sharing my adventures both big and small

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My 21st Birthday Disaster

So the past couple of stories have been from my childhood, so I am going to change things up a bit and fast forward to my 21st birthday.

Growing up in the Catskills, I was just a stones throw away from touristy spots that the leaf peepers took photographs of each year. Places like North and South Lake, where artist Thomas Cole and other Hudson River School artists became known worldwide for painting landscapes of the Hudson valley and mountain ranges. Kaaterskill Falls in Tannersville, one of the best known attractions around, as the city folks drive up windy route 23A past the base of a spectacular 260 high multiple dropping waterfall, on the way up to ski Hunter Mountain. I have made the hike many times myself, in all seasons, but I would have to say, the dead of winter is best, when crowds are gone, the hanging ice mimics the Cinderella castle turned upside down, an ice climbers wet dream (when totally frozen). Amazing.

However, always being around the tourists, it gets aggravating, we all complain when a NJ driver is heading up the mountain 15 miles an hour and won't pull over. It gets old. So I spent a lot of time where the tourists don't go, they might not know about these spots, or they are on private property. But the locals know about them, I knew about them.

One particular spot is actually right in plain view, but not many people ever visit the area, because its somewhat difficult to get to. Within a mile from my parents house, lies the Catskill Creek, a meandering very long creek, with a total elevation changes of about 2500'. Its highest point is Slide Mountain and it tumbles and drops over smaller mountains, cliffs and through thick evergreen forests finally reaching the historical Hudson River. To see this spot you simply drive over a bridge and look down onto a bunch of shale cliffs and the Catskill Creek running at the base of it, pretty exposed cliffs overlooking the creek below.

As an experienced rock climber, I loved this area to rappel down into the creek. I woke up early on my 21st birthday on a sunny day in June, with previous plans to meet one of my good friends at that time, Jane, to go climbing with me at this special spot. I waited by the phone since she had to drive down about an hour and 15 minutes to get to my house. About 11:30am I get a ring, she is unable to make it for some reason or another. I was totally bummed out. Why do I have to cancel my plans on my birthday, especially a milestone birthday, I'm 21! So I made a few more calls, and since it was in the middle of the week not many people were free, and the people I normally would climb with are working. A few hours go by and I decide that I am not going to have a ruined day, I will go, on my own. A risk that I won't take today, but had never thought about the possible consequences of climbing solo.

I packed up my rucksack with a 60 meter dynamic rope, my harness, approach shoes, helmet, a few carabiners, repel device (a figure 8 at that time), a pair of ascenders (to climb rope), slings and extra webbing, a nalgene of water and a pb and banana sandwich. I jumped onto my mountain bike and set off down the hill, for my 2 mile bike ride to the bridge.

Once I arrived, I rode my bike across the bridge to the far side and then bushwhacked through some pricker bushes, and past a few of wild blackberry bushes (eating a few) to where the tree line meets the top of the cliff. I stowed my bike under a tree, and began unpacking my rucksack. I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down and out across the view of the creek and boulders below, it always seems higher then it actually is, and it makes my belly do a bit of a flip. I tied a square knot from my webbing and anchored off of a pine tree to the right and then I used a few slings and attached it with a prusik knot to a tree to the right, so that both the anchors were equi-distant from the trees. Where they meet I attached two opposing carabiners and attached the climbing rope at the center. Then I tossed the rope over the edge and waited to listen to the thud of it hitting the rocks below.

No thud. A splash instead. Oh man! The creek it high today, I am going to get wet!

I bet I was grinning ear to ear, I love getting muddy and dirty when I am playing outside. In a way its a baptism of proof that you are still a kid playing outside at heart, no matter what age you are on paper.

I took my empty rucksack, threw in my acsenders, extra carabiner, water bottle, pb and banana and put it on my back. Then I put on my helmet, my approach shoes (with sticky rubber on the bottom to grip onto the rock better) and wrapped two slings across my shoulder and chest and back up. All set.

