Catskill Mountain Camping Close Calls Aug 13, 2019 8:49:49 GMT -5
Post by Radrook Admin on Aug 13, 2019 8:49:49 GMT -5
During my adolescent years, going camping at the Catskill mountains became a sort of family tradition. Cousin George would arrive from New York, we would gather our supplies, and off we would go to one of the Catskill-Mountain camping-sites. The first place we tried was Woodland Valley. There were four of us, and due to inexperience, the tent that my mother had ordered from Sears Magazine, proved to be far too small for four people. More fit for one or two persons than for four. To make matters worse, its sides were elevated by the taut pegs pounded into the ground permitting the rainwater to flow in whenever it rained.
But it was either going back home or trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and we chose to do the latter. Somehow, we managed to squeeze ourselves into it. Despite that inconvenience, we had a grand time although the curious gazes of the onlookers camped nearby in spacious tents and even vehicles designed for such adventures was a bit annoying. We soon learned to totally ignore them and they eventually became of no importance. We were glad, however when they left and we had the area all to ourselves.
One thing that we noticed immediately, was that although it was summer, the Catskill-Mountain air was a bit chilly, crisp and fresh compared to that of the city where it was hot and laden with pollutants. We immediately noticed the difference, and were surprised at the change of temperature caused by the elevation. The stream water was also very cold despite it being summer. But what most impressed me about it was the force with which it flowed against my ankles threatening to sweep me off my feet and carry me along to wherever mysterious location it was furiously heading.
Soon we were trekking the mountain-trails, and eating wild blueberries, which seemed to grow everywhere. Today when I see them being sold at the markets at high prices, I can't help but remember how totally free they had been for to us on those trails. Then there were the magnificent views once we reached the necessary elevation. North lake, for example had seemed huge at a lower altitude, could then be taken in at a glance from up there. We took pictures of ourselves fearlessly poised on ledges the with vast Catskill Forest below, and the majestic mountain-range in the far distance.
The farther into the forest we trekked, the more curious we became about the marvels that might suddenly reveal themselves to us if only we persisted. Finally we came to a crossroad where the trail veered higher up this mysterious looking steep incline. Sure we were tempted to climb higher, but by then, it was becoming dark, and the trail-markers. these round red metal signs tacked on to trees, posted on trees and even the trail itself divested of vegetation due to the constant trekking of campers was becoming more difficult to see. So we decided it was best that we make our way back. We had traveled approx. halfway back down when it suddenly happened.
Actually, we had slightly passed it without noticing it. But the its motion caught our attention. It was the hulking back of a Brow Bear as it was rummaging with its back thirty feet away. Inexperience once more had caused us to make a potentially fatal mistake. You see, unlike most other campers, we had brought no weapon that could stop that bear if it decided to charge. All my father had was a machete in which he seemed to have great confidence based on how he had seen it stop a dog who ran into its tip one night. We, of course, did not share that confidence. In any case, the site of this large beast made us we stop and froze for fear of catching its attention and provoking an attack. To make matters worse, as we hesitated, my cadaverously, skinny cousin George said in a voice laden with fear:
"They are dangerous!" and edged away from its direction. This confirmed what our gut-feeling was already telling, us but made things worse since we considered him to be very well-informed and that made the danger extremely real. His sunken eyes and his trembling almost whimpering high pitched voice added to the macabre effect and sense of impending doom.
But worse yet, we saw the bear suddenly stop its rummaging, slowly turn its massive head over its shoulder to look straight at us. That was the moment when everything hung in the balance. Fortunately, it saw nor reason to attack us and it turned around continued to rummage again. Whatever he was interested in, he apparently deemed far more important than us. Although we all heaved a sigh of relief, we temporarily remained frozen to the spot for fear that it would suddenly change its mind.
