Reporter's Notebook: Hiking under a full moon

I always considered myself more of a vampire kind of girl than one for werewolves (think Anne Rice, not Stephenie Meyer).

But when Irvine Ranch Conservancy docent Bob Huttar told me about the free monthly full-moon hikes, which depart from trailheads dotting the area's more than 40,000 acres of preserved land, I was immediately taken in by lunar excitement.

Huttar painted a picture of a wilderness adventure: moonlit trails devoid of people, nocturnal creatures and a full dome of stars. I was sold.

Then, I promptly forgot all about it — a phenomena, I'm told, that is common for the conservancy, whose hundreds of near-daily programs remain something of a hidden gym for South County locals.

But a few lunar cycles later, I remembered. The March 8 hike out at Bommer Canyon, limited-access parkland adjacent to Shady Canyon Drive in Irvine, was just days away.

The conservancy does a good job of letting hikers know how to prep. An online registration system for the three-mile journey advised me to dress warmly, wear sturdy shoes and bring a red-tinted flashlight.

I'm something of an amateur and a city mouse — I had running shoes and an LED pocket light.

About a dozen other hikers, Huttar, another docent and I set out at about 6:30 p.m. from the cattle ranch staging area. We were assured that the cool air, which pooled in the lower elevation of the canyon, would dissipate as we ascended the top of a 1,100-foot crest.

Which is where I began to think about the etymology behind "lunacy."

I can't say exactly what I was treading over as we climbed the rocky, uneven path. It was just bright enough that a flashlight was more of a hindrance to dilated pupils than a help. Thus ,the world was reduced to a palette of grays, muted greens and brown.

Huttar stoped occasionally to give a mini-lesson about bright Venus and Jupiter shining overhead (the moon, rising in the East, was still conspicuously absent from this full-moon hike) and the croak of a bullfrog in the distance, or just to let the stragglers — myself included — catch up to the main group.

When I did manage to look up from the dim outline of my white sneakers, I marveled that we had veered close enough to fall under the shadow of the 73 Toll Road.

Although hundreds of people take advantage of the parkland's open-access days, where no docents are required to enjoy the trails, it was the first time I and many people I've spoken with had heard of the conservancy's other programs, which include interpretive hikes for families, mountain biking and photography excursions.

Yet, thousands of drivers fly along that highway and others each day, seemingly unaware.

Finally, as we crested the slope, my lungs burning, the moon made its debut appearance. Slowly, it pulled itself over the black rolling backdrop.

With no need for flashlights and the toll road far behind us, our shadows spilled north toward the city lights below.

"Moon shadows," Huttar called them.

But no one burst out with Wolfman hair or fangs, and no howls were heard in the distance. Just us and our nocturnal silhouettes.

And a mile-long trek back downhill.

SARAH PETERS is a reporter for the Daily Pilot. She can be reached at

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