I had walked to the edge and put my figure 8 repel device onto the rope and attached to my carabiner, attaching me to my harness. Then I began turning around, facing toward the cliff. I quickly checked everything once more from my position, and began to descend the cliff. As I fed slack through the figure 8, and walked down the cliff I began to feel the pressure of my weight all on the harness, until all my weight was on the rope. I loved this feeling, just you and a thin piece of 8mm thick rope holding your body. I bent my knees and pushed off the cliff wall, all while letting slack out of the figure 8 and for a quick moment I was suspended and a controlled fall in air. Then gravity pulls me back toward the cliff, I had descended 5 feet or so. What a great feeling. I continued this repel down the cliff until my last controlled fall/jump I ended up in 2 feet of water.

SPLASH!!! So much fun! I unclipped the rope and let it hang on the cliff. I began to walk up the creek along the bank to where I could get out of the water. It was a bit chilly since it was only June 7th, and it hasn't had the time to warm up. I got out and started to hike up a steep hill, climbing over boulders and high stepping my way up rocks. It took me about 20 minutes of a sweaty climb back up to the top, then walk back along the top of the ledge back to where I started. I took out my bottle and drank a bit of water, half of it, and ate my sandwich. My pack was a bit heavy, so I dropped my acsenders at the top, next to my other gear. I stood up and decided that it was a great birthday, and I think I could get another 2 repels before the sun started dipping and I had to bike back home and meet my family for dinner.

I reconnected myself to the rope with the figure 8 and walked backwards until all my weight was on my harness again. Then I bent my knees and pushed off, this time letting more slack through the figure 8 and I decended about 10 feet. I bent my knees and pushed off again, letting a few more feet out even and swung back towards the wall. As I landed with my feet flat against the rock wall, the rope up above had shifted and I was now leaning more to the right, then left. I took my weight off the rope by haning onto the cliff with my hands and feet, and tried wiggling the rope back to a center position.

No luck. I tried again. Still no luck. I tried a third time, and it moved a little. Was it enough? I remember thinking to myself "Kelsey its on TWO anchored trees, its fine, you will just be a bit uneven". I assured this of myself, and I bent my knees and pushed off the cliff, letting about 10 feet out of the figure 8, but this time it didn't feel right. As gravity pulled me down, the movement in the rope had shifted it WAY to the right over a pretty large rock jug setting it free to fall (luckily away from me), and as I came back down the force of this had me trying to upright myself as I came closer to the rock wall. I overcorrected my posture forcing me to spin on the rope in the air. FUCK. Then I put my feet straight out and locked my knees closed my eyes and braced myself as best I could for impact with the cliff. Big mistake. You should NEVER lock your knees.

SLAM!!!!!!!!!!!! CRACK!

I landed with all my weight on my right ankle. I hung suspended on the rope leaning to the right for a moment. I felt my right ankle get really warm, then I opened my eyes. I looked down, I wasn't bleeding. Then I tried to wiggle my right ankle, and felt an overwhelming rush of pain, I felt very light headed, I was about to pass out. I had stood up in my harness on my left foot and using my hands, tied an overhand knot under the figure 8. I had no break but my own hand using the friction of the device to stop, so I had to create a knot or if I passed out I would fall down the rope all the way to the bottom, 60 feet below. Just as I finish the knot, my body passes out.


I don't know how long I dangled there in the air, in broad day light, as birds chirped and even cars crossed the bridge above and to the left of me. It could have been 10 seconds, or 10 minutes. I will never know. When I came to, I remembered what had just happened. The knot was secure, I looked down at my ankle, it had already started to swell like a softball. I remember glancing between my legs to the creek floor below and saw the boulder that I had knocked loose with the rope. Then I was reminded that I had to repel the rest of the way down so I can get off this rope. Then I looked at my ankle and tried to move it again, how bad was it? The pain raced through my foot up to my ankle and I screamed out loud, "Ahhh FUCK!". This was bad, I began to feel light headed again, and passed out a SECOND time on the rope.


I woke up, again not knowing how long I was out. This must be bad I thought to myself. I made an assesment. I had two options.

