Hey All, my name is Kirsten and I’m so stoked to be able to share some shots and stories about my first ever sunset hike up Mount St. Helena, located just outside of Calistoga, California. I’ll start by saying that, although intrigued, when I was initially invited to join this adventure, I was scared - start a hike to the top of a mountain and plan to hike down in the dark?! It’s really not my forté, but I didn’t want to be 1 of 3 girls to back out and show my weakness. SO, with a deli sandwich, lots of water, and my crew of trusted friends, we began the 9.3 mile (round trip) hike. By the second mile, I was pretty certain we wouldn’t make it to the top by sunset and kind of began to panic. I will admit that my fear stemmed from the copious amount of cougar sightings in the area. After The MANY fires that all Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties have experienced in the past two years, the animal’s homes have been destroyed and they are just out here trying to survive. I get that. Doesn’t mean I was excited about an unexpected encounter with said displaced animals, but the small bit of anxiety did help my pace and I continued with my crew. In fact, we actually did make it to the top, and with plenty of time for the woman behind the lens, Nikki Neumann, to get her gear set up (and for me to scarf down my sandwich in record time).
The purpose of the hike was to capture content for my college’s PR and Media office - what better way to sell your school to prospective students than great sunset photos? It’s not fake, but I know very few students who ACTUALLY do this hike, so just like any good photo, it shows the glamour of the adventure, not the fear, sweat and few tears I shed running down the mountain in the dark. Luckily for my friends, I brought some key pieces of equipment, including but not limited to: my Kawartha Basecamp Blanket, several Clif Bars, extra sweaters, my Waves Forever Cold water bottle, and of course, chocolate. I don’t know who thinks it’s a good idea to hike in the evening, to the top of a mountain, with no sweater, but my friends did. As the sun began to set and the shivers set in, I whipped out my blanket like: BAM, here you go my children, take in this stunning view, shiver-free. And that’s just what we did.
When the sun had set, pictures had been captured and the wind picked up, my anxiety began to hit again slightly as I insisted “PACK UP WE OUTTA HERE.” I’ve never had so much fun slipping and falling as we ran with dead phones and little moonlight, down the fire road of the mountain and back into the forest as we neared our cars. I politely insisted that someone play music through the portable speaker we brought. Why? I didn’t want to hear any branches or leaves cracking if a potential beastie decided to grace us with its presence. Honestly, I was as scared of encountering a skunk as a cougar. A cougar would likely run because we were a group of four, but a skunk would douse us all and then mosey on its merry way. Will I do another night hike? The answer is YES, absolutely. Napa Valley is a small place. Growing up here, you simply yearn to be 21 so you can actually do what the valley intended you to do: drink wine with your friends and eat until the doctor announces you have gout at a premature age from consuming rich food for too long. I’m partially joking, but I’m also not. I grew up watching birds and mountain biking with my grandparents after days in elementary. They taught me all the native plants and birds of California, and when I took California Natural History in college, you best believe I was the top of class - thank you Grandma Lois and Grandpa Jack! I’ve hiked Mount St. Helena over a dozen times in my life, but this was new. It was exciting. It was scary!! What it really did was help realize that there is always more to do, you just need a different perspective and I’m blessed to have friends that push me out of my comfort zones and show me the life I know so well, in a different light.
I encourage you all to take on things in a different light. If you’re bored with the way things are going in your life, get out of your comfort zone. Do something you DON’T want to do, something that scares you. I’ll be going on another night hike. Not alone of course, I’m not there yet. I’m still young though, so stay tuned to see what happens next, I’ll probably surprise myself.