The loud ringing noise of my alarm clock startled me awake right as it struck 6am. Usually waking up at 6am would be heavy on my eyelids but today that was not the case. Today was an exciting day and my brain and my body immediately remembered that was as soon as my eyes opened and the ceiling above me came into focus. Since we already had packed everything we needed the night before, (water bottles, day pack, power bars, etc) all I had to do was change into my hiking clothes, lace up my boots, brush my teeth and get into the car. We headed out the door shortly after 6:15- right on time. The drive was dark but blue hour was upon us, which filtered the sleepy world in a haze of indigo. After reading some parking signs incorrectly, which was probably due to the lack of caffeine at this time, we finally found a spot to leave the car and eagerly grabbed our gear to head to the trail for sunrise. Being new to Phoenix, and it being dark out, we asked some friendly police officers that were parked on the side walk where the Cholla Trail Head was located. They kindly told us the short directions and we were off.
After a brisk five minute walk, I started to warm up and soon we came to the Cholla Trail Head. I stripped off my sweatshirt, tightened up my boots, and we began our ascent. As we started moving up the mountain, dawn began to break and as the sun peaked out from the horizon, the colors from it’s rays bounced off of the rocks surrounding us. Golden tones from a sliver of the sun lit up the rocky terrain in front of us as we crept up the mountain. The sunrise was at our backs as we climbed the mountain making the temptation to periodically stop and look back was strong and hard to resist - each time I caved in and stopped the view mesmerized me like hypnosis. But our goal was to get to the top of the mountain just as the sun was fully rising so time was ticking.
The Bloody Boulder
The trail was steady and uphill for the first quarter, much like the easy level on a stair stepper. Once we got to the top of the first mountain, the trail connecting one peak to the next suddenly began to get tricky. I stopped at the bottom of a massive boulder thinking there should be a path around it but I found myself wrong as soon as the person behind me passed me up and climbed straight up it. The trail we were on was no wider than 6ft across, leaving no room for error. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the climb up the boulder in front of me. As I went to reach for my first hold, my hand slipped and stuck onto a large cactus that was next to my left leg. I pulled my hand back immediately and the hole in my palm from the cactus puncture started to bleed. I yelled out in pain, said a couple of choice curse words, wiped the blood on my pants, and refocused on the task in front of me. Wishing I had on my rock climbing shoes (and a bandage) and not my large clunky hiking boots, I grabbed the first set of holds and worked my way up the boulder. It was a short climb, but slightly scary none the less. As I came over the top of the boulder, I noticed there were a group of teenagers in front of me which made me immediately feel old for being so nervous to climb the boulder below. My fearless-youthfulness had fled the scene.
The First View
As the trail continued narrowing we encountered a couple more rock climbing tasks as we were nearing the top. After a another particular hard climb, I took a seat at the clearing above it. When I turned around to face the city below I saw the beauty of the sun rising into the clouds. The view was grand. I was looking down on the city of Phoenix as the mountains around me were lit up with colors from the sunrise reflecting off of the rocks. The sky was turning light blue and the puffy white clouds had orange and pink coloring. As I was taking it in for a moment I suddenly realized we didn't have much time to get to the top before the sun had fully risen. We each drank some water, gave a mutual nod, and prepared for one last push to the top.
The Cliff Hanger
The trail that followed was no more than twelve inches wide, with a rock face on one side and a cliff on the other. Very carefully I made my way around the rock face, noting that one wrong move would send me tumbling down the cliff. Foolishly I stopped and reached for my phone to take a photo of a lone cactus sticking out of the side of the cliff across from me. Inclined by it's beauty, part of me felt betrayed by the cactus from it's sibling stabbing me, but the other part of me was too consumed by it's gorgeous green colors to care. My hands were getting sweaty when I again realized I was taking photos on a cliff so I quickly but steadily put the phone away after snapping a few pictures. I felt a rush of relaxation once I had completed the corner.
The Final View
Looking up a head, I could see the mountain top filled with people who were enthusiastically watching the sun do it’s poetic routine. With no more than a 10 minute climb we finally made it to the top. I place my backpack up against a smooth rock for a cushion and took a seat with my back up against it. I took a deep breath and let out a huge smile as I studied the view in front of me. By this time, the sky was a deep purple with golden rays painted into it. As I let my mind become consumed in a state of ecstasy with the view, I couldn’t help but think to myself “This is what it feels like to truly be alive.”