The Unwritten Rules of Dawn Patrolling…

| February 25, 2009

… must now be written.

Waking up at 4:30am to go skiing on a work day never gets any easier, but is always rewarding.  One of the first times I ever did it I remember being terrified that I’d get to work late and be fired on the spot, but 200+ Dawn Patrols (DP’s) later that still hasn’t happened and most likely never will.  The hardest part about DP’ing is just dragging your ass out of bed and from there, with the exception of the skinning part, it is all downhill.

Whoa... it's like a weird bad dream, except we're going skiing.

Rule #1 – Get up IMMEDIATELY when the alarm goes off.  No snoozing allowed.  You shan’t recover from the evil Dream Bar that early in the morning.

Rule #2 – Have all of your stuff packed and ready the night before.  You can’t think straight at 4:30am.  Pack everything up, put it in the car, attach your skins to your skis, girth hitch your headlamp onto your pack (quick & easy access in the dark), preadjust your poles for skinning, etc..  You should be able to start skinning within five minutes of turning the car off at the trailhead.

Skisbootspoleshatglovesgooglesheadlamp. Check.

Rule #3 – Don’t be late.  Making people wait for you at 5:30am pushes the limits of friendship, plus, if someone is going to oversleep at that hour, it will be by a lot, not just a few minutes.  One of my favorite No-Wait-State stories went like this;

“Well, Dave isn’t here. Should we wait for him?”
“What time is it?”
“I think we just did.”

Rule #4 – If you bring a friend, you are responsible for him/her.  It is just the way it goes.

"I light the fire while the city sleeps." MC 900' Jesus

Rule #5 – Being self sufficient is essential.  Wandering around in avalanche-prone mountains while being under a time constraint and exercising hard in the pitch black requires a large amount of personal assumption of risk, to say the least.  Your partners can only help you so much.

Rule #6 – Pick a safe objective where you stand a good chance of not getting lost, whacked by an avalanche, having your car towed or falling to your death in the dark.  There’s a good reason why certain runs are considered classic DP outings.

The pay-off. The hardest part of DP'ing is standing up in the dark when you alarm goes off.

Rule #7 – Forgetting your headlamp, skins or boot liners qualifies as Grounds for Rounds at a local bar at some future date.

Help support and light up the night with a Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp on sale now at Click on the photo below…


Category: Tips & Technique

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (14)

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  1. mark says:

    We have a five minute rule. Now I’m feeling like it’s overly generous.

    Worst (non) DP of the year so far: I’m on the way to the trailhead. Phone buzzes with text message from Rob saying car broke down. Rob is my only partner. Funny how you don’t get credit for coming in to work it 5:30 a.m. the way you do for staying late.

  2. Rob says:

    The trick to the Alpine start, whether it’s for a DP, or to climb a Tall Thing (TM), or just to get to North Conway in time to demo good gear at Noreaster’ or Ice Fest is to pretend to be inordinately cheerful when you wake up. You can only pretend for so long before it becomes true. Incidentally, this strategy means the solo Alpine start is brutal.
    – R

  3. KatieC says:

    Bossy, bossy, bossy. Now I know why everyone (ahem, one man in particular) gets so tense when I say, “I’ll just get dressed at the trailhead!”

  4. Andrew says:

    Yes, partners, even if they are the canine type, are essential for dark outings.

    Getting dressed at the trailhead is fine KatieC, as long as you can do it in 20 seconds or less. No rush. Really. :)

  5. d3 says:

    I very often think about Alex Lowe, that he got up and got after it at something like 4:30am in order to be home in time to spend morning QT with his boys before work. (By the way, you didn’t mention the essential coffee element of DPing!)
    I also think about the halcyon days of morning radio, where I was up at 4 to get to work by 4:30am.
    Now, I’m gearing up for post-sunrise pursuits since I’m thinking that will be the only time I have to myself. Eegads.

  6. dug says:

    Rule #7 – Forgetting your headlamp, skins or boot liners qualifies as Grounds for Rounds at a local bar at some future date.

    What about forgetting your socks?

    Last Spring we were trying to get out of the LCC parking lot at 5:45 to get past UDOT. Two cars, we left the lot, and my sister in law (who you instructed in the 3-day avy class a few years ago) immediately said “wait, I forgot my SOCKS in the other car!”

    We went back for the socks, and, you guessed it, the first car made it past the gate and we were denied.

    Although, the nice part of living here is we have TWO Cottonwood canyons. So we just went to BCC.

    Socks. SOCKS. Now I keep a pair in the glove compartment.

  7. Andrew says:

    Hi d3 – shouldn’t you be in a maternity ward about now? :)

    Aside from being the guy who turned me onto Dawn Patrolling, I think Alex still holds the record for most ambitious DP ever.

    Starting out by mounting a pair of skis (no jig necessary – just balance the bindings on the skis and use the bindings themselves for templates), he proceeded to snap three taps off in the skis probably because he was so jacked up on coffee. “I tell you Andrew, those things are as fragile as glass.” So, he only has about half the screws needed in his binders, but no biggie, its time to go skiing. Next he heads up for a lap in Broads Fork (some people do this as an overnight trip), takes a run and comes back home. Then he makes muffins for the family and while they are still sleeping, he reads a chapter in book.

    “Jesus Alex – what time did you wake up?”
    “Oh pretty early, like 2:30. I just couldn’t sleep.”

  8. d3 says:

    >>shouldn’t you be in a maternity ward about now?

    round these parts, it’s about the only kind of ward in which i belong, and then, only briefly. but alas, tardy. arrgh.

    happy birthday, btw!

  9. Chuteski says:

    I always said that if you forget something (like your pants) just ski without them! Hi d3 hope everything comes out good for you – push!!

  10. Chuteski says:

    Oh yea! Happy Bday Android. Got out for an hour of kiting today, nice ice snow and gusty winds.

  11. Rob says:

    Is your birthday? Have a happy one.
    – R
    (PS: I’m not the Rob with the car trouble.)

  12. Andrew says:

    Hi Rob – Yesterday was my birthday, which also just so happened to be d3’s due-date for her little boy, so we were almost birthday-mates.

  13. Bart T says:

    Sleeping in the base layer helps a lot too. I’ll usually also eat breakfast (coffee and poptarts, what else?) in the car on the way to the Trailhead and have been known to eschew car pooling if I can sleep an extra 5 minutes by going straight to the TH.

    Congrats to the new parents…Andrew you ought to add a section of your book/blog on getting after it while being a working parent. Dawn patrols are obviously a great strategy for dealing with the multiple demands on time faced by all of us parents. Assuming you don’t quit you job after winning powerball or marrying a trustafarian, what other strategies can you think of?

  14. Dun says:

    First rule is to BE ON TIME.

    Night before:
    Bake some muffins. Put all down-hill gear (googles, helmet) in pack. Have shell layer out and ready. Put gloves, head-light and hat on exterior of pack. Load avy gear in pack; put skins on skis; adjust poles; sleep in base layer.

    Day of:
    The moment you wake up, drink at least 25 oz of water to get the system moving. If you don’t leave your house with your boots on, get them on in the car before you reach the trail-head. Hat, headlight, beacon (turned on), and gloves on, before the car stops. When the car stops, exit the vehicle, put your pack on, no fiddling. Skis should be ready, no need to take gloves off at trail head.

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