View Full Version : Whoa!! Widowmaker!

The Counselor
04-02-2011, 15:21
Hiking the Pinhoti a couple weeks ago, we walked up to a campground and found a picnic table to have a little lunch. It was only slightly breezy. Just after we sat down (((((THUD))))!!!! An enormous limb, maybe 12" around and 5 feet long crashed to the ground from maybe 60 feet above. It landed about 30 yards from us and, from the noise, there is no telling how much it weighed.

It would have killed or critically injured someone had it landed on them. When we camped that night we hung hammock under a canopy of similar huge long leaf pines. We looked up trying to see if any branches looked unstable but there was really no way to tell at all given the height of the trees.

We made the old "when it's your time, it's your time" comments but it was hard not to think about that limb from a few hours before.

So you're surrounded by huge, old growth forest and it's time to hang. The platitude of checking for widowmakers seems like just that. Seems like all you can do is add an extra prayer that your spouse won't get widowmade and drift off to sleep.

04-02-2011, 15:38
My brother and I were almost taken out by a large falling branch during a run on the C&O Canal Towpath. It came within a foot of hitting me and actually did strike my brother in the arm but no serious injuries. Scared the hell out of both of us. You can never tell what Mother Nature might throw at you.

04-02-2011, 19:09
There's a headache (or worse) coming to anyone beneath one of those falling limbs.

04-02-2011, 20:13

This fell from the general Sherman in SNP in Cali in 2006. Its like 8' in diameter. It fell from over 200' IIRC

04-02-2011, 20:22
The only thing that ever really scares me in the woods is the wind in the trees, especially if the ground is saturated from recent rains.

When I was a police officer we got a call one day of a man hit by a falling tree. Another officer and I had to run the last quarter of a mile or so, and found the guy down. He and his brother were in the logging business, but he wasn't struck by a tree they had cut and he wasn't very near the jobsite. We had been having a lot of rain lately and the wind was blowing like crazy that day, and this tree was blown down and the man just happened to be standing in the wrong spot. He got hit by one limb, a glancing blow to his chest. He was alive, but his color was really bad. He was transported to the local hospital and died in the ER. They said his chest was "flailed" meaning all of his ribs had been broken.

I've seen so many big limbs fall, and a few trees fall that is really is scary to me, I guess because of the complete randomness of it. There is nothing, nada, zip you can do to prevent it.

04-02-2011, 21:15
Some guy had a picture on here a few months back of a huge tree that fell on his car.

04-02-2011, 21:20
Some guy had a picture on here a few months back of a huge tree that fell on his car.
I saw that. Scary stuff, and totally unpredictable.

04-02-2011, 22:24
Am I crazy for thinking that there is something you can do to prevent getting hit by a falling limb? Every time I picked a site for our tent when my wife and I did our thru I looked for 3 things: proper water drainage, where is the likely wind exposure, and are there old, diseased, or precariously positioned trees and limbs nearby? Sure there's nothing you can do if you get caught in the rain and a strong wind blows the wrong one down, but you can greatly reduce your risk of over nighters but just looking up before setting up.

The Counselor
04-02-2011, 23:16
My point is that in some places you can look up all you want and you wouldn't be able to see a thing that would help you determine whether a branch might fall. Where we were the canopy was so high above us there was no way to tell whether dead limbs were there.

04-02-2011, 23:59
The tree that fell and killed that guy was on top of a ridge. Proper drainage wasn't the problem, the ground was totally saturated.

Tipi Walter
04-03-2011, 08:32
I've had several near-death experiences with falling trees or tree limbs while out backpacking and with all the dead pines and now dead hemlocks, well, grab holt of yourn buttocks boys, cuz we're in for it now.

One time in '82 I was sleeping in my tent at the Swamp Site in the mountains of NC and a huge tree limb fall ten feet from my shelter and it sounded like a giant dinosaur stomping on the ground. Sobering.

Another time I was set up at Mary's Rock on the AT in '87 and was thruhiking the trail thru the Shenandoahs with a friend in March. We got caught in a mean windstorm and set up at night by the Rock and my friend and I set up our VE24 North Face Windy Pass knock-off, a big dome thing, and the dead snag fell right on the tent as I stepped out to do some yoga stretches. So, yoga saved my life. The snag broke poles and ripped the nice new fly. Here's the thing: Upon arrival I turned my flashlight up and saw this blasted snag but was too tired and cold to care and SET UP ANYWAY! Darwin award, etc. Laziness is what kills you.

