Outbound Collective logo

Spooky Camping Story That Will Surely Keep You Awake in Your Sleeping Bag All Night

A hideous scratching noise erupted beneath our van just after midnight. Was it the altitude? Was it a critter? Or was it... our creepy neighbor, Geoff? Happy Halloween đź‘»

By: Payson Wick + Save to a List

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Scratch, scratch.

Sonya woke me up. It was 3am, pitch black, and my eyes were crusted shut.

“Do you hear that??” She asked frantically.


“Yea how could I not hear that. It sounds like a demon clawing its way out of the underworld”

At this point, we had a flashlight out and were frozen in fear looking at each other in the eerie cool blue LED light, hoping that this problem would just crawl itself away and let us sleep.


“What in the world is going on?” We both said as we looked at each other mirroring the fear back to one another.

Very quickly I wiped the crusties from my eyeballs, sat up and put my big boy pants on, ready to process the situation.

We were camping up at 12,000 feet of elevation, above treeline, near Quandary Peak at the parking lot overlooking Blue Lakes. This spooky situation added stress to the already intense atmosphere of expecting an early wake-up to ascend Quandary Peak, a 14,000 foot mountain with a treacherous final push of steep vertical climb.

We needed sleep.

Was the altitude messing with our heads? Was it the mountain goats we saw when we first got here? Or was it the sketchy guy who parked next to us??


The day leading up to our alpine snooze was eventful. It started in Denver at a Chase bank pulling a wad of cash out of savings. With the wad, we drove to Buena Vista to check out a van that we found on Facebook Marketplace. It had some warning lights on the dash, a little bit of rust, and quite a bit of questionable crumbs, but it was in our budget. After clanking a wrench around under the hood, we made an offer, signed a line, and drove away with our new little home.

Victory smooches galore.

There’s never a dull moment in the mountains. Since we were already past the front range, why bother missing a chance to knock a fourteener off our list?

Wasting time to test gear is not how we roll. The road up to Blue Lakes keeps any vehicle on its toes as you navigate stretches of steep grades and narrow, blind curves.

 The road started as expected, but we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to the top where we wanted to post up for a night. The van chugged up slowly, slipping on the gravel beneath its wheels. I looked nervously over at Sonya, hoping we wouldn’t roll back down the mountain or tumble over the precipice next to us.

Despite an occasional wheel spin & and a warm engine, Mountain Mama crawled to the top and got the official stamp of approval as our adventure wagon.

When we pulled in to the array of parking all the way at the top, there was a herd of mountain goats thick with white fur greeting us. At first there was the hope we would be able to snap a picture before they would run back up the mountain afraid of our human presence.

This expectation was far from our reality that night.

Lick, lick, lick.


Lick. Lick.

These goats are addicts. They are addicted to the salt caking the bottom of our van. GET THESE GOATS OFF OF THE SALTS FOLKS.


Lick. Lick.


The sun wasn’t setting for several hours longer & it would be impossible to find a better spot anytime soon that would fit in with our fourteener plans. This was home for the night despite the questionable guy setting up shop next to us in a 2000s Jeep Grand Cherokee.

For a smooth story, we’re going to call him Geoff. His mysterious plastic tubs roped to the roof rails immediately added to the uncertainty of the evening. Our fears continually amplified as the sky got darker..and darker…and darker.

Camp was established quickly. Pre-made pasta salad in a pot filled our bellies and let us relax and explore the high alpine landscape surrounding our campsite. On our way back to our spot, we came across Geoff wildly swinging his climbing axe at the mountain goats slowly surrounding his vehicle. He noticed us looking on a little concerned, and returned with a menacing smile and a shoulder shrug. The goats stood stoically around him, seemingly unfazed by Geoff’s axe-swinging.

We looked at each other with our eyes revealing the concealed panic saying “what in the world is going on.”

At this point, we were both spooked and concerned that being at such a high altitude was impairing our perception of reality. Did we need more oxygen? Were our brains alright? Did Geoff slip something in our food when we weren’t looking? Are these goats possessed??

Night fell quickly and the absence of any moonlight knocked us out like a light switch.

Then we started hearing the bizarre noise coming from underneath the van. It was loud and seemed to be endless.


At first, we tried waiting for it to stop, giving our all to ignore the noise and just fall back asleep. But, the demonic sound persisted. Brief moments of silence would bring us a false sense of relief, only to be followed by an even louder noise that sounded like fingernails clawing at the bumper from below.

My initial suspicion was that the mountain goats came back down the mountain for a midnight snack of road salt caking the bottom of the van. This answer quickly fizzled when I shined a flashlight through the window and saw no white blobs anywhere around the van.

This was when the midnight mind-spiral took over. My heart started to shudder that long, slow, powerful rhythm that allows your pulse to be felt from your chest to your fingertips. The overwhelming feeling of fear took my mind and painted a picture of our neighbor Geoff laying underneath our van, clawing at the bumper with his creepy smile knowing we were scared to the bottom of our sleeping bags.

At no point would I surrender to the scratch and step foot outside of the comfort of the van. The vision of Geoffs slimy little hand reaching out from underneath and grabbing my ankle played on repeat in my mind. I was convinced he was waiting patiently for the scratching to draw us out.

Thankfully this fear made room for a sliver of reality to grasp onto, and I thought maybe there was just a baby goat all the way under the van.

The next move had to include action to solve this problem. I slowly crept my shaky hand to the door handle, flashlight in the other. Nervously, I grabbed the handle, pulled the lever & pushed the door open just enough to stick my flashlight out to shine underneath. Surely a bright light the middle of the night would scare off a little critter or Geoff…or whatever was causing such a commotion. My arm flung back in and the door slammed.


The silence lingered long enough for the thunderous pulse of my heartbeat to quiet. It seemed like we were out of the woods and could fall back asleep.


Fear filled the van with a thick, yellow cloud impairing our senses and forcing us to make quick decisions. We honked the horn, started the engine, slammed doors, and swung a pot around in attempts to scare off the creature clawing underneath. Nothing could deter the claw.

We looked at each other desperately and decided the only solution was to drive away and down the treacherous road in the middle of the night.

We began pulling away slowly, careful to not injure whatever lied beneath. As the wheels turned, we saw it. First the spikes came into vision - the apparent culprits of the scratching sounds. Then it took form. What we saw, waddling away from us into the night, was just a beefy, alpine porcupine. We slept soundly until morning and climbed up Quandary peak.

As we reached the summit, Geoff crossed our path. He had ascended the back way with stretches of class 5 climbing, confirming that although he was innocent, he was someone to be a little afraid of.

Looking back, the events that unfolded that night make us laugh. How terrified we were of a mysterious sound in the night that ended up just being a tenacious, spikey rodent. Moral of the story: spooky season is not limited to just one month a year.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


10 Things you need to do in Baja

wyld honeys

Journey to Wyoming’s premier snowmobiling destination: Togwotee Mountain Lodge

Samuel Brockway

A peek through God's window

Heather Arnold

Big Bend Bound: Crafting Your 3-Day Adventure

Erin Newman-Mitchell