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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:56 pm 
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My main purpose of this report is to note some of my observations on navigating in the dark.

I did compress the pics, but please let me know if this is still excessive and Tox, please feel free to remove as you want in the interest of bandwidth.

So, an overview: I did this solo. I started at the East terminus of the Devil's Path, Catskill Mountain range in New York. I did four of the peaks: Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf and Plateau. I had to travel from Plateau Mountain to the trailhead in the dark, and then the hike up the isolated roads back to the car. It took several very spooky hours of walking in the dark that crossed over several miles. I got back at the car some time between 10 and 11pm, a total of about 12 hours of which 4 or 5 were in the dark. This was not an accident as I had many options to end the trail in daylight but chose not to as an exercise. My objective was to put myself in an environment where I could learn something and get training that can help me in the mountains. Of course there was the physical training and hence the pack, but here was a forgiving environment that I could experiment with darkness (on halloween! what could be more thematic!).

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The physical training was actually a bit of a fail as I had learned how to pack lighter and my pack was actually not very heavy: it had a tent, a -20 sleeping bag, food, fuel, water, etc, etc. Also I couldn’t actually push myself to the breaking point because I had to drive home the next day (8 hours).

I think the crazy long drive adds rather than deters from the training purpose of this exercise, as it just zaps you of energy and makes you work out while completely exhausted, not unlike in the mountains. It also lets me observe my cognitive function when severely fatigued. I’m learning that I think differently: I am more complacent, less decisive and more willing to achieve an aim by brute force as opposed to the way that everyone else would do it. For example, I was very reluctant to stop and eat or to stop and dig out my other water bottle because it would involve me having to put on additional layers during my rest break. That just seemed like such an extraordinary hassle and not worth the comfort that I would gain from eating or drinking or resting. “My body my choice! If I suffer that’s noone’s business but my own, and besides I can get away with it.” Not a good mindset. It is important to know ourselves honestly enough so we can force ourselves in the future to overcome our self-defeating
behaviour that kicks in when under conditions of stress: fatigue, altitude, etc.

So what did I learn about navigating in the dark:

- Its nice to be prepared to spend the night just in case. A few times I was afraid that I would not be able to find the next marker

- Sensory deprivation and fatigue really fucked me up. One becomes hyperaware of their environment. It is actually very taxing and the mind begins to play tricks on you. The howling wind begins to sound malicious. The rabbit rustling through the leaves becomes a killer lurking in the dark. Expect things to be fucked as the brain tries to make sense of the shadows, of the various shades of black. If you’ve been thinking of ghosts and killers all day, the brain will show you ghosts and killers. I think depth perception also changes.

- I was actually very shocked to see how much slower I was travelling at night. Finding the markers takes a lot longer when they are not directly in line of sight: consider trails that have curves, hairpin turns or zig-zags. I ended up spending 10, 15 minutes in some spots trying to find the next marker. I had no choice, I could keep looking of pitch my tent!

- It was not always possible to rely on finding the beaten path. Everything looked the same: there were trampled leaves here and trampled leaves there. Some terrain of course would be more easier to deal with, say in snow or a path between trees, but in this case which patch of ground looked more trampled? Take your pick. The only way to know for sure was to rely on the markers. A few time I followed my gut instinct for where the trail should be, only to look around and see that I had veered off route. A few times I was completely lost and started looking at the vegetation. Can I see footprints? Ney. Is the vegetation pattern different, disturbed in any way? Ney. Only way I could be sure was

- Not all markers are as reflective. Some were made of materials markers were more visible than others. Also, not all markers were spaced the same
distance apart.

- I kept from getting lost by always being within eyeshot of a marker: either the one in front of me, or if that was not visible than the one
behind me.

- When unable to find the next marker in front of me it would be because the trail would take a turn. Or I was off trail. To confirm that I was still on the right trail I would look for the marker behind me. Then to find out which direction the trail would turn I would turn around to see the marker behind me and see where I would have to stand for my headlamp to reflect off of it and then go in that direction. You have to think that these markers are placed in such a way that a person walking up the trail would be able to see them reflected in their headlamp. Hence you can get a clue as to where the trail goes by which direction you need to stand in to see a reflection.

- This is the most stunning observation I made about myself, I think it also applies to travelling in whiteout conditions. Whenever I would turn around on the trail I found it useful to point forward so that I would not get confused as to which way I had come up. This is the most fucked up thing that has ever happened to me. The path took a hairpin turn and I could not find the next marker. So I turned around to retrace my steps. I then looked forward again. And back again, and forward, etc. And then my mind went blank. Which way had I come? I found a path but I could not say for sure if that was the path I had just come up or the path I was suppose to go on to go forward. Imagine that!? Not knowing which way you had just come! Just two minutes ago. How fucked up does a person have to be to not remember which way they were going? For that reason I took the precaution of pointing forward whenever I would turn around to face the wrong way. I realize now that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but it was extreme fatigue along with not having visual cues. Everything looks the same in the dark. I realized that only reason I knew that forwards was forward is
because it is the direction I was facing. Go in circles a few times and without the visual cues to help me out its not obvious which way is forwards.

