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Thu, Dec. 12

Johnson: Headlamps off: Natural light can guide you on a night hike
Hiking Arizona

The moon can cast enough light to allow you to follow a well-established trail. (Courtesy)

The moon can cast enough light to allow you to follow a well-established trail. (Courtesy)

Things go bump in the night, right? Perhaps that’s why headlamps were much in use when I got to the trailhead at 5 a.m.

Four individuals were milling about, the beams from their headlamps flying in all directions. The problem with headlamps/flashlights is that they shut out much of the visual world like headphones shut out the audio world. I suppose that we would like to be more, not less connected with the natural world as we hike along. So, what’s the alternative?

Option No. 1

Wait. About an hour after the first group started down the trail, more hikers arrived with more headlamps and flashlights. After hanging around for a few minutes, they headed out. At 6:26 a.m. I started hiking. As I passed up the second group, they were still using their headlamps, probably because they did not allow their eyes to adjust to the natural light around them, which was sufficient, at least as far as I could tell. Within about 100 yards from the summit, I passed up the first group of night hikers. They were from Houston, so their pace was slower than mine, since they were not accustomed to the altitude, just over 9,000 feet at the top. Solo hiking, is also faster, usually.

Option No. 2

When I intentionally plan to hike at night, I time the hike to coincide with the moon. Even a half-moon casts quite a bit of light, certainly enough to follow a well-established trail. On one of my more ambitious treks, I wanted to complete the Prescott Circle Trail, in its entirety, within 24 hours. So, I biked the first half, arriving at the trailhead near Granite Mountain at midnight, under a full moon. I started walking. As I approached the old chimney north of Thumb Butte, the moon was getting low, the shadows from the trees were getting pretty long and I was feeling like I could use a nap. After resting at the chimney until dawn, I resumed my little adventure.

As I neared the end of the hike, the moon was rising in the east, so I had to finish as I began, in subdued light. I also started seeing some pretty strange sights, like one creature that I could have sworn looked like an armadillo and another that looked like it was half moose and half man. Sometimes ambitious treks are pretty dumb, but that’s what my first midlife crisis was all about – dumb. Aren’t they all?

Option No. 3

If an artificial light is absolutely necessary, using a red filter or a source that projects a softer light will allow your eyes to adjust while also illuminating the path ahead sufficiently, so that you don’t step on something you would rather avoid.

Final Option

Sometimes there is just no way around it, a strong headlamp is absolutely essential. Just remember, that your eyes will only see what is within that beam of white light and there is so much more to see when hiking at night.

Night hiking opens up a whole new dimension for us diurnal types. It’s an experience I encourage you to pursue. With a bright, artificial light, you may do lots of looking but not see very much. That would be a shame, since there is so much to see, like those nocturnal creatures looking at you.

Next: Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ High Point

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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