1. I could repel the rest of the way down the rope, without jumping, just slowly hopping on one foot to the bottom. Then once down, I would have to walk through the creek along the bank and hike up the steep hill, which took me a hard 20 minutes with two good ankles. Then hiking through the woods back to the anchor.


2. I could take out my asenders in my backpack and create a prusik knot on the rope and climb up it. The climb would be at least a 50 foot climb to the top.

Well, I think, I can't hike out with this ankle, there is no way I can make it up that hill with all this pain. What if I get to the bottom and I can't get up the hill, then NOBODY can see me. And nobody knows where I am, AND they think I am with Jane. No worth it.

I decide I will climb up the rope. Now this a hard thing to do, when you have two good ankles AND are in great shape, and I have both disadvantages. But I really don't have any other choice. Then I began to take my pack off and bring it to the front of me, I opened the hatch and stopped. How could I have been so stupid. My life line, wasn't there. The ascenders, I left them at the top of the cliff because I didn't want to carry around that weight of a whole 10 pounds on my back. I started to curse myself out, and began to cry. My ankle was throbbing, and I had no way out.

I began to think about the reality of this situation. I could just hang out here, and hope a car that passes over the bridge, by chance, has a passenger in the car, and by chance they happen to look out the window to see my arms waving erratically for help. What if they see me and don't stop? What if they think I am waving hello? How long am I going to have to wait? My parents will be waiting for me, but they have no idea that I am just 2 miles away stuck on a rope. Then a haunting image of an old Jansport backpack advertisment enters my mind of a skeleton hiker that didn't make it across the desert, and the backpack looked in perfect condition. I felt a shiver run through my body. I can't die from a broken ankle I tell myself.

I began to tie two prusik knots, auto locking knots that allow you to slide up the climbing rope, and lock down when weight bearing. I had tied two, with a loop on the end, one for each foot. Then attach it to a carabiner through my harness. I put my left foot in the loop and stood up, it was wobbly and I began to spin on the rope.
I stop my spinning and stand up, then I move the right prusik knot up 6 inches and step up on my right...AHHHHHHH! Pain from the ankle is so intense. Then I thought I should tie in a second backup break to the leg of my harness to the rope, incase I passed out again. This time I stayed awake. I slid the knot up and then stepped up on my left foot, spun a bit, then took the wieght off the right prusik and stood up on the right. AHHHHHHHHH, more pain! This just made me angry. I was so furious. I hated that I had to be in so much pain every other step. I began to curse all sorts of things, like the rocks, the rope, the creek below, and Jane for not cancelling on me. It was the only thing that kept me moving up the rope.

Soon I had asended about 20 feet. I was so tired and in so much pain. I was about at a level where I could see the cars better passing over the bridge every once in awhile. How much it angered me that I could see help, but my "help" might not be looking to see me. This made me furious. I sat down in my harness and dangled for a few minutes taking a rest and a good cry. My ankle was the largest I had ever seen it, and it was nasty. I got mad that this was the start of my summer and I most likely broke my ankle. I began to climb up the rope again. Slowly but surely I made my way up the rope. Another 20 feet up. The end is in sight now.
I looked off to my left and was now about eye level with the bridge, then a car passed by and honked. I waved, but there was no point to waving, I was so close to the top. I WAS GOING TO DO THIS ON MY OWN. I had to prove it to myself that I could do this. I got myself into this situation and I am going to get myself out of it.

Of course the last strech of anything physically exausting is going to be the hardest part. I kept saying to myself, "You hiked the fucking Grand Canyon, you can climb 10 more feet!" it was almost like a chant. As I climbed the last bit of rope, my hands finally felt the pain of rope friction. I was dirty, dusty, had wet feet, cold, in pain, upset and relieved all at once. I reached the top and rolled over onto my back and looked up at the sky and closed my eyes. I made it. I did it. I was proud of myself, then I began to feel worried again. How am I going to explain this to my, how irresponsible I was. Then I opened my eyes, it didn't matter, I was okay, well for the most part.

