I got to experience something super cool on Black Friday: I hiked the Chief in the dark!
Earlier last week, I found out that Capra (the trail running store) was hosting a nighttime hike up the infamous Stawamus Chief – their take on Black Friday. Having never hiked in the dark before, I was intrigued. I pitched the idea to Cedric, and we decided to give it a go.
Friday evening came. It was cold and dark (duh) and it had been a long week. Warm and cozy in our house, we were extremely tempted to play hooky and make it a sushi takeout night.
But the fact that it wasn’t pouring rain – for the first time in a long time – made us feel that we should probably suck it up and go outside. We knew we wouldn’t regret going, but that we very well might regret not going. Besides, our house and sushi weren’t going anywhere.
So, we slipped on our headlamps and drove to the Chief parking lot, where we met up with 8 other keeners and two adorable pups and started the hike up.
I’ve hiked the Chief maybe a half dozen times or so, but the vibe was very different in the dark. The stone steps seemed narrower in a single beam of light and the water near the start of the trail somehow sounded louder than usual. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel scary like I thought it would. I’ve always had a minor paranoia about getting caught out in the dark on a hike. It turns out it’s actually not so bad – if you’re in a group, know where you’re going, and have a headlamp.
We made our way towards the top of the first peak. The rock was wet and a little slippery, but not too bad. Up until the last few minutes, the weather was perfect: cool but not cold, no rainy and no wind. Right at the peak, the wind picked up a little, so we all threw on our extra layers.
The views from the top of the Chief on a clear sunny day are spectacular. It’s equally impressive at night, but for completely different reasons. You don’t get the “wow” effect of seeing mountains and the ocean, but it is very cool seeing the town lit up below you and the lights of cars driving on the 99.
After taking in the views, things started to get shaky for me. Someone pointed out that there was a cliff drop right over “there”. Where?! Everything was pitch black, and it suddenly dawned on me that ANYTHING could be a cliff drop. I couldn’t get a sense of what was beyond me – a drop into the abyss? More rock? A small inconsequential ledge?
It got real when we started our descent. The rock that hadn’t seemed too slippery on the way up suddenly felt much more daunting. I pictured myself missing a step and sliding off the face of the Chief. (Note: don’t picture this type of thing when you’re hiking in the dark). I essentially crabwalked my way back down the rocky bit and made Cedric stay less than three paces ahead of me at all times. It helped to have the extra light from his headlamp to see what lay before me.
Once we all made it past the chain and ladder bits (I was a little anxious for myself, but extremely anxious for the dogs – one didn’t have claws and it made me nervous), the hike got fun for me again. I typically prefer hiking downhill to hiking uphill and can do it much faster, but I found myself having to slow down and be cautious in the dark. The field of vision is so shallow with just a headlamp and you really can’t rush it.
Two hours after we’d set off, we found ourselves back at the parking lot and headed to Mags 99 for a little nightcap (and by nightcap, I mean pork burrito).
A great night with a great crew – it was definitely worth skipping sushi night!