Torches through the snow: a firelit journey to your inner self
The winter landscape shimmers in a new light by the glow of a torch. But why does everyone who walks through the darkness carrying an open flame look so relaxed? Together with Lisa Flatscher, mountain hiking guide from Waidring, we explored the wonderful effects of winter torchlight hiking.
Moving through the winter night with torches
A starry January night in the Pillerseetal Valley in Tirol. A white blanket of snow covers the landscape. The air is dry and cold — our breath forms little clouds in front of our faces. Fortunately, though, the flames of our torches give off some warmth. Since leaving the outskirts of Waidring behind us, the only source of light in the darkness comes from our torches. From above it must look as if an orange glowing snake is channelling its way through the darkness. We feel as though we are travelling far back in time with every step we take – because 100,000 years ago, shortly after the discovery of fire, our ancestors used to move through a winter’s night like this.
The snow crunches softly under our boots as we plod uphill through the snowy forest. Only the sound of our footsteps can be heard — otherwise, there is silence. Although we in are a group of eight, no one speaks. We are too intent on focusing on the flames of our torches, which cast soft shadows on the surrounding trees. In the gentle light of the fire, these resemble giants stretching their snow-covered arms into the sky. And the view of the sky is spectacular. As we step out of the forest, countless stars suddenly sparkle in the heavens above our heads. "I haven't seen such a beautiful night sky in ages," one of us can be heard whispering in awe.
The attraction of a night hike comes from reduction. Because we are not able to see as much, other senses are heightened. “In the dark, we have a completely different focus than during the day. We walk more slowly and deliberately, and perceive our surroundings differently,” explains Lisa.
And we now notice this altered perception ourselves — our instincts, which are anchored in our genes, kick in.
We suddenly hear sounds in the forest, perceive smells that we might not notice during the day, and discover animal tracks in the snow. Even the snow crystals glisten quite differently in the cold of the night and glow of a torch than they do during the day.
And without the torches, the whole experience would certainly be only half as spectacular. "Fire does something to people,” Lisa tries to explain the meditative effect of the torches. “Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that you’re concentrating completely on the open flame as you walk. There's no room for distracting thoughts — you stay completely present." We feel it too: the open flame grounds us and allows us to completely immerse ourselves in our surroundings without disturbing them. Once again we are completely at one with nature and in the moment.
We now walk slowly along the snow-covered forest road back in the direction of the starting point. We step out of the darkness of the forest and see the lights from the streetlamps in the village centre in front of us again. The sudden brightness makes us blink. The everyday world has reclaimed us — such a shame! We were on the road for only an hour, but still it feels as if we had been very far away.
Autorin: Christina Zarnhofer