As twilight comes, the rugged cliffs, crevices, and outcroppings at High Rocks Adventure add a sense of mystery to what’s already an adrenaline rush.
With expert assurance, staff member Kayce Swepston guides a lanky teen down a rocky outcropping — the beam of his headlamp illuminating the scene as darkness settles in. Swepston’s husband, Jason, stands below, holding the belay rope as she calls instructions: “Straighten your legs and lean back,” she says.
Night rappels are trips into the unknown. “You can’t see the bottom of the cliff, so there’s a lot of trust needed,” says Kayce, a member of South Central Power Company. Sometimes, the trust pays off with even more thrill — one time during a solo rappel, with her headlight turned off,
a screech owl’s wings brushed silently past her face.
Typically, however, the creatures that come out at night are the small kind. Peepers and tree frogs chirp in crescendo, and with just a quick, cursory pass near the base of the rappel, Jason’s flashlight reveals cave crickets, millipedes, and a wolf spider roaming. “You can see its eyes reflect like a cat’s,” he says.
When it’s really dark, the lichen texturing the craggy boulders glows, silhouetting the sassafras and black birch trees in an eerie shadow. Sometimes, however, the nighttime sky explodes in a shower of meteors — and August is a particularly good month for them, with the Perseid peak; Jason recalls a night when meteors came every 10 to 15 seconds for a particular stretch.
For those in a little less adventurous mood, High Rocks owner Steve Roley and his staff also offer easygoing nature hikes that may be booked at night.
On the water
As the sun dips below the horizon in streaks of orange and red, Mimi Morrison leads kayakers across Lake Hope. With a watchful eye, Morrison, who owns Touch the Earth Adventures and also leads kayakers on night paddles on Lake Snowden and Stroud’s Run, makes sure everyone settles comfortably into a rhythm of paddle and glide.
A loud splat and splash is an unexpected thrill as one kayaker comes close to the elaborate stick formation of a beaver lodge. Seeing a beaver is not a paddling promise, so this is a bonus. High overhead, a few bats dip and soar. Birds periodically trill in the distance, and insects chirp. But mostly, there is a peaceful quiet.
“You can feel people’s emotions as the twilight comes on and dusk settles in,” says Morrison. “There’s that moment when all you can see is the silhouette of the hills.”
As the kayakers turn on their small headlights before heading to the landing spot, their beams join the moon’s reflection on the rippling water for a dance performance that just doesn’t happen in daylight.
If a kayak isn’t quite your cup of tea, you might find a little night adventure in a canoe. Trailhead Canoe Livery in Massillon, for instance, offers a night adventure on the Tuscarawas River, while Hocking Hills Canoe Livery in Logan sends paddlers off on the Hocking River.
Start paddling at sunset to watch the river change with darkness and the moonlight’s reflection on the water.
Frogs, crickets, and sometimes an otter or beaver are the nighttime companions. In summer, “the lightning bugs that light up the ground and the trees are awesome,” says Erin Easterling, Hocking Hills Canoe Livery’s manager.
Each self-paced trip ends with a bonfire and beverages. In Logan, a live bluegrass band and s’mores are also included.
Through the trees
Set high in an urban oasis of oak, sycamore, and elm trees in Columbus are the five ziplines and four skybridges of ZipZone Outdoor Adventures, where nighttime brings a stillness to the woods that belies their proximity to busy U.S. Route 23.
High in the canopy during a Night Flight Tour, the evening’s weather may shift the air from crisp to damp. Depending on the moon, the forest can be startlingly bright or inky black.
On this night, while guides Tyler Morefield and Maddie Richardt expertly secure guests on the first platform 40 feet in the air, a deer family heads into the brush.
Soon, only red headlamp beams and fluorescent glow-stick necklaces are all that’s visible. One by one, Maddie sends each guest whirring across a metal cable toward Tyler, who waits, invisible, on another platform of a faraway tree as whoops and hollers fill the night air.
“You don’t have the frame of reference of where you are, except for the wind,” says Lori Pringle, who owns the place. “It feels faster at night.”
If you go:
- High Rock Adventures, Rockbridge. 740-385-9886; www.highrockadventures.com.
- Hocking Hills Canoe Livery, Logan. 740-385-0523; www.hockingriver.com.
- Touch the Earth Adventures, Athens. 740-591-9094; www.touchtheearthadventures.com.
- Trailhead Canoe Livery, Massillon. 800-226-6349; www.trailheadcanoelivery.com.
- ZipZone Outdoor Adventures, Columbus. 614-847-9477; www.zipzonetours.com.
Check websites for dates and times of night adventures. Each goes into the fall.