Korea, Mountains, Urban Walking
Comments 10

The Night Stalker

That last post was a little dark, even by my standards, so…let’s go night-hiking!

Three afternoons ago. Four-thirty PM plus or minus fifteen seconds, I bust out of the playgrounds of the pointless, determined to do something useful with the remainder of my day. Air — there’s air out here! Take a deep gulp. Delicious.

There’s also a hill nearby called Banryo-san. I’ve hiked it once before — well, it hardly seems apt to call a stroll up a 300m hill a hike… Whatever, it’s an excellent idea. My life has a direction again (due south).

What I liked about this hill the first time was the persimmon orchard on the slopes as I came down out of the woods. This time I tackle it from the opposite direction, and soon leave the cars and noise and tower blocks behind as I head up through clumps of bamboo, pine trees, and some way-verdue forest colour:

wild azaleas

Early azaleas

The orchard:

A grave overlooks the ranks of winter-dormant fruit trees:

They’d just been pruned last time I was up here. No green showing yet:

Just like last time, I squint  a little and imagine I’m in Portugal or somewhere Mediterranean:

I love orchards, any kind of orchards. Even dormant, the trees are beautiful, with some individuality that survived their severe haircuts:

The urban drabness recedes. A couple of months ago I found the tower blocks…”interesting”, visually speaking. Now I find them oppressive and almost fascistic:

But like a lot of things in life, they’re a lot more attractive in the dark, or from a distance, or both. Reaching the top just before dark, I’m actually sweating, and I have it all to myself:

Almost immediately, the chill. There are a couple of benches, and a grave, deposited (rather selfishly, if you ask me) in the middle of the summit. A glimpse through the trees of more towers, more sparkling fluorescence, on the far side as well. A lost city, a concrete Eldorado:

Glowing embers in the rubble:

Night. Not much light left to play with, but I persevere. Attaching the tiny, flexible GorillaPod I carry everywhere, I set up the camera atop the grave.  Much too close for the flash, and any further back and I’ll lose the city lights. Best I can manage is a silhouette, I suppose…

Then I remember the headlamp. I actually have it on my head, turned off, since I’m enjoying the darkness. I keep it in my daypack for just this kind of spontaneous ramble. I wonder…

I hit the timer, jump back a few metres, and angle my head just so…


I love night-hiking, though I haven’t really done much, and thanks to the NEX I’m increasingly enjoying night photography. It’s often lauded for its low-noise/high-ISO performance, but I still try to keep it under 400, especially with the tripod or something to lean on.

These are actually ISO 200, just fantastic.

But it’s getting chilly, and I’m getting hungry. I pack up, click on the headlamp, and dangle it a few inches above ground level as I go bounding down the hill on the far side. I’m in the forest, passing countless graves. I remember the twists in the trail from last time.

It’s silent and peaceful. I imagine doing this as a child, walking past graves in the forest in the dark. How sad that this sort of thing doesn’t scare me anymore. Nothing to fear from the dead. My beam bounces over roots and stumps and grave mounds and granite headstones. Usually I have a song in my head when I walk, but I love it when I’m completely empty.

I wish I was more superstitious. I was apprehensive night-hiking in America a few times, thinking about bears or rattlesnakes. The trees are whispering but it’s just a gentle murmur, the breeze a contented sigh. My headlamp could fail and I could feel my way down — probably.

I try to relax my mind and feel the mystery. Even as a kid, trying to spook myself, it was really the mystery, the interconnectedness of things I was after, rather than the chills. Tonight I’m empty and at ease, and that’s good enough.

I reach a junction. I could go straight, the way I came up last time. Too easy. I turn right down an unknown path. It’s signposted but I don’t know what the words mean. But in this part of the world, just head down. You can’t get lost.

I leave the big trees. The Lost City shimmers and throbs. If you didn’t know better, you could think something wondrous and exciting lay ahead:

Descending through scrappy scrub, I’m temporaily blinded by the garish intensity of the local golf-practice enclosure. I hear the tap…tap of some poor wretch in there hitting little white balls towards a target mounted high on the netting. Half the hill was gouged away to fit that mess in. What a world.

But the brutal ugliness is mitigated, again, by night and neon. I snap off some shots but can’t steady the camera. Then I find a trunk, rest the lens against it and get one decent exposure. The nets glow eerily like radioactive gossamer, the lethal snare spun by some monstrous night-critter:

There’s a ghastly shriek from a big tree back up the slope, one of the most horrible cries I’ve ever heard in the outdoors. It’s worse than the ungodly possum that nearly stopped my heart while camping one time on my block of land in southern New South Wales; worse than the rabid koalas fighting above my camp on the Great Ocean Walk.

It’s repeated several times — and then there’s a response from somewhere far off in the woods. An owl, I suppose, calling a neighbour. Maybe they’re talking about me. Maybe I’m paranoid.

At last, some genuine creepiness, some real night-wildness. I resume my descent, leave the dirt, and in minutes I’m stomping over gravel, and onto something more concrete.

And that’s all the Goat wrote



    • Hey, thank you very much! Really appreciate it. I enjoyed writing this one — it came together a lot more easily than some of them.

  1. rivron says

    Some good night photos there. Funny how urban/industrial landscapes that look grotty by day can turn magical at night. There’s a chemical works not too far from here that’s great for taking night photographs.

  2. Mmm… These photos are looking good! I used to carry a handheld flash to illuminate spots in trees etc for long exposure shots. You’ve gone the far handier way though by using the headlamp! I never actually thought of that one! This new lens is doing wonders, as I like how the last photo still has the hillside outline, even though you must have had plenty of light coming in from the golf range.

    Actually speaking of the golf range. I’ve only been to one once and it appeared the only thing to do was try and hit the bloke in the tractor driving around collecting the balls. It was pretty hard to get near him and I used 100 balls in my attempt. He was cheating a bit though by driving way too fast for my liking!

    I still don’t understand how a small koala can make such an infernal noise. They sound like machinery starting up! Nothing worse than being on your own at night with unusual sounds in the trees above. It pays to be a heavy sleeper I think!

    I’m still waiting to see an owl at night on a walk. I’ve no idea what they sound like, but I’ve read that I should be prepared for something brutal in tone!

    • It had never occurred to me to use a headlamp like that either! I just remembered another occasion when I was scared witless by an animal noise: one night camping outside Tokyo some bloody DEER started shrieking! That was a new one for me!

      I’m in a love hotel tonight after another nice coastal walk outside Busan. Really put that lens through her paces today – closest thing to love I have going at the moment!

    • Yes, it’s a good time to be here — I was beginning to think Spring had been outlawed in Korea! That’s news to me about the azalea pancakes, though I’ve had plenty of other types of pancake here. Fine by me — pancakes are probably my favourite food!

  3. a strawberry patch says

    Beautiful photos! I especially like the next to last one, the way you captured the glow of the city!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s