What goes through your mind

Windstorm in Montana
Upper Holland Lake
Sept 3, 2005

I awake suddenly to the sound of the raging storm and a raindrop on my cheek.
I'm the light sleeper, so I'm always the one who has to pop out of the tent to put on the rain fly. The wind is really howling - I'm surprised I didn't wake up sooner - must be the 16 miles we backpacked yesterday and the ibuprofen I took before bedtime.
No more raindrops - just a wind storm - no hurry for the fly.

My thoughts flash back to windy nights in the Colorado front range mountains. We'd hear the wind gusts approaching in waves through the trees - then they were on us, flattening the nylon of our tents against our bags and faces before moving on.

But this is different - the wind is behind and above us, not in the treetops, and it seems much more localized and intense.
Thoughts flash back to 30 years ago, hunting alone on a windy day in the Bridgers in Montana. Every 10 minutes or so, I'd hear a dead tree crashing down.
I don't remember seeing any rotted-off dead-standing lodgepole around here.

The wind seems far more furious than that and seems to be heading right at us, just starting to be in the treetops.

CRACK! to our right and behind! - OH NO - It just snapped off a tree above the ground about 20 yards away! Aaron wakes up and sits up! It's knocking down large live trees!

Then more tearing, CRAAACKING, and crashing, mostly to the north. Run! Hide! Seek shelter - but there's no place to go, trees are crashing all around us - nothing to do but sit here and hope we get lucky!

I know from the dozens of dead trees I've pushed over for fun and from the somber accounts of Phil, my brother in law the logger, the enormous destructive power of falling trees, or even branches! If you are under one - you are severely injured or DEAD - and we're still hours from help at the trailhead! Somebody is going to DIE! More CRASHING and stuff raining down on us. Something bangs me on the shoulder.

In just a few seconds the sound of the wind is heading off to the west and I hear myself shouting/pleading "Is everyone alright?! Is everyone alright?!" - no answer! "Aaron! Are you OK?" as I reach over to him, then waves of relief as I hear "Yeah - I'm OK. Jeremy! - are you OK?", and finally Jeremy's reassuring answer.

The trees all fell in about 10 seconds.

In the brief time I'm pulling on my boots and pants, and grabbing my flashlight and camera, Aaron scrambles out of the tent. I hear repeated expletives from both of them - "Holly S___", then "We threaded the needle!, and more expletives. I snap a picture inside the tent and go outside.

We survey the damage. About 22 large live trees were knocked down in about a 60' by 80' area, including a huge dead tree - 3 feet in diameter at the base and about 100 ft tall which fell right between our tents, bending our poles and extending into the lake beyond. Both our tents are ripped from falling branches. The air is filled with bugs shaken out of the fallen trees, and soon a bat is swooping around us. The alpine fir have shallow, spreading root systems, and most of the trees are uprooted, including a big clump of three - but several have been snapped off at 3-5' above the ground. We wander around slightly dazed, snapping pictures. Since the storm was such a freak we decide any danger has passed, and head back to bed. It takes a little while for the shock to wear off, but we're tired so we get a couple more hours of sleep before morning.


Last Updated Sunday, 10-Jan-2010 21:15:04 CST