It’s 7:54 a.m. A vibrant red and orange dawn is breaking in the east; the sun’s rays are straining to tip-toe across the high wall of Glacier Gorge to our left. We watch the earth wake up around us from inside our sleeping bags, the two zipped together for warmth and comfort. Forest dozes in and out of wakefulness as I fire up the stove that I strategically left beside me the night before, the pot already filled with water for coffee. Steam rises in the chill air and our toes touch, thankful to be warm inside the bags.
We’re climbing a route on Spearhead today, in Rocky Mountain National Park. Relatively speaking, it’s not a hard one. We could have easily done it in a day from town: the early wake up, sleepy drive, fast walk in, and rush at the base to gear up and get on and off the rock before thunderstorms hit. After all, in a day, fast and light ascents are all the rage—why waste an evening and the energy carrying overnight gear when you can get up and go from your own bed?
Let me tell you why.
The previous day, we arrive in the crowded parking lot and pull into the last remaining spot. Our backpacks are ready in the trunk of our car: 30 liter packs in their element, stuffed full with climbing gear, our Therm-a-Rest NeoAirs, light sleeping bags, an MSR Reactor stove, frozen burritos for dinner, snacks, and a small bottle of whiskey—our overnight supplies only adding a mere five pounds of weight. Quickly, we don our approach shoes, grab our packs, and hike up the trail that weaves through a vibrant aspen forest. We walk against the flow of hikers headed back to their cars, the trail population growing thinner and thinner with each step.
We hike casually and enjoy the onset of golden hour, anticipating rest in a cozy cave perched in the boulder field above. The light is perfect as we leave the trees behind for granite, the rock glowing all around us with the last light of the day. The air is still and a quiet hush walks beside us, bringing attention to our footsteps and the words we exchange, each sniffle and pack adjustment filling the silent golden air around.
Candlelight flits across the cave’s low roof, and our temporary nest is filled with a warm glow. We sit atop our pads with our sleeping bags draped across our laps, enjoying spiked hot chocolate and a game of cards. Our climbing gear dangles above us, hung from a series of rocks atop the rooftop boulder. Days are getting shorter and night is upon us; we relax into our sleeping pads, anticipating a long night of deep sleep filled with dreams of granite peaks, sunny summits and alpine skinny dips coming to life.
Post-coffee, we’ve pulled ourselves from our sleeping bags. As we pack up our gear for the day of climbing we place everything else in a pack and hang it from the rooftop boulder. Our kits are light—rope, rack, harness, shoes, helmet, small daypack—and as we embark on our 10-minute approach to the head of the boulder field and the base of Spearhead, we gaze down valley to see a party approaching behind us. We think back to our evening perch and morning launch-pad and smile, feeling like keepers of a hidden secret.
We climb quickly, fingers and rubber-clad feet making their way up granite cracks and slabs to Spearhead’s peak. We descend off the back, picking our way down a collection of boulders and scree-fields hidden behind the clean northeast face. Now we find ourselves back where we started, repacking our gear in the cave and preparing for a descent back to town in time for dinner. A small tarn below the boulder field might slow our descent slightly, the cool water beckoning us from the sun’s grasp.
In a sense, learning the art of bivying is learning to take the best hours of the day and slow them down enough to be enjoyed. A rushed morning of driving and racing up a trail is instead spent slowly waking up, watching dawn turn to day while still nestled in a sleeping bag. A rushed day turns leisurely, with almost no threat of being caught in the dark or thunderstorms. And the evening, oh, the evening. Golden hour is to be savored and studied, like a good wine or dark chocolate; dusk and night are to be played in slow motion with a cup of hot chocolate in hand and a lover by your side. Get rad, yes: try hard, hike more miles, bike farther, climb longer and more difficult routes. But if you want to enjoy it all slowly … bivy/