I survived my first night time solo hike!

Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

Last night was the lunar eclipse.  It was a full lunar eclipse that was scheduled to occur around 3:25 a.m. my time.  As a budding photographer I really, really wanted to get a great shot of the “blood moon”.  I decided that I was going to go camping somewhere here in Washington and find that perfect spot away from the city lights, and with beautiful scenery around.  I decided on Granite Mountain as there is a lookout tower at the top that would have made a great backdrop for the blood moon.  I also didn’t want a spot that a million other amateur photographers have used to photograph full moons.

Granite Mountain description:

Granite Mountain is a vigorous hike about an hour from Seattle.  It’s a 4.1 mile climb that for at least 1/2 – you are gaining 1,000 feet per mile!

Granite Mountain elevation gain

That’s some serious climbing! Especially with a 30lb pack on your back

It was the first mountain I’ve ever summited, and Granite Mountain is responsible for getting me hooked on hiking and summiting.  If it wasn’t for Granite Mountain – I would never have summited Mt. Saint Helens (8,366′), climbed to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier (10,188′), nor summited Mt. Adams (12,280 feet).  I initially climbed Granite Mountain in the winter.  The picture of me at the top is the first one in my home page slideshow.  This was my first time climbing to the lookout tower in the summer.  What a treat!

Hiking at Night

I have never hiked at night – but I knew from past experiences that I should get up there fairly early as I didn’t know how  long it would take me to hike it.  I set out from my house in Gig Harbor (1 1/2 hours away from Granite Mountain) @ 6:30 p.m.   I stopped and bought a 300 mm zoom lense from a guy on craigslist.  I arrived at about 9:30 p.m. and told myself the minor fears I had creeping into the back of my mind were irrational.  Mountain Lions don’t hunt humans, Bears have their cubs earlier in the year, Bigfoot does NOT exist.  Once I had those facts straight – I headed out.

I have to say – it’s a weird feeling to be hiking along a trail, up a mountain, with a headlamp on.  It’s slightly eerie to only be able to see as far as the light will shine, and only in the direction you are hiking.  For about the first mile, I kept stopping and panning a full 360 degrees – just to make sure no critters were following me.  I was keenly aware of my sense of hearing as well.  It was sharpened.  Other than the 3 daddy long legs, the 2 beetles, and the giant banana slug, there were no critters on the trail.

I highly recommend hiking at night – especially at popular spots.  There was literally no one on the trail – and being alone is incredibly peaceful.

I hiked for approximately 2 hours 45 mins and arrived at the lookout at midnight.  It was locked!  I climbed on the outside and made my way onto the deck of the lookout.  I checked the doors and the windows hoping the last ranger up there had left one open thinking nobody would be dumb enough to climb on the outside of the railing with a 30 lb pack on their back!  They were all locked.  No worries – it was fairly warm and even though I had a tent, I decided to not set it up.  I figured I was only sleeping for a couple of hours so, after setting up my camera, the right lense, and the tripod, I set my sleeping pad and bag up on the deck of the tower.  When I crawled into my sleeping bag – the wind was blowing, but I was warm.  I set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. so I could be up in time to see the lunar eclipse.

At 1:45 a.m. I was awakened by a loud slam!  When you are on top of a mountain, in the middle of the woods, and you think you are all alone – a loud slam will sit you straight up with your heart racing!  I got up to investigate – but never figured out what had made the noise.  Later – on my hike out, I reasoned that it was probably a mouse or a rat that had gotten into the lookout and knocked something off the counter.  There is no other explanation.  I went back to sleep and awoke to my alarm at 3:00 a.m.

The Blood Moon:

I am sad to report that when I awoke at 3:00 a.m.  – the fog had rolled in.  Even at over 5,000 feet of elevation (which I had climbed hoping to be above the low level clouds) I couldn’t escape the clouds that seem to always be around in Washington at this time of the year.

The good news is that the wind was blowing, and the fog was moving fast.  I got glimpses of the moon as it was eclipsing, but it was never exposed long enough for me to get a good picture.  I did however see it completely eclipsed, and a few times I actually saw the blood moon.  It had an orangeish / reddish tint that covered about 3/4 of the moon.  It was quite a site.  I wish I could have taken the picture I had in mind – but the weather did not cooperate.  Oh well – I got to experience my first ever night hike, my first time sleeping on the deck of a lookout tower, and I still saw the moon I wanted to see.

In summary – I left my house @ 6:30 p.m. last night (10/7/14) – stopped and picked up a zoom lens – drove 1 1/2 more hours to the trailhead – hiked 2 hours 45 mins to the top of Granite Mountain – slept for a little over 2 hours – then hiked the 4 miles back down @ 4:00 a.m. – then drove the 1 1/2 hours home.

I’m going on very little sleep, but I’m not a napper.  So I sit in front of my computer writing this blog post, (because it’s one of those things I wanted to “document”) and drinking a lot of coffee.  I have a ton of work to do on a couple of website projects I’m working on now – so I have to go.

Maybe next time I’ll get that once in a lifetime shot of the blood moon.  My not capturing that image this time was definitely not from a lack of trying.

Written by Muskrat37

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