At that moment my father, a small man of 5'3" barely 135 pounds, calmly told us to go ahead and he would remain behind on the trail just in case the bear decided to follow. As we hurriedly left him there and put distance between us and the potential disaster, we began worrying about him. It was getting dark, and he was taking far too much time in catching up to us. So we began to fear the worse. So we stopped to wait for him, and even considered going back. But after a few anxious moments, he finally emerged from the growing shadows of the trail, and we breathed a sigh of relief. We barely made it back struggling to see the trail-markers on the trees, and were glad that we had the wisdom not decided to extend the hiking beyond into the higher trails since then we would have been unable to find our way back until morning brought light again and made the trail markers showing us the way back to the camping-site visible once more.
I have always greatly admired my dad for showing that kind of courage. You see, for some reason, I could not imagine him capable of overcoming that bear with that machete. I imagined that if the bear had wanted to, it could have killed us all despite the wounds that my father might have inflicted. Later, after having read about bears and the reasons why they attack, I realized, that if it had been a mother and her cubs, then the attack would have been instantaneous and deadly.
Curiously, shortly after that experience, we had a bear rummaging through our campsite looking for food at night. Was it same bear on the trail that had decided to follow us to our campsite? I don't know. Bears do become accustomed to finding things humans leave lying around in campsites. In any case, my father once more had nothing but his machete to ward off any potential attack, and pointed it waiting for the bear to thrust its head into the tiny tent in order to jab it in the face and expecting it to flee. Fortunately, after opening a discarded can of popcorn, and voraciously devouring what was left, the bear sauntered off into the woodland darkness.
Despite these two encounters, it never seemed to occur to my parents that they would benefit from buying a rifle. Why? I really don't know. Overconfidence in the deadliness of a machete thrust or its ability to serous wound? Unfamiliarity with the notorious tenaciousness of a bear attack? The assumption that that a wounded bear would choose to flee for lack of motive to persist? Had we all been killed, it would have been a perfect example of how totally unnecessary ignorance could lead to disaster.
On a later trip to Woodland Valley, another encounter with a bear could have also resulted in a disaster. You see, this time we had bought the largest tent possible. No more rain flowing in through the sides since it was made sin one piece. So spacious that we could walk upright in it. It even had small widows . So we wanted a grand location to show it off. Well were evaluating a place just off the road up on an embankment that seemed ideal to pitch our tent, when suddenly this snake dove head-first into this aperture in the ground right next to my feet causing me and to take off running. No, my instant fearful reaction wasn't just based on my childish imagination. It was based on a book on snakes found in the United States that I had repeatedly read which mentioned such poisonous snakes as water moccasins, rattle snakes, and copperheads. So these were on my mind when I bolted down the embankment and made a left turn up the road. No, I had no specific destination. Just to put distance between me and whatever type of snake had come that close to my feet.
Well, I had not travelled more than fifty feet up that road, when I suddenly saw this bear sauntering towards me. It looked weak and emaciated, as if it had recently emerged from deep winter-long hibernation. Regardless, I did an immediate about-face and bolted back towards the intended camping site towards my parents while imagining the bear hot on my heels. Yes, I knew that I would be placing them all in serious danger by leading the potentially-enraged bear back to them. But what was I to do? In fact, I was surprised that the bear did not come in barging in after me once I got there. However, had they confirmed the fear that I was being chased by reacting to the bears presence with expressions of surprise or fear, then I am ashamed to say that I would have continued my headlong flight straight into the woods in my effort to get away without even pausing.
Luckily, for all of us, the bear seemed not to take any interest and probably sauntered on calmly to wherever it was it was heading when we came face to face. Maybe it was in some kind of post-hibernation stupor? I don't know. I only know that it could have been much different. Especially when I later began to read about deadly bear attacks on campers and the gruesome effects that their attacks could have.
In any case, despite these rather unnerving experiences, I enjoyed our camping trips to the Catskill Woodland-Valley camping site for two consecutive summers. Our visits there were brief, maybe a week at each visit. But the memories of the beautiful landscape, rushing rivers, its fauna such as deer, raccoons, owls, in contrast to the cement and asphalt neighborhood in Newark New Jersey, are still very precious and appreciated, despite these close calls.