- Halfway through I noticed that it was exceedingly difficult to spot the next marker. I checked the battery gauge on my headlamp and it was blinking red. Oh my. I had to change the batteries in the field. I’ve never done that before. If I fucked up I’d be in total darkness! Lucky for me I had a baggie of batteries in my gortex pocket. Unfortunately, I was not certain if the baggie was full of fresh batteries or of used batteries that I was suppose to discard (d’oh!). Please. Please. Please let them be fresh. And then the moment of truth……… yes!!!! We had light. Such carelessness would have gotten me killed on a real mountain. I could have always used the batteries from my camera I guess. Or if I was really stuck then the LCD screen from my camera could be used as a last ditched effort for light. However, the whole 3 or 4 hour way back I was scared, so, so scared that my headlamp would run out since I had no idea how long the batteries would last or last time I changed the bulb, etc… Important things to determine before hand!


- I never understood until now why it’s better to start in the dark than to finish in the dark. When you start in the dark and you see the sun rise it raises your spirit, and you have something to look forward to. You feel happy and safe. If you get lost, you can then find yourself and not have to spend the night. I guess finishing in the dark is bad because in the dark things can only get worse.

Other highlights:

- I saw so much wildlife: on the drive up I had a wolf or coyote jump the barrier and stop right as I zipped by it in my car. Such a gorgeous, magnificent creature, and so smart to stop before ending up roadkill! On the hike back, on the desolate road I saw a big animal trot/hobble across the road: either a deer or a bear. My Torontonian instinct told me to run after it and take a picture: D'oh, stupid city folk! Good thing I was too tired too. Then, further up the road my headlamp caught the glowing eyes of a deer sitting there in the bush. The most remarkable thing I've ever seen, these green glowing eyes, like a possessed animal out of a Steven King novel, just sitting there staring at me for like 10 minutes. I kept thinking I should pull out my camera and take a picture of it, but that just seemed like such a complicated task. So I just stood there marveling at how beautiful this possessed animal looked. And as I left, those creepy green eyes followed me yonder... Just amazing!

- I found myself thinking that it was a good idea that I left my itinerary with you people after all, even for such a simple trail. I slipped three times. The first time I went to set up the self-timer, I fell backwards and lay on the ground in agony for like 5 minutes because I really hurt my tailbone on the rocks. I am just so fortunate that I had my pack on. This is also something to consider when packing the pack, what are you going to fall on if you slip and fall backwards? The other two times my feet slipped on the wet stones, nothing special, landed woomp! on my fluffy pack. So, so happy I had my sleeping bag, pad, etc and not my crampons or my cooking set up against my back.

- The trail looked really spooky. It started snowing at one point. I loved it.


Overall, a good weekend!


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The start of the trail.

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The branches look like a skeleton's bony fingers

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A little bit of foliage

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Spooky looking tree stump, looks like an angry face there.

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This image is the one I where I slipped when I was setting up my self-timer and hurt my tailbone, but not my back!

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At Mink Hollow lean-to, wondering if I should call it a night here or finish it off in the dark. Of course, I kept going.

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Not exactly the thing I wanted to see as I was walking alone on a dark and scary road.....

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Even the trailhead looks spooky. I thought for a second about sleeping in the car, but decide to GTFO of there. I know I'm a wimp, but it actually took me a few minutes to muster the courage to go back to the trail and sign the register to sign out.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:20 pm 
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Every photo needs to stay in this TR... Particularly this one:

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What an awesome adventure. I always have aahz with me when I hike (Darija disapproves) so I never been scared at night. I bet I would be if I were alone.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:38 pm 
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t0xicV4gin4 wrote:
What an awesome adventure. I always have aahz with me when I hike (Darija disapproves) so I never been scared at night. I bet I would be if I were alone.

Perhaps aahz could accompany Bob Birdshit for an outing and he wouldn't be afraid to sleep in the woods either.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:41 pm 
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nam khaeng wrote:
t0xicV4gin4 wrote:
What an awesome adventure. I always have aahz with me when I hike (Darija disapproves) so I never been scared at night. I bet I would be if I were alone.

Perhaps aahz could accompany Bob Birdshit for an outing and he wouldn't be afraid to sleep in the woods either.


I'd sleep like a baby between aahz and BB. :P

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:22 am 
t0xicV4gin4 wrote:

What an awesome adventure. I always have aahz with me when I hike (Darija disapproves) so I never been scared at night. I bet I would be if I were alone.


Or until you realize what a pussy aahz really is...lol...


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:35 am 
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I did very nearly exactly the same thing last year. Even to the near encounter with the Bear in the night. I'd ditched my pack at the side of the road to pick it up with the car. I was shattered.

Those rock photos, btw, are the trail. Not for nothing is this one of the three classics of the NorthEast.

Let me know when you do the other half. I may join you. It's three hours North of my house in Manhattan.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:08 pm 
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Nasrettin Hoca wrote:
Not for nothing is this one of the three classics of the NorthEast.


Which are the other two??


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:23 pm 
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Presidential Traverse and the NY High Peaks

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:24 pm 
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Nasrettin Hoca wrote:
Presidential Traverse

On my list! Sometime... might not be for a few years.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:22 pm 
you mean the Great Range traverse


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