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Light Your Way

Ramblings, John Higley

kay, I was lost, or at least in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a long time ago and I was in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness Area following what I thought was the trail back to camp, only it was a path used primarily by cattle and not by folks on foot or on horseback.

Actually, I came in by horse with three other hunters, but I volunteered my steed for pack animal duty when one of my buddies killed a large mule deer buck and needed help getting it out.

“I’ll walk back to camp,” I said. “It isn’t that far and I’ll probably beat you there.”

Sure, I would. It was late afternoon and when I started out the November sun was bright and the day time temperature was mild. It was almost like a walk in the park until I took the wrong fork in the trail and wandered off into unknown territory.

Light Your Way by John Higley
With light in hand it's much easier to find your way in the dark than without. Anyone who spends time outdoors hunting, hiking or doing anything else should have some sort of light close at hand.

By the time I realized my mistake it was almost dark, the temperature was falling rapidly and my jacket was with my horse. Thinking ahead, I did a smart thing -- accidents do happen-- and stuffed some dry pine kindling in my shirt just in case I was stuck out all night and needed a fire.

With my handful of kindling secured, I turned around and hustled back toward the fork in the trail. In the gathering dusk I could barely see the path I was on. The location of the fork was marked by a round, knee high metal water tank for cattle, which I actually bumped into before I knew it was there. Great, I thought. Camp is still two miles away and I can’t see my hand in front of my nose. Whether I liked it or not, I wasn’t going any farther until morning.

Light Your Way, John Higley
The convenience of a headlamp is hard to beat for hands-on work in the dark.

By the brief flickering light of a match-- I happened to have a few in my pocket--I found a rock overhang big enough act as a backdrop for the fire I was determined to start. As the kindling came alive, I was able to see some details a few yards away, and I scrounged up a pile of dry branches with which to keep the blaze happy. For the next several hours I baked first on one side and then the other while trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to get a little shut eye. The hours passed slowly, giving me plenty of time to think about how the heck I got into my predicament, and how I could avoid a similar incident in the future.

As I recall, it was around 20°F by the time one of my companions came to fetch me on horseback around 4 a.m. His rifle shot from a distant ridge shocked me to the core, but I had presence of mind to discharge my rifle once to let him know where I was.

There’s more to this adventure but the main point I want to make here is the importance of having some sort of light on your person whenever and wherever you travel outdoors. With a flashlight, I could have made it to that New Mexico camp easily after realizing my mistake and backtracking. That lesson has traveled with me for forty years.

Light Your Way by John Higley
Some of the lights in author Higley's collection.

In my defense, in those days lights were not big on my list of must haves. The choices were limited, and most flashlights worth anything were large and hand held. That certainly is not the case now when there seems to be enough variety of lights in all sizes to handle virtually every situation.

I am still extremely light conscious. Even if I don’t plan to be out after dark, whenever I strike out on foot in wild areas I have some sort of illumination at my disposal. In fact, I usually have two. That’s because if one light fails I like to have a backup. When possible, I fix the first light by the beam of the second and go on my merry way with two useable lights again.

Today, there’s a broad selection of take along lights in a variety of configurations. Some have several different settings such as high, medium, low and flashing while others have beams that adjust from intense spot light to flood. Depending on bulb type, batteries and intensity, some lights last for several nights while others work for only a couple hours. Regardless, they all have practical applications for the jobs they’re meant to do.

Because I hike quite often over all weight is critical to me and my lights generally weigh only a few ounces batteries and all. Most of the lights I use in the backcountry are LED headlamps, which don’t weigh much, offer plenty of illumination, last for a long time, and free my hands for chores such as cooking, gathering wood, rummaging through my gear or finding my way. Even smaller clip on hat lights and quarter size pinch lights (you squeeze them with your fingers) can be used as backups in some situations. And hand held flashlights, only a few inches long but very bright, are also useful at times.

While some small lights are quite spendy, many excellent choices can be had for around $30. or a little more. I’ve been known to buy several favorites when I find them on sale and use them as replacements, loaners and gifts as the need arises.

The biggest problem in finding the right light for whatever use you have is in wading through the selections online, in outdoor products catalogs or hands on in a sporting goods store.

This year, whenever you’re on the trail for any reason, be sure to put a light or two in your pocket or pack and be ready to brighten your way after dark whenever necessary. You’ll hardly know it’s there and chances are good that someday, sometime you’ll be very glad you have it.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro, CA. His articles have appeared in Outdoor California and other fishing and hunting journals. He is the author of two books: “Hunting Wild Turkeys In the West” and “Hunting Blacktail Deer.”

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