KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vermont Tale the Second: Tornado Mountain

In our last story, I promised you two more camping adventure tales. Here is the second one:

On our next-to-last day of our stay in
Elmore State Park in northeastern Vermont last week, my husband, Ed, decided to take our sons Neil, almost 13, and Jared, almost 6, hiking up Mount Elmore, which has an elevation of 2,608 feet and whose peak is 800 feet above its base. It’s part of the Worcester Range.

Ed and I had climbed it 14 years ago, when we camped at the park for our honeymoon. Maybe it’s no big deal for real mountain-climbers, but to me back then, while I was still in good shape from
racewalking, it was a pretty stiff climb. (I just found out that at least one web site for hikers rates it as a moderate to strenuous climb. My estimation of my fitness level back then has just increased—a lot.) All these years later, I’ve just begun trying to lose all the weight I’ve gained through being a sedentary freelance copyeditor and bearing 3 children. I’m not yet in good enough shape for hiking up any kind of mountain, so I planned to stay in our campsite while mountain goats Ed, Neil, and Jared were scampering across the rocks.

It had been unseasonably cool all week, and early in the morning I had mentioned to Ed that it looked a bit like rain. This was nothing new; we’d already had a couple of days of torrential rain. Thank goodness Ed’s a fanatic about stretching plastic tarps above all our tents and tying them to trees. In 15 years of camping, we’ve never had a tent so wet that it was uninhabitable and we’ve slept quite well through plenty of rainstorms. But the clouds blew away and the guys headed out at about noon with snacks, water, and Ed’s cell phone. We’d had extremely poor reception on our cells since our arrival at camp because of the mountains, but we’d kept trying to use them anyway when we needed to communicate across a distance. We're used to New York State's sea-level Long Island, where cell signals are nearly always good.

I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon lying in the hammock we’d brought along, doing
word-search puzzles. Meanwhile, the guys hiked up the mountain, which was quite near our campsite, making it all the way up onto an old steel fire tower perched on the peak. Along the way, they encountered plenty of odd and fascinating sights, such as a tree shaped like a backward question mark and another one that had grown horizontally for years before starting to die.

I hadn’t heard anything from Ed by about 4:30 pm. I wasn’t that worried because Ed’s in great shape and would keep the boys safe, and I knew that with his and Neil’s
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the three guys would lose track of time, finding lots of things to investigate before realizing it was time to head back to camp.

But then one of the many talented and dedicated young adults from the
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps who manage the park (under the aegis of the State of Vermont Department of Forests Parks & Recreation) showed up at our campsite: “I’m letting you know that there’s a tornado warning for the area. If you need shelter, you can come to the check-in building or any of the buildings at the front of the park” (where corps members live as long as they’re working in the park).

“Thanks,” I said. “Damn! My husband and sons are on Mount Elmore! And I can’t reach them by cell phone.”

“Let’s hope they take shelter,” the young man* said, and then headed off on foot to warn other campers. Some of his coworkers drove around the park in golf carts through the day-use areas (Lake Elmore, its beach, picnic areas, and so on) to notify all the day visitors.

I went to Ed’s and my tent to check my cell, just in case a text message had gotten through. It had: Got to top of mt elmore. It’s beautiful! 2:22 pm. He’d sent the message almost 2 hours earlier, and because of spotty reception, I’d only just then received it. Why weren’t the guys back yet? I found out later—but didn’t know then—that they’d decided to hike another mile or so along the ridge of Mount Elmore to
Balanced Rock, which Ed hadn’t gotten to see on our honeymoon years ago because I'd refused to hike any farther.

The first thing I did was channel Ed, putting into our tents all lightweight items, such as folding chairs, that were lying or sitting around camp. I looked around one last time to make sure all was as secure as possible, and then went into our sleeping tent to wait.

Rain began to come down in sheets, clattering deafeningly on the tarps above our tents. Only then did I begin to panic: Ed didn’t know about the tornado warning, and the guys might get caught out in the storm. I frantically typed in Tornado warning on my cell and tried to send it as a text message to Ed’s cell.

Message failed. Try again in 1 minute?


I tried 12 times to send that message. I stopped trying when I started to hyperventilate after an image of my 3 favorite guys, sprawled on the rocky mountain trail in death after being struck by lightning, stabbed its way into my head. I wondered how I’d survive without them.

Meanwhile, the guys had left Balanced Rock and gotten back to the fire tower, where they climbed up to take one last look at the lush valley below. But when Ed and Neil looked up, they saw massive black storm clouds, and Ed told the boys that the three of them would need to get down the mountain as fast as possible. They raced down, even little Jared being as nimble as a mountain goat despite almost running on rocks made slippery by pouring rain. At one point, Jared said to Ed, “The back of my neck feels prickly.” Moments later, the guys rounded a bend in the trail and found a large tree, just downed by lightning, across their path. They scrambled over it and then went back to nearly running down the mountain.

Just when I’d sat down on my cot and gripped its side bars in an effort to calm myself down, I thought I heard our van’s motor above the roar of the rain.

The three guys, completely soaked, burst through the tent, all talking at once. I collapsed on Ed’s chest, wailing, “There’s a tornado warning and I couldn’t reach you. I thought all of you might be dead!” Our soggy sons hugged both of us as we all sighed in relief.

There was an awful lot of hugging that night. And the feared tornado didn't come our way after all.

*Ed would later overhear a conversation from which he learned that that young man was chewed out by his supervisor for warning all the campers. Because of his warning, plenty of people left the campground, some temporarily for local hotels and some permanently. Hey, why worry about saving lives when you can keep people unaware and hold on to their money? We made sure to put in a written commendation for the young man.

Vermont Tale the First: Skunked

Vermont Tales Interlude: Photos

Vermont Tale the Third: Gaff Gaffe


Imperatrix said...

That's the joy of camping: there will always be tales to tell!

What adventures you all had. I'm sure the boys will remember this trip fondly.

Melissa N said...

Oh my gosh!
How scary. That was too close. :(

My parents were Hawaii last week when they almost had that hurricane, and they weren't reachable by cell either (no service in the area they were staying). So they made a special trip to town to call and reassure everybody. Whew!

Songbird said...

I would have been freaking right out! Glad everyone was okay.

Template created by Makeworthy Media