The storm hit while I was still half awake in my sleeping bag. It sounded like a freight train coming down the gorge.
The first gust of wind sliced open the tent like an envelope. Then suddenly the wind stopped and the valley hushed, with only the sound of the river filling the camp. Lightning flashed, and then the freight-train roaring came again in the dark. It grew and grew until we were engulfed in a maelstrom of ocher dust and wind.
"Dry storm!" yelled the colonel.
We worked out through the tattered canvas and scattered clothing and ran into the open meadow above the tents. Lightning flashed yellow and orange psychedelic explosions through the blinding dust. Debris and leaves were whipped through camp. Our throats and nostrils were filled with dust. We recovered our cameras and rifles and my expensive Leonard split-cane rod, and huddled half naked in the darkness. The wind lashed through the jungle above us and huge trees came crashing down. Suddenly the wind dropped again. Debris settled through the trees like confetti and lightning flickered.
"It may not be finished," warned the colonel.
The wind struck again, like a hurricane once the eye has passed, hitting the poplars around our camp with a terrible force. Lightning flashed orange through the dust and pebbles rattled across the tents. We crouched and leaned into the gusts, shielding our eyes and nostrils, while the trees whipped wildly. Somehow they survived the impact, while the pieces of our tent flapped like a specter in the lightning. The tent took off suddenly and went tumbling into the darkness.
Our Sherpas were struggling to secure their huge army tent, cutting additional bamboo poles and driving extra stakes. They worked furiously all through the storm, running back and forth through the debris, and the cook tent held. The colonel supervised the staking of canvas flies over what was left of our fallen tents, while we stood shivering in the wind. Big clumsy drops of rain started to fall through the trees.
"Don't worry," the colonel yelled. "I've never seen a storm like this—but don't worry!"
Trees were still toppling high on the jungle ridge, and lightning struck the precipice across the gorge, tumbling a huge mahogany a hundred feet into the river. It finally began to pour.
"It's the beginning of the monsoon," said the colonel. "We'll have to leave in the morning while we can still travel the river and ferry the jeeps across at Chisapani."