My two best friends and I (and my friend's six year old son) went winter camping in our usual spot at Handcart Campground in Pike National Forest two nights ago. I will call my friends B & C for sake of anonymity. B & C and I stayed up until about ten p.m. watching the campfire while B's son had gone to bed in the giant tent we were all sharing. We were drinking a few beers and passing around a whiskey flask, but none of us were drunk...not by a longshot. The sky was absolutely clear with probably the best view of the stars I've ever seen. The three of us put out the fire, climbed into the tent, and went to bed. The wind really picked up shortly after we went to bed. I had a lot of trouble falling asleep, much more than usual when I'm in the woods, but I did eventually doze off. I'm an experienced camper and not generally afraid of the wilderness, but I had a feeling of unease in my gut. It was odd but I chalked it up to the solitude of being at high elevation in the off-season, in an area four miles from the nearest houses and up a road we had to do a lot of rugged four-wheeling to get to. Around eleven thirty I woke up and had to urinate. My phone said it was 11:30 p.m. I still felt uneasy, just something in the air, I guess, so I threw on my boots and took my 10mm pistol with me. It was very cold so I made it quick. I got out of the tent, did my business, looked around for a moment and climbed back inside. Something did not feel right out there. Words cannot describe it, but I was not at ease. Also, the wind was incredibly loud, which made falling back to sleep impossible. I lay there, restless, for about an hour, until the event happened. An especially brutal blast of wind hit the tent and the rainfly battered the top of the structure. That's what made me open my eyes. And that was when I witnessed what appeared to be camera flashes going off just above our tent. Just as the wind hit its peak velocity, those lights went off at the same time and lasted for about seven to ten seconds, covering a specific side of the dome's top in an area visible to me of about three feet by two feet. At first, I thought it was lightning accompanying the wind, but I knew there were no (and I mean zero) clouds in the sky that night. I blinked a few times and whispered to my friend C, who was sleeping beside me. There was a muffled response and I asked him if he'd seen that light. I said I thought it might be lightning. There was no further response and I didn't believe anyone else in the tent had either witnessed the lights or even been awake to see them (In the morning I found this was not the case.) For the next ten minutes I stared at the roof of the tent, watching, terrified. My heart was racing, and try as I did, I could NOT get it to slow down. I exercise regularly and my heart rate was so fast it felt as if I'd just gotten done with a three-mile run. And it would not slow down. I tried to close my eyes and will it to slow, but it was impossible. I am not an overreacting kind of person but I was fairly certain I was at risk of having a heart attack as I lay there. My left arm even tingled off and on. I remember checking the clock on my phone but I cannot recall now what time it read. As the wind battered the tent I heard my buddies shuffle in their sleeping bags and I tried to talk to them again, but again I got no response. So I dug out my hip flask and took a few swigs of whiskey, trying desperately to calm my nerves. It was then I remembered the earplugs that were still in my coat pocket from when we'd gone out down the hillside to shoot rifles earlier that day. I dug them out and put them in my ears to block the sound of the wind and the tent skin flapping against itself. Then I could really hear my heart and it scared the hell out of me. At that point, I closed my eyes and tried to breathe as slow and deep as I could. I felt like I was calming, but my pulse still raced and I was wide awake. After what I can only guess was about fifteen minutes since the first pulse of light, another giant blast of wind caught the tent, the worst of the whole night, and I opened my eyes again to see another round of lights, this time green and situated at the opposite side of the tent's top, flashing like paparazzi cameras for about five seconds. It was absolutely terrifying and I didn't know what to think. After that I called out to my friends, not in a whisper, and again I received no response. I could make out their forms in the dark tent so I knew they were there but they didn't respond. I gripped my pistol inside my sleeping bag and felt my shotgun resting right beside the bag. But neither of them brought me comfort. After that second round of lights the wind died down some. Not completely, but a fair amount. My heart still pounded and I put the foam earplugs back in, trying to drive out all other input but my own thoughts. I don't know how long I lay there, but it felt like probably an hour passed as I tried, unsuccessfully to calm my pulse. The next thing I knew I was waking up to early morning light. I had managed to fall asleep at some point and was eternally grateful to see the sunlight playing at the edges of our tent through the trees. My friends all woke up relatively soon after that, and I asked them was if they'd seen the lights. My friend B's face said everything. And the first thing he said was he thought he was going to have a heart attack. He repeated an experience that was identical to mine above, including the inability to slow his heart and having pain in his left shoulder associated with it until he finally passed out. The exception to his story being he also heard a series of shrill mechanical beeps just before the second round of lights (something I decided I must have missed due to the earplugs). He also said he heard me ask about lightning after the first flashes but never heard anything else from me, possibly because of the noise of the wind. Our friend C did not witness any of the lights or sounds but said he did not sleep well at all, partly because of the wind, but also partly because he didn't feel right. The child slept fine and didn't wake up once, despite the wind. We made it back down the mountain and home yesterday morning. We didn't even stick around to make breakfast, which we traditionally always do. I looked around in the snow in the area surrounding our tent but didn't find any tracks, but to be honest, I didn't attempt to look too hard. We broke camp, packed up, and got the hell out of there. I slept much better in my own bed last night, though thinking of the event still makes me shudder. I'm still processing it. It terrified me. And as a lover of camping and the outdoors, it pains me to say that I have no desire to go camping again anytime soon.
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PA Media December 26, 2021