I stood up and gathered my ropes and slings, I left my harness on. I hopped my way to my bike and then cursing out the roots of the trees as I stumbled over them, and down the hill to the road below. Then like someone had heard my confession of how irresponsible I was a car came up behind me. I stopped and turned around. I waved my arms and yelled "HEY!!!!!" believe it or not, it was my friend Liz who lived down the road from me. She stopped in the middle of bridge and began to back up her car. I hobbled toward her with my bike. She said "Happy Birthday Kels! I was going to call you when I got back to my house!". I began to smile and told her my story and how I hurt myself and everything.....she helped me put my bike in her car and she drove me home. Once home, nobody had gotten home yet, and I called my mom to tell her that I needed to go to the hospital for xrays... what a 21st birthday.

All in all, my ankle had fractured in 4 places and I was on crutches and a soft cast. Then I vowed that I would never climb or repel on my own ever again, AND if I was ever to do a sport solo, I would tell someone where I was going and when they should expect me back. I guess for me, sometimes, it takes a mistake to become more responsible.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Icy Plunge

As I write this entry it is snowing outside here in Albany, and I think back to days where I loved waking up and seeing snow falling from the sky. Snow falling fast and accumulating meant the possibility of a Snow Day, No School. Those were the best of days, mini vacations that interrupted a grueling school week plan of math tests, history homework and clarinet lessons, and I hated clarinet lessons. Sometimes when the universe heard all the school kids prayers at once, while all the planets were aligned, the plow men decided to sleep in and the weatherman were praised for being right, a miracle happens, a three day snow-day weekend. And once in a great while this happens, and suddenly all kids remember to do their chores, learn to make there parents the perfect cup of coffee, clean their bedrooms and ever so politely ask Mom and Dad if they can go over a friends house for the day. And once in a great while Mom and Dad say, "Sure".

This particular snow day was one of those miracle snow days, with over two and a half feet of snow and school was closed for Friday and we even had a 2 hour delay on Monday. Dad drove a 4 x4 Ford Bronco, and could drive through any weather, so he dropped me off at my friend Alicia's house in Roundtop, up the mountain from where I lived. Alicia and I were adventurers naturally, her father made his career in forestry and my Dad would rather spend a day on the river fishing or in the woods hunting or making homemade maple syrup then spend a day inside. I had packed all my winter ski gear, and filled my schoolbag with layers of sweatshirts and wool socks and planned to spend the entire weekend playing outside. Alicia's parents owned quite a bit of land, at least well over 15 acres, and we loved exploring it.

We set out mid morning in our snow gear, post-holing across her yard down a path towards her backyard. Maple her old dog, on his run, had decided to stay in his dog house for the day, the snow was not as much fun as we cracked it up to be. Alicia and I picked up some walking sticks, to make it easier to trudge through the deep snow, and made our way into the woods. Entering the woods, tall hemlock trees and giant evergreens branches were weighed down with the heavy snow, all helplessly sagging down as if to say "oh bother". The birds were very chatty I remember because we watched the chick-a-dees being chased by the bully Bluejays. The sky was overcast, because the largest of snowflakes were still falling down on us. We walked along a narrow quad trail, further and further into the woods, when we stopped and turned around to see that the house was no longer in sight. I loved this feeling. Just us and nature.

Alicia had told me about this huge pond out on the property, and her mother told us not to go to the pond because it was over a mile and a half away, we would get cold and tired then have to walk all the way back. This would worry her. I assured Alicia that I went on hikes all the time, and I can handle a mile and half hike in the snow, as she assured me the same. So we went. The trail forked, and we made a left hiking up this steep hill, full of broken shale and boulders. It was a tricky climb because the shale was loose and the weight of the snow on top, and the weight of us climbing, created landslides, or avalanches. We would make it about half way up the hill, and then it would avalanche and send us back down to the bottom of the hill. We thought it was so funny, and spent about an hour playing and sliding on the hill. As I write this and reflect back on this memory, I can't help to think how stupidly dangerous that was. At any point we could knock loose a 300 pound boulder and having it crush us beneath all the snow. We really were lucky fools.

