headed back down the mountain, each at our own pace, lost in our own worlds, running the same trail that meant something different for each of us. The sun set out for its own climb up onto the sky, patient, slow, young. Birds resumed singing in this new time of opportunity, celebrating the day’s coming. The world was young and filled with light and I wondered if the birth of the Universe and Time itself was as indescribably beautiful as what we’ve just witnessed.
Because to see the dawn from the top of a mountain is to witness the birth of Time itself.