Hiking in the dark

My first experience hiking in the dark was in the 6th grade, at camp.  To say I did not enjoy the experience is putting it lightly.  In fact, the whole experience frightened me to the point that I vowed to hike only during well-lit times of the day from then on.

For those of you never fortunate enough to “experience” something like this in your own childhood. let me give you the rundown on how it works.   Take a group of kids, hike out into the middle of nowhere, sit in a circle, tell ghost stories and tales of wild animals for an hour, then one by one release them to walk half a mile down a trail without a light so they can “better appreciate nature.”

I admit it. I got 20 yards down the trail before imagination and irrational fear took over. I swore I was being stalked by a wild animal.  Rather than go back to the group, admitting apprehension,  I sat down, faked an ankle injury and waited for the next kid, who looked just as happy to see me.

That experience, combined with my realization I was farther down the food chain than I had thought (we really need to stop putting those food chain diagrams in science textbooks with man at the top) led me to a life content with avoiding any type of hiking that involved me, wilderness and the dark.

That is, until I got into landscape photography.

Funny, but the good lighting is mostly available right before it gets dark, or right after it has been dark.  Photographing anything original from a location other than a roadside viewpoint requires hiking, in the dark, to or from your location.

I prefer neither hiking to a location in the dark nor from a location in the dark, and have come up with a few ways to help get myself through these experiences.

— Prayer.  Praying that God will feed his beasts with something other than my untasty white flesh always makes me feel better.  I even go as far as to add a clause that keeps me from even SEEING an animal.  I figure there are plenty of wildlife photographers who need to have subjects to photograph. They can have my experiences.

— Light. A luxury I was not afforded in my elementary school years, light has a nice way of making you feel better.  I use a headlamp and flashlight.  DISCLAIMER! Lights with dim beams can have negative effects.  There have been a few times where my light has illuminated a set of glowing eyeballs staring me down from the forest. The dim beam does not allow me to discern the type of creature the eyes belong to. It is more than a little unnerving.

— Friends.  I prefer to hike with groups of people I can outrun.  That way if the food chain gets put into action, I’m not the first taken out.

— Spear.  Yup, I hike with a walking stick/spear.  The way I see it, if I do go down in a  “When Animals Attack'” moment, I hope I taste good with that hole in your face, Mr. Bear.

If hiking at night didn’t have amazing rewards,  no way would I continue to do it, but there’s something special about watching a sunrise or sunset from a location you have to yourself.  One of the best hikes I’ve done was to the top of Brokeoff Peak in Lassen National Park to watch the sunset and the full moon.  The hike gives you amazing views of the valley at sunset, and plenty of time to better understand nature on the three-mile hike down, which will be in the dark.  Not only did I make it down in one piece, but I’m considering doing it again.  If you’re really out of shape and slow, let me know. Maybe you can come with me.

Editor’s note: This a best-of column that was originally published September 24, 2008.

Brian Rueb is a north state writer, photographer and educator. Click here to see more of his photography.

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is a north state writer, photographer and educator. A large selection of his images is hanging in the HDR imaging gallery at 2531 Victor Ave. (corner of Victor and Cypress).
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7 Responses

  1. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed Brian’s photography since a coworker of his turned me onto his work a few years back. Now I enjoy his sense of humor also. For my money I place his work right up there with Joseph Muench. Thank you, Brian!!

  2. Avatar Rick copley says:

    I totally loved this article “” reminded me of a snipe hunt my dad and uncles made with all of the kids in the family. Nothing like being left in the woods 2 miles from home when your 8 years old.

    I laughed until I had tears in my eyes” thanks so much for sharing this story, and I will remember to carry a spear stick!

  3. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Thank you Brian for a good laugh, and for sharing this extraordinary photograph.
    I’ve learned to see the world differently by seeing your work. I’ve learned that the colors you capture really do exist in the real world, but only at particular times of the day, and only if you know to look up and out.

  4. Avatar cheyenne says:

    I took a couple of night hikes around Manzanita Lake during a full moon. It is rather easy though the occasional splash heard close to shore can give pause. One time, about ten years ago, I encountered a photogapher carrying camera and tripod and equipment on the trail. I wonder if that could have been Brian.

  5. Avatar EasternShasta says:

    I grew up in the oil patch in wide open spaces, and when I was a kid, we had horses. On each full moon in the summer, we would ride from the corrals a few miles to a picnic ground where the families of the riders would have a barbeque, and the horses could graze. When it was dark but lighted by the full desert moon, we would ride back to the barn. The horses knew the way; so we just gave them free rein. Such memories.

  6. Avatar cheyenne says:

    Many talk about making a bucket list of to do things. Taking a night walk is one item that should be on everybody’s bucket list, young or old. A dark night highlights the stars while a full moon highlights the ground. In many areas the night sky is gone due to ground light intensity.

  7. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    By the way. I’m a slow enough hiker that I would fit the bill to be bait…I mean…an interesting and vigilant hiking companion.