Surprisingly, a sunrise hike in Phoenix never gets old for me

It’s getting to be about that time of year again, where every weekend hike in Phoenix could be my last before October. On those hot Phoenix summer weekend mornings where the outside temperature is 90 degrees before I’ve finished brewing my coffee, I don’t hike. I either go to the gym or, more often, stay home and get fatter.

This morning, however, was a May blessing. It was about 70 degrees when I woke up, falling to about 68 degrees before I left the house. I live for mornings like this.

Some people are shocked to learn how early I start my hikes. As much as I don’t like the summer heat in Phoenix, I’m not fond of the sun any time of the year. To avoid the sun as much as possible, I start my hikes long before sunrise, typically at the first usable twilight. This is generally referred to as civil twilight. Conveniently, the United States Naval Observatory publishes charts for civil twilight for any given date and place in the world. I keep a copy of the chart for Phoenix on the bulletin board in my kitchen.

Shaw Butte, trailhead, twilight
This photo of the trailhead at Shaw Butte is quite grainy on my low-end smartphone, but it demonstrates there was indeed visible light at 4:58 am.

Over the years, I’ve discovered I can start hiking as much as ten minutes before civil twilight, depending on the cloud cover and the phase of the moon. It takes me just under ten minutes to get to the trailhead, so I try to leave the house about twenty minutes before civil twilight. This morning, civil twilight began at 5:09 am. I knew I wanted to take a few pictures before I began, so I left the house at roughly 4:45 am and began my hike at 4:58 am. Thanks to an unusually bright half moon directly overhead, hey, I was a minute early!

A side benefit of getting such an early start to my morning hike is the reward of some often spectacular sunrises as I approach the top of my loop. This morning was no disappointment.

Shaw Butte, sunrise
Pointing the camera of my phone directly into the sun reveals some of the microdefects of the lens. Luckily I was able to force the most obvious spot into one corner and then crop it away.

The other side benefit of the early start is the other hikers, or the lack thereof. As you might imagine at that hour, there are fewer of them, although in a city as populous as Phoenix, I’m seldom the only on the trail, no matter when I start. Furthermore, the people who are out on the trail before dawn are usually the type that’ll actually smile and say “good morning” to you. As one might say, they’re good people.

On the minus side, if you start too early, you may arrive at the park entrance before the ranger gets there. The park officially opens at 5 am this time of the year, but since the ranger can’t be at every gate at once, they’re usually open a bit earlier. I’ve sometimes had to sit tight in my car near the entrance and wait for the ranger to open the gates. Fortunately, that was not the case this morning.

Leave a Reply