By having young kids I am sometimes limited by when I can go hiking. Sometimes that means near or after dark when they are in bed. The good news is that the edge of the day is usually the best time for landscape photography. After the kids were in bed last friday night I took the opportunity to explore the City of Miramichi after dark ending with a walk at Strawberry Marsh.
It was a clear night with no moon, which made for great conditions for night photography, but it was dark. I definitely needed my flashlight to walk around but the stars were beautiful. I saw one falling star fall over Beaubears Island and another one fall over the bridge. When I was walking I was also thinking about what I have learned about hiking at night. The following is what I came up with:
1. Make sure you are on a clear trail – a crushed rock trail in a city or town is ideal. In the woods it can sometimes be hard to follow a trail at night that is not clearly worn into the ground. It is very difficult to see blazes or other markers in the dark with all the shadows thrown by a flashlight. On our hike to Hayes falls on the Maliseet Trail to do star trail photography we had a difficult time figuring out which way the trail turned. We went slow and made sure we were on the trail, several times I went ahead to look for the trail while my fiancé stayed at the last known trail marker. We had the GPS and extra batteries to find our way back. The trail eventually became more defined as we found our way down to the falls.
2. The more open the better – As much as I love being in the woods at night it can also sometimes be an erie place. When mapping out the Alex Creek Trail at Mactaquac Park one evening I had to make a choice. Return to the car before it got dark or continue on and hike out after dark. I usually like to finish what I started so I chose to hike out after dark. The trees are quite close to the trail and after the darkness set in the woods became very silent. The only sound was the one I made as I walked. The flashlight made the shadows dance as it shined through the trees. It felt like something primal in my brain kicked in. The forests that I love to explore turned into a very creepy place. All I could think about is how all the animals were probably quiet because there was something out there hunting. There is only one other time that I had such a strong feeling like this so it made it even more poignant. I ended up singing and whistling to make noise so I didn’t startle an animal.
3. Take other along to enjoy the night – A cure for the creepy woods is to take others with you. The more the merrier. Make lots of noise. Carry on conversations and you will never have to worry about catching an animal off guard. The two things night animals usually don’t like are light and noise. I was once late hiking out of the Williams Falls at Mount Carleton Park but had 2 other adults and the kids with me. Kids are loud. There was no chance that any animal was within 100 kms of us.
4. Don’t explore new trails – Any time I have been caught in the dark is usually when I am hiking out of a trail I had hiked into earlier in the day. You don’t want to be exploring new trails or terrain in the dark. There are less distractions in the dark since your vision is focused on where your flashlight shines, but it is very difficult to maneuver around rough terrain, while trying to illuminate it with a small flashlight. Save the rough terrain for the daylight hours.
5. Always make sure you have a good flashlight and extra batteries – This applies to hiking at any time of day. I have been late hiking out of many trails. I didn’t understand the importance of flashlights on my first hikes to Katahdin where the rangers are adamant about having them. It only takes one miscalculation on how long it will take you to get out of a trail to prove how critically important they can be. If you don’t believe me find a dark country road and on a dark night go jogging. It is very difficult to gauge where your feet will fall. You have to be cautious of potholes, cracks in the pavement, etc. Now imagine that there are rocks and roots on the road that you have to avoid. You get the point. I am always glad I invested in a really bright LED flashlight and have a headlamp for backup. When it gets too dark to see where you are placing your feet it means the difference between walking out and crawling out, or worse spending the night.
Other than that don’t be afraid to get out and enjoy the night. It can be the most amazing part of the day if you are open to the possibilities. Always make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. This applies in both the night and the day.
For more of my photography from that night in the Miramichi go to my Explore Everywhere Media facebook page.