“Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me… When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a “specter of the Brocken,” my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.” -Carl Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”
Imagine mountain climbing, or hiking a high mountain ridge. If you climb high enough to look down into the misty fog below, and if the sun is low and behind you, you might witness the shadowy figure of the Brocken Spectre. Appearing like a tall, dark, mysterious human shape, I can imagine it could be quite spooky, and may have helped inspire legends and stories about strange human-like creatures lurking in the forest. But it’s actually your shadow, cast on the mist below. It’s a type of “glory,” similar to the airplane shadow you might see on a cloud from your window while flying, and similarly will have a rainbow “halo” effect around it. The phenomenon is named after Germany’s Brocken mountain, which is often misty and where it has been seen by many people over the centuries. Here’s more information about the Brocken Spectre: https://earthsky.org/earth/what-is-the-brocken-spectre
One phenomenon that may be explained by the Brocken Spectre is the Dark Watchers, or Los Vigilantes Oscuros, of the coastal mountains of California.
These dark, mysterious figures have been witnessed by hikers and travelers for hundreds of years, ever since Spanish settlers began to arrive in the area in the 17th century. According to legend, the Dark Watchers stand silently and observe travelers from a distance, but vanish if approached.
John Steinbeck wrote about them in his 1938 short story “Flight”:
“Pepé looked suspiciously back every minute or so, and his eyes sought the tops of the ridges ahead. Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment; but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and minded his own business.”
More about the Dark Watchers here: https://www.livescience.com/dark-watchers-california-optical-illusion.html
Another fascinating phenomenon that is experienced by outdoorsmen and adventurers is the Third Man Factor, or Third Man Syndrome. Mountaineers and explorers in life-threateningly dangerous situations have reported feeling the sensation of an unseen companion, the benevolent presence of another being, providing comfort in a life-or-death situation. An excellent book about this experience titled “The Third Man Factor”was written by John G. Geiger, where he documents many examples, and provides scientific, psychological, and spiritual theories.
In an interview with NPR for his book, Geiger said: “Clearly there is a spiritual or religious explanation to this phenomenon,” But he also says there is strong science behind the Third Man: “Many skeptics and non-believers also had this experience and they attribute it to other explanations and there is certainly some very interesting science behind this.”
Famed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton wrote of his experience with the Third Man: “during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three”. Apparently Shackleton was deeply affected by the experience, but refused to discuss it further, calling it “which can never be spoken of.” But his two companions, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean, recalled feeling the same presence. The Third Man has also been experienced by pilots, mountaineers, and even a man who escaped the World Trade Center on 9/11. Sometimes it takes on a corporeal form, or resembles a loved one. Other times it’s just a voice giving advice or encouragement. But sometimes it’s a silent, invisible presence. The uniting factor, however, is that it is a benevolent force: providing comfort, aid, or support.
Could it be a guardian angel? Or a hallucination brought on by extreme stress or lack of oxygen to the brain? Read more about the Third Man Syndrome here: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112746464
Have you ever had a paranormal experience while adventuring, or something you couldn’t quite explain? I would love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments! Stay safe, and stay healthy.
Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip also performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Adjunct Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip resides in Spokane Washington with his wife and son.