Hiking at Night

February 6, 2014

by Jesse Betts

The photo here was taken at Forester Pass on day 17, the second to the last day of a John Muir Trail thru-hike. The next morning we summited Mt. Whitney. Forester Pass is the highest mountain pass on the John Muir Trail, and Mt. Whitney is the high point of the continental US.

I go on at least one really long backpacking trip per year. Between the big ones I try to cram in as many weekend trips as I can. However, I can’t get that far into the backcountry in only two days. Eventually I came to the realization that I can get a big head start if I head out right after work and start hiking in the evening. You can get in an extra ten miles that first night, as long as you don’t mind the dark.

A forest that’s familiar to you in the day becomes something entirely different at night. Landmarks once visible go by entirely unnoticed. Navigation gets much harder. It’s colder and everything seems more sinister.

One time I was hiking around 11:00 at night. Camp was still miles away. The ground, the trees, and all of the foliage had pretty little green sparkles shimmering in my headlamp beam. I bent down and took a closer look. They were spider eyes, thousands of them, everywhere. You see the eyes of large creatures too, glowing back at you from the darkness. They watch you. Is it a mountain lion, or just a raccoon? It’s hard to say.

Night hiking for me started out as a way to gain some extra miles, however I’ve come to really enjoy the forest at night. It can be spooky, especially when you’re solo and the coyotes start howling, but it’s also more exciting. It feels like a bigger adventure, and I think that’s what I’m really seeking.

Jesse Betts is a Buyer/Planner/Database Programmer for Light & Motion. Most of his backpacking is done in the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sir, but on occasion he gets out to the Sierra Nevada. Jesse has thru-hiked both the John Muir Trail (in 14 days) and the Tahoe Rim Trail (in the snow).