The Summer Solstice: A Masochist's Thoughts About How to Squeezing the Most Out of the Longest Days

by Jonathan Barrett

Sunshine Route, Mt. Hood. Photo: Greg Simons
Fifteen hours and forty-one minutes. That is the length of the day on the Summer Solstice. Not including the extended light of dawn and dusk. The question is how to spend it. Here are a few ideas to be considered as guiding principles. While not everyone has that Thursday off, these principles would work just as well for the weekend warrior on the previous or following Saturday/Sunday.

Pull-off a really, really long climb

Yes, Infinite Bliss in Washington is fraught with controversy, given that when it was bolted, it ended up being in an established wilderness area. But it is a really, really, long climb and as a result benefits from having a really, really, long day to complete it. One would benefit from having the longest day of the year as a matter of fact. At 23 pitches, it was possibly the longest “sport” climb in the United States or Canada when first bolted, but to call it a sport climb misrepresents what the route really is. Although the crux pitches are well bolted, there are run-outs of close to 100 feet. Additionally, if going up takes a long time, you also need to rap the route ... 23 rappels. A full day, and full use of the Summer Solstice. Substitute your favorite super-long climb as desired.

Pull off a really, really long approach

Most will climb Mt. Olympus over three days. Approach the 17+ miles on day one. Summit and return to camp on day two. Hike out on day three. But given a really, really, long day, a fit team could conceivably knock it out in “one day.” Consider the following: with some light jogging and fast hiking, you might be able to do the approach in around six hours. The climb to the summit and descent could happen in six or seven hours. Then one just needs to endure the slog out, another six hours. Given the length of predawn and post-sunset light (nautical twilight starts at 3:34 a.m. for that latitude and ends at 10:48 p.m.), a person has more than 19 hours of light, which is plenty of time. Assuming your feet hold up. The Olympics and Cascades are awash in long approaches, so it is easy to pick your poison when considering this use for the longest days of the year.

Fit More Into Your Day

Given that the average Mazama is a working stiff, probably with fairly normal daytime hours, we are generally resigned to hitting our local crags only on the weekends. Evening sessions at the gym have to suffice otherwise. What if the day was a little longer? What about an alpine start to your cragging session? At 3:52 a.m. on June 21, you could be calling “on belay” to your partner and starting up a route at Ozone. Depending on traffic or where you work, this might give you four to five hours of climbing time, more than enough to leave your forearms so pumped you can barely type for the rest of the day. Those that find the early hours horrifying—although it is certain to be much more quiet—can replicate the experience, but after work. With usable light until 10:30 p.m., one could conceivably get a five hour session in after your day working for The Man. The Army is famous for the saying that they do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day. Now you can say that you are more productive than the Army.

Summit Hood And Be Home For Breakfast

This is one that I have pulled off myself. Sunrise is 5:21 a.m. in Portland on the solstice but from the summit it is a little earlier. You can catch those golden rays reflecting off the Columbia River and lighting up the Eastern Oregon desert and still be back in Portland in time for waffles and bacon with the family. High-five the sun and descend as quickly back to Timberline as possible. With a little jogging, glissading, or skiing, being back at your car by 7AM is totally doable (safety first, of course). Then, when you arrive at 8:30 stinking like sweat, summit, and summer’s first rays, it will be the perfect compliment to breakfast along with some wild blueberry syrup. You can have both: a climbing life and a family life. You just might need to crash in the hammock for an afternoon nap though.

Catch the Best Light, For Longer

Photographers know that sunrise and sunset are the best for capturing the soft dewy light that is so prized in the making of quality images. Consider the fact that civil twilight lasts for 38 minutes on the summer solstice and only 29 minutes on the spring equinox. There is something astonishing about the fact that during this time of year, it’s almost like the Earth is rotating more slowly. This gives the artist thirty percent more time to capture just the right light illuminating the Crooked River and Asterix Pass at Smith Rock or Haystack Rock on the coast. There are some differences between the two times though. In some ways dusk is better because the photographer knows how the shadows and silhouettes are going to fall. All she needs to do is sit and wait for the right moment with the camera in position. In contrast, in the predawn hours, it is much harder to know what shapes, shadows, and textures are going to look like. When the sun finally does appear, having these few extra minutes can be a godsend as the photographer rushes about making final adjustments.

A Long Hike To Avoid Overnight Permits

It is a fact of life in the Northwest that some areas are more difficult to access due to permitting issues. Getting a backcountry camping permit can be almost impossible during the busy periods of the year. The Enchantments is one such place where acquiring a campsite is impossible, but through-hiking is very doable. Over the course of a long day, it is possible to experience all that the area has to offer without having to be encumbered by both overnight gear and regulations. At a skoch more than eighteen miles, the trail through the Enchantments involves 7,100 feet of elevation gain if going from Snow Lakes to Colchuck trailheads and a knee-busting descent down from Aasgard Pass. With stashed bike at the end, it is possible to then zip (relatively) easily back to the car on (mostly) downhill roads. Although Colchuck would likely still be cold enough for a penguin, there is still enough time during the solstice to take a dip and ice your sore feet before grinding out the last four and a half miles.

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