Finally we reached the top of the hill, exausted and sweaty from climbing we looked down and could just make out a clearing up ahead. Perhaps that was the pond? We continued our hike through the snow, climbing over downed trees freshly cut from a chainsaw, and under snowy tunnels of blue spruce branches, making our way out into the clearing.
"Is this the pond?" I asked, feeling pretty certain that this had to be the pond.
"Actually, no it isn't, this is just a meadow, the pond is past this down a hill." Alicia responded out of breath.
For a moment I thought, man this is a bit far, and my body was thinking, do you really care to see a frozen pond? Alicia stood there thinking perhaps the same thing as I, but didn't say a word. She pointed, and I looked out to see a group of white tail deer that must have caught our sent, running off through the meadow and disappear into the thick forest.
"Come on lets go, only about another 10 minutes to the pond." Alicia said. I thought to myself, yeah, your fine Kelsey, put one foot in front of the other and we will be there in no time!

We passed through the field and ended up in the thick woods again. There was no more trail, so I just followed Alicia, who followed the easy way around the trees and rocks. Gradually we began descending the hill, and it became steeper and steeper. When we decided to run/slide down the hill with the momentum we had, careening our way past trees and exposed roots ending up at the bottom of the hill. Standing up and brushing ourselves off we walked a bit further to see the huge opening ahead.
The pond. We had reached it!

It was a really big pond, I asked "Are you sure this isn't a lake Leash?" wondering why she called this a pond. "Yeah, its pretty big isn't it?" she responded.
It sure was.

We walked to the edge of it and dug down into the snow until we hit ice. We wanted to see if it was hard and if we could see through it. It was hard, but we could not see through the ice, it was white. I watched Alicia jump and stomp on the ice, and then wait and listen. I asked "You think its hard enough to walk across?" "I think so, it seems really hard and must be pretty thick." Alicia said sure of her statement. Now I don't know if I ever thought it was safe enough to walk across, I really did not have very much experience walking on frozen ponds. If she thought it was safe, and she has done this before, why should I doubt her? I will admit I was scared, because what if she was wrong. Then I thought, I can't be a wussy and not walk across, if she is. "You want to walk across?" she chimed in. "You bet!" I said.

We started slowly started walking across the pond, we couldn't even see to the other side because of the snow falling. I thought, well if we just take our time and walk carefully we will get to the other side in a flash. After a few minutes on the ice, the wind picked up, it was a cold gust, felt like it took all the warmth from my bones in just one second.
"Its cold out here!" Alicia said. "Yeah it is, how far do you think we are?"
"About half way" she yelled over the wind.

As we continued the ice started to make funny noises, creaking like a old door hinge. I thought, well that has to be normal, there is a lot of ice out here, I am sure it moves a little bit. As we walked further I could see the other side, relieved I yelled over the wind to Alicia, "The other side! This ice is freaking me out, I am gonna make a run for it!"

I picked up my feet and started a slippery run to the edge. Alicia was behind me and I wasn't sure if she was following me in running as well, because I never had the chance to turn around and look. As I slammed my feet down on the ice, I looked down and saw this huge crack and I looked to my right as a chunk about twenty feet across buckles and breaks down off the frozen pond. I tripped up and went right through the very thin ice.

It burned. The water touched every part of my body, at once. I pushed back up through the waters surface and saw the ice chunk bobbing up and down. I began to tread water, but it was so cold and my legs we so heavy with boots and snowpants and cotton was a huge challenge. I screamed for Alicia. She had stopped and was watching me in the water, afraid to get any closer for fear she would fall in too. I watched her and yelled "Help Me!" She just stood there in shock of it all.
I panicked and began to swim towards the shore. I couldn't believe that my friend wasn't helping me, and I was all on my own. I pushed with my feet and lifted my arm out of the water and began swimming to safety. She might have been yelling my name by now, I don't remember, just how I wanted to yell at her after I got out of this icy lifetaking water. My skin just felt burned, and it didn't make any sense, how could cold water burn your skin? I swam to where I could stand up, and walked out and stepped onto the frozen ice right at the shore, and onto the snowy ground. I collapsed. My body was freezing and tired. I just wanted to take my clothes off, and I began taking my gloves and hat off. Then my jacket and then my ski pants.

