The Night Hike
I really wanted to get a sunset picture the other day. The problem was that I am not very good at predicting the future and had no idea that after the sun sets, it gets dark. If anyone else was aware of this shame of you for not passing it along. Well, apparently in a predictable fashion, the night fell and I was about to embark on another item on my non-bucket list, the Night Hike!
Are you Afraid of the Dark?
Now I will admit that I am more of a sunrise person. I enjoy the symbolism of the hope and anticipation of a new day as soon as those first golden rays reach down from the sky. So I have done some hikes in the dark but mostly in the twilight of dawn’s late stages. I didn’t think I was scared of the dark until I tried the process in reverse.
When the sun retires for the evening and you are in the middle of the woods a couple of things happen. First, it gets dark…quickly. If you are accustomed to night fall in a city or suburb where the street lights come on to fill the absence of the retreating reach of the sky bulb, then you will be very surprised. The remaining light gets swallowed by the dark shadowy figures that pose as trees in the daylight. Their long arms stretching to envelope the last bit of sanity. Instead of the sky getting gently lighter at sunrise, now the prison door of light slowly closes.
The second thing that happens is that the animals that spend all day screaming bloody murder grow silent when the lights turn off. I’m talking to you squirrels! While walking in the woods is typically a quiet experience, walking in the woods at night becomes twice as chilling. The curtain of night takes away the sense of sight, and the shroud of silence teases yet another sense.
Hopefully if you find yourself on a Night Hike, you don’t go out there unprepared. The most important accessory for the tool kit is going to be a flashlight or head lamp. I am a fan of the headlamps because they allow for the hands to be free and fully clenched into a fist the entire hike.
Headlamps provide a singularly directed path of salvation. Illuminating the path in front of you or which ever direction you decide to glance. Although this causes another set of fear inducing results. According to every single horror movie, the monsters live in the shadows at the edges of the light. Well great. Once I fired up my head torch it became a constant game of scanning my head from left to right and up and down to keep the shadow creatures on their toes. If they didn’t know where I was going to look next, then they couldn’t hide from me!
Of course, protecting myself from the shadows also meant that I wasn’t putting all of my focus on the ground in front of me. Giant boulders formed from thin air and placed themselves at my feet. The trees that swallowed the light now went forth grabbing at my legs. Nothing gives a fright like a branch scraping across the shin in the all encompassing darkness. Was it a twig? A claw? The bristles of a witches broom? All is possible in the dark.
As if the shadows, unwanted brushes of nature and silence weren’t enough, next came the shining. For those of you that don’t know, when a headlamp shines into the eyes of certain animals what is reflected back are two demonic glowing orbs. Typically still and stoic in the night, the orbs stare back and float in silent judgement. While the eye shine is unmistakable, what the eyes are attached to is not.
My mind immediately went to dragons, goblins, and new species created in my mind, the tyrannosaurus bear. I was 100% certain that the shadowed body of these glowing eyes were attached to one of those three animals. Now the dilemma. Do I walk closer and try to identify my potential killer or do I stand still and hope that fear doesn’t really have a smell. I chose to walk closer and luckily found that all sets of laser eyes were attached to mostly harmless deer….this time.
My journey into the void lasted for about five miles and a couple of hours. All of the above words were my thoughts on the first mile. That time when gloom of dusk turns to the dread of night was a tad uncomfortable on my first night hike. At that hour the headlamp doesn’t work as sharply, and the shadows play tricks. As the night grew darker though the hike became a little more comfortable.
I got into a rhythm with my head lamp. Alternating between looking far and near on the trail and looking around at the surroundings became almost like a dance of light across the darkness. Time and distance began to disappear. When you can only focus on the ten feet surrounding you it doesn’t really matter if the hike is five miles or fifty. The darkness that started as a terrifying curtain, hiding the dangers beyond had turned into a warm blanket. Surrounding me with a false sense of security.
I actually started to really enjoy myself. I hiked a trail I had done a lot in the past so I had a comfort in that but it was all still a mystery because of the dark. While I knew roughly where I was, I also had no clue where I was. The adventure of the new setting had turned the known into a riddle. When I finished the hike I felt like I had really accomplished something. I overcame fears, I tried something completely foreign, and I found a comfort level I never knew I had.
I thought it would be fun to take a video of the night hike, which turned out more like a really bad documentary or the Blair Witch sequel, but here is a bit of my first hike at night.
Some Actual Tips
- That was a bit of fun but night hiking isn’t for everyone and it can be dangerous. It really does get really dark and you will need a light source. I have put a couple of options in my Amazon storefront that you can find at this link.
- It is easy to get lost in the dark and it is really hard to find landmarks so having a map, compass, and only hiking in places that you know well will help with that.
- It gets dark, and cold very quickly. Try to get an extra layer on and your light equipped before it gets too dark to see in your bag.
- Sneaking up on an animal in the dark is not a good idea. I made extra noise, talked out loud to myself, and may or may not have sung hiking songs for a bit. I was in bear country and didn’t really want to accidently run into one that didn’t know I was around.
- No amount of bug spray will keep the millions of moths from being attracted to your light. I had a constant flicker and buzz of insects flying around my head. The red lights that most headlamps come with can help with this but also limit your vision.
- If you are trying night hiking for the first time, go with someone or somewhere that you know well and don’t take too long of a hike. (Or basically do the opposite of what I did!)
- Finally, and possibly most importantly, maybe just don’t hike at night?
More from the Fat Man
If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy more of the posts on my Fatman’s Rambling page. Blogs such as “Hiking Alone not Lonely Hiking“, “Winslow, Arizona” and “Screw it, I’m Trying” as well as many others may interest you there. If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can keep the conversation going by following me on any of the below social media platforms.