(Although this post is about TNAB, it could apply to any night hike group. Also, this is going to serve as the trip report for Mason Lake. It was cold and clear and beautiful.)
Every Thursday night during Daylight Saving Time we hike. By "we" I mean "TNAB." TNAB is the "Thursday Night AfterBurners." The name originated from the founder's roots in the aerospace industry, but it aptly describes our group. We hike fast. (There are a few non Saving time hikes, too. They're called the Lunatiques and are usually scheduled around full moons.)
There are no leaders, just a couple of "torch bearers" that try to coordinate everyone. Personal responsibility is a must since a group that starts at 6pm can be strung out along the trail in the dark in a matter of minutes.
There is only one rule: Be your own leader.
It's no wonder there are many hikers who come out only once and then decide TNAB isn't for them. We describe a TNAB Veteran as someone who has hiked with us twice.
There are a few tricks to surviving. After eight years I like to think I've learned a few.
1. Hike up the mountain to the top or for two hours. Whichever comes first. At 8pm, head down. All the hikes are chosen to be doable in two hours, though some will be harder than others. You can always come back in the daylight if you need to bag the peak.
2. Hike at your own pace. I remember several trips where I burned out early trying to keep up with the faster hikers. Some people are built for speed. I'm not. If you're like me, find your fastest, sustainable pace.
3. Bring a friend. My first trip with TNAB I knew no one. It would have been far better to have had a (human) companion that night. Of course, it couldn't have been that bad, I came back.
4. Be prepared. Yes, the 10 essentials. But more than that. Traction is often necessary in the early season. Snacks are a must. Traditional TNAB fare includes brownies, graham crackers, and adult beverages... if you're an adult. I like bringing a change of clothes, too. Afterward we head to the bar (again, if you're an adult) and being dry is soooo much nicer.
5. Be flexible. The only time you should try to climb a mountain is when it invites you up. When she's not in the mood for company, find a nice spot and call that your summit.
6. Bring your camera. Some of the most amazing views I have ever had were on a Thursday night less than two hours from the car.
7. Make friends. The friends I've made through TNAB have become my best hiking partners and closest friends. One has climbed all the Washington volcanoes with me. One is my Sunday morning Mailbox partner and kid backpacking partner. Another is willing to follow my terrible ideas and still talk to me later.
8. Finally, have fun. TNAB isn't a group of competing hikers and there's no room for bad attitudes. Take a look at our summit shots on thursdaynightafterburners.com and you'll see smiles even when the rain and the wind and the snow have done their best to ruin the night. That's what TNAB is about.
9. Bonus: Remember that no one associated with TNAB can be held responsible in any way. (This is especially important now that I'm a torch bearer.) Be your own leader.