All the sudden I feel arms wrapped around me, it was Alicia, she had crossed the lake at another point and found me. I wasn't even mad anymore, just so cold, and just so glad that she was there. She was crying. I don't remember if I was even crying. She helped me take off my layers, till I was in my underwear and boots. She gave me her jacket and snow pants to put on, which I thought was really nice (but thinking back now, it sort of had to be done). We hugged some more to warm me up a bit, and then thought how we had to hike all the way back. I was so tired, there was no way I could physically do it. We started to hike. I was shivering, but my body kept on moving, "Just like before Kelsey, one foot in front of the other..". We walked around the pond to where we first started across. I looked up at the hill we slid down and started to hike up it, one foot in front of the other. I was like a machine, and I didn't even complain, I actually don't think I even said one word. Alicia kept asking, "You okay? How are you?" and I just never responded.

As we pushed on, we came to the top of the hill exhausted because of the fast pace we had been keeping. I just wanted to lay down and take a nap, I was so tired and cold. Alicia kept me going, "Come on, now we cross the field and then its down the steep hill, this part is easy!" Easy for her, not for me, but I pushed on. We crossed the meadow, then came to the top of the steep hill. We said lets slide down, it will be quicker, so we ran and slid down the hill, dodging the boulders and exposed roots. The shale scraped up my legs and hands as I wasn't wearing any gloves now, and my ski pants had rode up my butt. I was miserably unhappy. We got to the bottom of the hill, and began walking between the giant sagging trees till be came to the fork in the path. We kept on going. By now I had been coughing and started to complain out loud, this sucked so much, I just wanted to get inside and be warm already. Hiked up through the woods until we saw in the distance the big brown silhouette of her house. I collapsed. So happy, but tired and even colder.

"Come on, we are so close Kelsey, the house is right there!" Alicia tried to cheer up my spirits. "Okay, lets go."

Once inside, I was thrown into a tub of luke warm water, and my parents were phoned. The last thing I wanted to do is sit in a tub of water, that wasn't even hot, however my skin thought it was burning hot. Such a weird thing to feel. Slowly I was warmed up, and the water could be warmed until I was back at my normal temperature.

My parents came to pick me up later that evening, and I was grounded for the rest of the weekend, go figure. So much for the three day snowday weekend. ;-)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mysterious Noises in the Woods

I have many adventure stories to share, some are serious and some are downright hilarious. I think I will start off light before we get into the heart pounding stuff.

This one takes me back to high school.

When I turned 15 years old, my mom asked me if I was interested in joining a Venture Crew. Normally anything that a mother suggests to a 15 year old, the natural answer would be snapping back at her and telling "Hell NO!". Now I wouldn't say that I was the best behaved kid, but I also wasn't really much of a trouble maker in school, however my mom and I were like a couple of big horned rams battling it out on a slippery rock slope. We never agreeing on anything. As she told me more about the Venture Crew, I learned it was not about selling girl scout cookies door to door, learning underwater basket weaving and not being able to play with knives and fire. I also learned it was not just another boy scout club, but it was a co-ed outdoor high adventure group. These guys rock climb, white water raft, go backpacking, camp out and hike the high peaks of NY state. They even take a big trip every year to places like Alaska, Maine, Europe and Costa Rica. I was pretty intrigued. This was something that for once sounded like a good idea from mom. So I went to a meeting, met our leader Brenda an amazing woman who became a great friend and still is to this day, and a handful of boy scouts and a few tomboys. They were joking and telling stories, we all introduced ourselves and I found my nitch. I fit in. They became my "crew", well to be more specific Venture Crew #1507, and 1507 spells "LOST" upside down and backwards. Very appropriate number for a bunch of young "know it all" teenagers about to learn life's lessons in the great outdoors....

Its the end of June and the black fly season has about disappeared and the crew was going for a backpacking trip in the Catskill mountain park. We were headed to challenge ourselves on the Escarpment Trail. It's a very remote 23-mile long trail over rough terrain and ever-changing scenery of mixed hardwood forests, dark hemlock groves, downed trees beside swift flowing creeks, hardscrabble pitch pine at giant stone outcrops, and dotted with spruce-fir trees on the higher peaks. The trail crosses no roads and is extremely rocky navigating over boulders and gullies. It has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet." . This trail offers a bit of everything, including false summits of Windham High Peak and Blackhead Mtn, an old stone saw mill building from the early logger days and even the remains of a prop plane crash off of Burnt Knob.

