The wall of mist was approaching fast. The sun was setting and darkness spread across the horizon. It would envelop me within a few minutes.
I was all alone. Not a single person had booked into the national park and I had picked a weekday to ensure that. I wanted the experience. At least, I think I did.
Why would I do a solo overnight hiking trip? And why should you?
SOLO OVERNIGHT HIKES- THE EXPERIENCE
For as long as I can remember I was scared of the dark. I could never leave the front door at night without feeling on edge. From early childhood and even now, my imagination goes into overdrive to conjure the most hideous scenarios as I step outside of my door.
I'm pretty much a scaredy cat ALL THE TIME.
So I guess I didn't think things through when I booked a solo trip to New Zealand for two weeks. It was an impulsive decision. I thought it would be a good experience and get me out of my comfort zone. And now I was getting nervous.
I was planning to do numerous hikes, many of which where one or two night trips. I was already getting anxious about just going solo on a trip, never mind doing solo overnight hikes. How was I ever going to make it? I immediately searched the native fauna of New Zealand on Google.
No predators! I will be safe, at least from wild animals. But then there are all those wilderness murderers to guard against! Yikes!
Would a solo overnight practice hike do the trick perhaps?
THE PRACTICE TRIP
I had to think of something to prepare me. Martial arts was out of the question. I had barely a couple of months to prepare. I needed something better.
I grudgingly figured I would have to just deal with it and do a few practice runs. Some solo overnight trips would do.
After scrubbing my first idea of a trip to Mount Mee after I remembered the mysterious tracks I had seen there, I settled on Mount Barney which is a couple of hours drive from Brisbane, Australia. I had done the climb many times so it would be familiar to me.
I booked myself into the National Park for the night, a Thursday, and to both my delight, and disappointment, no one else was booked in. This meant I was more than likely the only one to stay there in the entire National Park that night.
I drove there around midday so I would be able to start mid afternoon. I had done the hike up the South East ridge a few times before so I knew how long it would take me. The trick, I figured, was to make it there with only a short time to spare before nightfall. This would mean I wouldn't be bored and fretting for too long. Keeping busy would be the goal.
I was feeling nervous as I pulled into the carpark. It was empty. How would I go?
My bag was already packed so I started without hesitation. The first hill starts immediately and usually is a good whack in the face in terms of reminding you of your fitness, or lack thereof. But soon I had my second wind and was in a steady pace going uphill.
I reached the summit about three and a half hours later, a very good time with a pack. Maybe I was getting fitter? Or maybe we just talk to much in a group?
I had about an hour of daylight left. I had originally been hoping for less so I could just cook dinner and hop into my tent and go to sleep. But I wasn’t thinking of any of that now. It was just nice being alone for a change. Everything is calm and quiet. There is that cliche sense of peace everyone talks about having on a solo journey. Well, whatever it was, I was enjoying it.
I had a book with me, so I passed some time with that. A beautiful sunset finished the day as I got ready to cook dinner. As the darkness spread, I noticed the large clouds sweeping in. Not storm clouds thankfully, but I knew from experience the summit was often a magnet for them.
I felt some nervousness as it enveloped me. The winds picked up and the mist looked eerie as it swept over the rocks. But I didn’t let it bother me. I couldn’t. To start now would invite anxiousness for the whole night.
I settled into bed a little later, getting out of the wind was a relief and my sleeping bag was nice and warm. I've always disliked sleeping bags as I could think of nothing worse than being trapped in a cocoon of fluff while some axe murderer got to work on you, feathers flying everywhere like some pillow fight gone wrong.
Sorry. I shouldn’t say that, it's probably not encouraging you is it? See why I need to get on top of this fear?
I put that thought out of my head, and focused instead on the scratching noises coming from the other end of the tent. What could it be?
Whatever it is, we play the game for hours. Me sitting up and shining the head torch out of the tent to catch a glimpse, it disappearing before I've even gotten into a sitting position in my feathered cocoon of restriction. It’s too fast for me. I eventually fall asleep, convinced it’s a mouse. I hoped.
I wake up the next morning to more thick mist. But any nervousness I had about sleeping overnight have now been carried away in the clouds. I was alive, to my surprise. No axe murderers, aliens, or werewolves had come for me in the night.
And I felt pretty damn proud of myself for doing it.
WHY YOU SHOULD GIVE solo overnight hikes A GO
I think for anyone that spends time outdoors, doing a solo overnight hike is a great thing to do, even if it’s just once. And even more so if you have any fear of it like I did.
I went on to my New Zealand trip with lots of confidence. I had many more run ins with the small wildlife there, but it was now an enjoyable experience, rather than a nail biting one.
Sometimes in this crazy fast paced world, we forget what it’s like to be alone. It’s a good reminder to feel it again, and then you will appreciate the company of other people all the more.
So how do you go about it? Is there anything I would do differently?
Here are my tips:
1) ALWAYS let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
2) DON’T stock up on scary movies or books in the weeks leading up.
3) DO bring a book to read or have a movie on your phone (not a scary one).
4) DO remember that plenty of people do it, and it’s enjoyable.
5) DO use common sense when picking a location. Somewhere you have been before ideally.
6) DO work up to it. If you are really, really scared, camp alone but still around other people before doing a true wilderness overnight trip.
I know many outdoor adventurers, whether beginners or veterans, have thought about going solo overnight hikes. Many wouldn't be bothered by it, but if you are like me and have a vivid imagination and an overactive mind, doing a solo overnight hike is a rewarding, confidence boosting activity you can do.
Sometimes, facing a fear can be hard. Mostly though, after you face it, you can laugh at the realization it was all just in your head.
Do you have any other tips, or maybe some of your own experiences? Let me know!