Photo Credit: TN
I Hiked The Hudson Highlands At Midnight And Finished Its Highest Peak At Sunrise
If you suggested a midnight hike to me even a year ago, I’d look at you sideways and tell you where to go. At the end of June, I joined New York Backpackers for an unorthodox journey through the Hudson Highlands in New York. I was the last to reach the summit of Mount Beacon, the highest peak. But I’m proud of myself for doing it, when I could have just as easily gone to the pub for some after- work pints.
Whether I’m traveling domestically or internationally, exercise is non-negotiable. If there’s a gym where I’m staying, you’d best believe I’ll be there more than once. If there isn’t, I improvise. Workout videos on YouTube. Shampoo and conditioner bottles for weights. If there are fitness classes nearby, I’ll register in advance, as I’ve done in Paris, London and Atlanta, just to name a few. I’ve been a tower climber for about six years, so my legs are well-conditioned. But there’s something about exercising in nature. You’re exposed to the unpredictability of the elements, which can change without warning. No matter how fit you are, you’re reminded that there’s room for improvement.
It wasn’t like I never hiked a mountain before. I’ve done Constitution Hill in Aberystwyth, Wales a few times. I did Gros Piton in St. Lucia which was no joke. And this fall, I’m doing the Three Peaks Challenge, which entails climbing the three tallest peaks in the UK in 24 hours. But none of those were or will be, done at night.
How did the hike work? About 30 of us met at Grand Central Station at 10:30 PM and arrived at Cold Spring. From there, we drove to the appropriately named Breakneck Ridge and started climbing at midnight. It was evident which hikers were seasoned since they already had their plan of attack mapped out. There’s an art to climbing, you see. You have to know where to place your foot so you don’t injure yourself. And there’s no shame in sitting on your butt and sliding down if you must.
We wore headlamps so we could see ahead of us and spot each other if any of us got lost. The eight mile hike required serious fitness chops, and a few people bowed out early. We stopped at a few flat areas so we could take in the stars, moon and enjoy a few sips of alcohol. A few people had cannabis and didn’t mind sharing. I had a little beer but passed on the weed since I needed my reflexes and mind to be on point.
The group broke off into smaller groups. My five companions and I decided to turn off our headlights so we could see just how dark the woods were. The light from the stars and moon wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the foliage and I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I wasn’t afraid, but I could see how someone else might be. Like in the Blair Witch Project, the fear stemmed from the unknown. And we weren’t the only ones in the forest; bears and coyotes inhabit the Hudson Valley, though we didn’t see any. We turned our lights on before we resumed hiking.
We laughed, groaned and wondered why in the world we were doing all this. As we got more comfortable with each other, some stripped to their sneakers. Usually, I’m down to do things with the least amount of clothes possible, and I hiked nude earlier this summer. But that was through flat terrain, not a mountain. I took off my pants and shirt, which would have given mosquitoes more real estate were it not for the repellent.
The leader of our group who did the hike before assured us that the end was coming. He very quickly figured out that he was mistaken. One woman wanted to call it a night (well, day at that point) and get an Uber back to the train station. The issue was the road was some distance away, and she risked getting lost. So she decided to stick with us.
The last stretch to the summit of Mount Beacon seemed to go on forever. There was less hiking and more rock climbing, which I hadn’t done in years. I had to dig deep inside myself to get to the summit. Not only was I physically exhausted, but I hadn’t had much to eat, which was foolish of me.
I reached the top of Mount Beacon at 5:30 AM- sunrise. There were hammocks and sleeping bags set up by those who had arrived earlier so they could take a nap. By the time I got up there, everybody was wide awake and basking in their accomplishment. The icing on the cake was climbing the fire tower, which was rickety and narrow, but perfectly secure. From up there, the unobstructed, 360 degree views were even more enviable.
For sure this kind of hike isn’t for everybody. But life shouldn’t entail only doing what makes you comfortable. Most of my growth stems from having the rug pulled out from under me. I might have moments of hesitation and even regret. But I press on because I know it’s good for me.
It’s a shame Mount Beacon doesn’t have an elevator- I think we all wished there was one for the journey down!