We set out for our 4 day adventure on an early Friday morning. My crew consisted of Brenda and Tom our leaders, Alicia and Melanie friendly and hilarious sisters, Andy a local and overly enthusiastic boyscout wearing a nine inch Rambo knife on his hip, Amanda a chipper fast hiker, Josh a friendly sweetheart whose gait was three times as big as mine, Joe who brought his hammock, and my best friend Matt who brought a block of Munster cheese, french bread and a pepperoni log for an appetizer before eating our freeze dried "beef stroganoff". Perhaps others joined us, forgive me if I forgot a name or two.

First day was tough, everyone felt that their packs were way too heavy, and we hiked Windham High Peak first thing. The trail was beautiful with waterfalls and blue jays darting around trying to catch the last of the black flies. Naturally the group split into two "the fast hikers" and the "trail sweepers" because no one likes to be called "the slow group". I started off in the fast group, then gradually ended up with the sweepers, which was great, for I had a camera and was snapping pictures of mushrooms, amazing 360 degree views of the Catskills and even a salamander or two.
By the time we set up our camp, we were on a ledge above 3500 feet, and NYS DEC law says we can't have an open fire so we were a bit bummed about that, but too tired to really care. We set up our tents and watch the sunset over the Hudson Valley below, a colorful red sky, meaning great weather tomorrow.

After Joe set up his hammock, Matt sliced up the pepperoni log, Andy and I found some water to filter we all found ourselves in our tents by 8pm exhausted from our first tough day. In my three man tent slept Alicia, Amanda and I.

We fell asleep very quickly. At about 1am I awake from a rustling noise outside. My eyes are wide open and I am trying to make out what the hell it is. Definitely an animal, and it sounded like a REALLY big animal. I closed my eyes and tried not to let my thoughts of giant man-eating grizzly bears and wolves get the best of me. No luck, my mind was telling me, BEAR, A BIG BEAR, A BIG MAN-EATING BLACK BEAR. I can't stand it anymore, then I turned to Amanda next to me and she was wide awake also. We flipped on our flashlight and Alicia woke up.
"Whats going on guys?" Alica asked.
"Do you hear that? That noise? Listen!" I said with a shaky voice.
We all listened and didn't hear anything. We waited for about 5 minutes which seemed like an hour, waiting and waiting for this sound again.
"I don't hear anything." Alicia said thinking Amanda and I have lost our minds.
"I swear I heard something, an animal outside our tent, really close!" I quietly said.
Then all the sudden I feel something pushing on the wall of my tent by my feet. Amanda does too. We both freak out and all three of us squish in towards the center of the tent. The noises started again, louder this grunting and snorting and pressing up against the wall of our tent.
"Oh my god!" Alicia said. "What the fuck is that? Is it a black bear?!!"
I was starting to sweat, a cold sweat, and we turned on the flashlight.
"Maybe we should make a noise and it will go away!" I said trying to be sure of myself.
Then Amanda finds her emergency whistle in her backpack. As she placed the whistle up to her lips she couldn't even blow into it because she was so frightened. It was like Rose floating on that piece of the Titanic trying to whistle for help after the ship sank. Pathetic.
Then Alicia said "JUST BLOW THE FUCKING THING!". And all at once Amanda blew the whistle loud and Alicia and I screamed "Go away, help!!" with fear!

We hear the rustling of tent zippers opening up and lights turning on all around us. "We think its a bear! Help!"
Andy bursts out of his tent with his rambo knife ready to take on a black bear, as Alicia unzippers our tent door a crack, all to reveal two porcupines screwing against our tent, apparently enjoying there evening.

We all are just shocked with our disbelieve. There was no bear. Not even a wolf. Not even a poisonous snake. Just a couple of porcupines and nature at its best.