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09 October 2017

Hiking in the Dark to North Sugarloaf Mountain (Zealand Valley, NH)


Although there are many proponents of hiking in the dark, it is something that I have avoided.  However, I do have an appreciation for why a person would choose to do this.  Nighttime hiking can offer several advantages, such as allowing you to maximize your daylight hours.  Also, it can enable you to witness and photograph stunning sunsets and unique nighttime scenes from distant locations.

But, even with its advantages, such as those mentioned above, the thought of nighttime hiking has been an anxiety-producing notion for me.  First and foremost is the reality that if something goes wrong, darkness will complicate the situation, and it can hinder rescue operations should the situation become life-threatening.

Despite my anxiety about nighttime hiking, I recently gave it some further thought.  It occurred to me that I might be okay with hiking from darkness into daylight.  Perhaps my anxiety would be lessened by knowing that even though I started out in the dark, daylight would soon arrive?  Maybe I could get out of bed very early and then hike in darkness to a destination where I could experience a sunrise?

With the above thoughts in mind, I began planning for a “darkness into daylight” adventure.  First and foremost, I made certain that my previously unused headlamp was still working, and that the batteries were fresh, and that I had spare batteries, plus a spare headlamp!!

Next, I narrowed down my possibilities for an appropriate location to undertake this personal challenge.  For this first-time foray into darkness, a bushwhack would be out of the question.  I wanted a trail that was familiar to me, and one that had no dangerous features such as risky water crossings, or precipitous drop-offs.  Also I wanted it to be a hike that took no more than an hour to do in daylight, knowing that I might be moving more slowly in the darkness.

After much consideration and soul-searching, the Sugarloaf Trail was chosen as the venue for my “darkness into daylight” escapade.  I am very familiar with this trail, and since it’s only about a 15-minute drive from my home, I have hiked it many times.

Conditions for this trek seemed ideal on a day in early Autumn 2017, and so off I went!   It was odd to drive into an empty trailhead parking lot.  This particular lot is oftentimes filled to capacity, which can make it challenging to find a parking spot.  So, right away, here was one big advantage for “dark-time” hiking!

I gingerly got out of my car, donned my backpack, strapped on my headlamp, and then headed down the trail.  Although I was pleasantly surprised by how much illumination the headlamp provided, I was still uneasy with a hiking mode that was completely new to me.  But, the further I went, more confidence was gained, and I became a bit more comfortable.

After about 45-minutes of hiking in the dark, I arrived at my destination, i.e. the broad and open rocky top of North Sugarloaf mountain.  With about 15 minutes to spare before sunrise, I had ample time to set up my camera, and pour a cup of coffee from my thermos.  Mission accomplished!

Shown below are three photos taken during this adventure.


The sun is just seconds away from popping out over peaks in the Presidential Mountain Range.
Sunrise!  The sun suddenly emerges over the mountaintops.
Within minutes of the sun having cleared the mountaintops, the entire area surrounding me was enveloped in bright daylight, as is shown in this photo.  Middle Sugarloaf is the foreground (just right of center), and the Zealand Valley is seen at the left.

This was an adventure that was new to me in so many ways.  Although I was pleased with the outcome, it remains to be seen if I will be doing other “darkness into daylight” hikes.  Of course, one should never say “never”, but it’s doubtful that I will ever purposely set out to do an extended hike that goes in the opposite direction, i.e. one that goes from daylight into darkness.  My life-experience is such that this would likely far exceed my comfort-level. :-)


Kimball said...

As experienced as you are at hiking, you're still discovering new things? Good for you John.

I've done plenty of dark-into-light and light-into-dark hikes. I prefer the former, night fall can feel demotivating sometimes, where dawn kinda give me a second start.

Beautiful photos John! I featured one of them on the homepage.

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for taking a moment to post your thoughts, Kim! So very much appreciated! And, also thanks for featuring one of my photos on the TrailsNH homepage!

All the best,

Rita Wechter said...

Hi John!

I love the idea for this hike, and I love your description of it too. This is something that I have done a few times in our national parks, always on well-established trails. (Although I haven't done it in a long time.)

I find that it's very rewarding to be greeted with a spectacular sunrise. Also it's always nice to have a venue mostly to yourself and to hike back to the car knowing that coffee and breakfast are waiting!

I loved the photo of the sun peaking out from over the mountain tops. Very nice!

1HappyHiker said...

Rita . . . many thanks for posting your thoughts!

As indicated in this blog posting, I’m uncertain just how often I MIGHT be doing other sunrise hikes. But as you point out, it’s simply glorious to start your day with a sunrise at an outdoor location (mountaintop, etc), then followed by coffee and breakfast, and knowing that you still have the entire day ahead of you for other activities. :-)