Now I backpack thru the Citico/Slickrock wilderness a lot and it's always fun to get to a much-used campsite and find it obliterated with a big tree right where the tent would be. Could be. And it's always fun to be backpacking on a trail and see dead limbs spiked into the ground about 10 inches deep like a falling spear. Many limbs seem to fall straight down butt-first, and would make great instruments of impalement.

Sometimes when I get to a campsite and find a rotted snag waiting to fall right on my tent, I take my bear line cord, fifty feet of it, and snag it up high on the snag and sway it back and forth enough to get it to fall. I've done this twice in the last year and I can sleep a whole lot better. In addition, some of the best campsites are located right next to big old blowdowns, as then you have a horizontal tree trunk to protect you from any more falling wood. Sometimes Papa Nature likes to bring wood to the party.

04-03-2011, 08:34
Counselor - good point. There are times all you can do it hope theres nothing big up there ready to fall because of visibility. I didnt dind that to be a commOn case bit it did happen.

Vamelungeon- I was not saying proper drainage or wind direction criteria were what I look for because of falling trees. 3 was the only criteria for that. The other 2 are just good things to look for when picking a site if you care to not be sleeping in a puddle or have a side of your tent flapping loudly all night.

The Counselor
04-03-2011, 09:53
I've never done yoga but I can't help but like a man who does it in a windstorm. That's actually the first description of yoga I've ever found appealing. Ditto on the setting up near a tree that's already down. That's what we did the night in question though we would have still needed some serious karma for it to have been in the exact right spot to save our bacon. I'm looking at the two tall trees in my own backyard that I used for hanging last night, as I've done many others. Both are large and dead or near dead though they still seem anchored pretty well. None of the branches are big enough to off me thankfully. Imagine the irony of cashing in in my own backyard.

Wise Old Owl
04-03-2011, 10:09
another good reason to uses the shelters in bad storms. Even Boone and Muir wrote about the widow maker - Yes high wind is more dangerous than lightening.


04-03-2011, 10:10
If it's your time...

Tipi Walter
04-03-2011, 10:22
Here's a good example of a once-open campsite where tents a'plenty could be placed, but then a big oak snapped 25 feet up and the whole thing fell right where I usually put my tent. On later trips, as the picture shows, I just scoot over several feet and set up next to it, but I could've been in the Death Zone easy enough, etc. This is on the BMT in the Slickrock on the Ike Branch trail.


04-03-2011, 12:41
A friend of mine died in his sleep this way during a sudden windstorm in the Mountains above Boise last summer. We get these sudden storms that blow in and a tree blew over and hit his tent, killing him instantly. Another tree fell on a family's truck at the same campsite and crushed the cab, as they were running from their tent towards the truck.

I always look for clear spots away from trees, for this reason.

Thinking of you, Tim...

Tipi Walter
04-03-2011, 12:48
A friend of mine died in his sleep this way during a sudden windstorm in the Mountains above Boise last summer. We get these sudden storms that blow in and a tree blew over and hit his tent, killing him instantly. Another tree fell on a family's truck at the same campsite and crushed the cab, as they were running from their tent towards the truck.

I always look for clear spots away from trees, for this reason.

Thinking of you, Tim...

One time I was at Crowder Camp on the BMT on Fodderstack Ridge and had my little radio out and heard a storm was comin' from Nashville traveling east with "100mph winds." I was atop a ridge and thought some gnashing of teeth thoughts: Gotta go! Pack Up! So I pulled out the headlamp and packed and hit a two mile trail with a 1,500 drop down to a more protected creek valley. Of course, it was a nighthike and I got "lost" a bit here and there but found camp and felt a lot safer. Sometimes in a nasty windstorm you have to bail to lower ground. This is why some severe winds can be tolerated on open balds---if you have the shelter for it---as there are no trees to fall and kill you.

04-03-2011, 13:02
Open balds get you struck by lightning out here. We get lightning storms fierce, and my shelter is propped up with metal hiking poles.

Some stuff makes me think at night in my tent, like last year when a guy was killed by a grizz, while sleeping in his tent. He had a 44 mag next to him..

Freedom Walker
04-03-2011, 21:21
Glad this thread was started. I really learned something important to remember. We camped in an area with alot of pines back in 09. During the rain I was more worried about lightning. Little did I know. Thanks

Papa D
04-03-2011, 22:10
This is really a good and important post - I ALWAYS look UP as part of site selection when camping anywhere - it is VERY important and I think a lot of people just miss this - as others have said, wind is more dangerous (at least in relation to frequency of incidents) than lightening. I have (so fortunately) never had a widow maker incident in a tent. One careless night, a limb did fall on the camper top while sleeping in the (home-made) bed in my pick-up truck - made me think quite a bit about this - busted up a roof rack that would have been ME in a tent.