Darkness can be good fun. It can also be dangerous, so good planning is essential.
My first encounter with darkness (save for several teenage jaunts around Alderley Edge looking for wizards and witches on Halloween night) was after activating Dale Head G/LD-020 and Robinson G/LD-021 in November 2003. Sensibly (and in the event crucially), we had packed headtorches with fitted with brand new batteries in the rucksacks, realising that darkness would fall before 5pm. It certainly did, and we were reliant on torchlight for over an hour dropping down into Buttermere.
A winter activation on the long route from the west to Cadair Berwyn GW/NW-012 started and ended in torchlight for the start of the ascent and end of the descent. I have been up and down Stiperstones G/WB-003 after dark and once descended Cringle Moor-Drake Howe by torchlight one Friday night after a conference in Sunderland. The headtorches have probably been used to complete a descent just after dusk on more occasions than I can remember, but a good one was the final walk down the field to Edale when Jimmy, Liam and myself did Kinder Scout G/SP-001 earlier this year. Back in November, we were up Great Orme GW/NW-070 on a Saturday night. It being the 5th of November, there were plenty of other colourful illuminations in the sky too.
Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004 has been done in the dark too, but the walk-in was not too long! Apart from Robinson G/LD-021, all my night-time SOTA activations have involved very short approaches, or been on summits and routes that I know inside out. The best one was a summer near-midnight activation of Shining Tor G/SP-004. I set off from the Cat & Fiddle sometime before closing time and followed the usual walk-in which I know very well. It was a very enjoyable walk, and the sky was still light enough to allow me to set up the station (including SOTA Beam) at the summit without torchlight.
I activated for quite a long time that night, with many stations worked. However, when one battery ran out, and I tried to connect another, I got a spark and both batteries went up in flames. This curtailed the activation! Then my headtorch batteries ran out and I realised a bad mistake. I had taken spare batteries, but this was useless as I couldn’t find them and fit them in the pitch black. I should have taken a spare torch with the new batteries fitted (and indeed this is what I now do). I managed to pack everything up just by being very careful and concentrating hard on what I was doing. I then walked back to the car, also requiring much concentration in the pitch black, the descent taking nearly twice the usual 20 minutes. Knowing the route was essential.
But who would have thought it? INK with a one contact activation. Well done if that was you Mick - it has to be the rarest collectors’ item in SOTA!