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Lightning Strikes!

Have an interesting or epic climbing story? Post it here.
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Lightning Strikes!

Postby Sparky » Sat Aug 11, 2007 11:36 pm

My first 14er of the season was Mt. Bierstadt. On the summit I had an encounter that I'll never forget. Read on...this is a copy from my blog.

Wednesday July 11, 2007 Leah and I decided to climb Mt. Bierstadt which is very close to the ranch we both work at. Towering above Gaunella Pass, Bierstadt summits at 14,060 feet and is connected to Mt. Evans from Sawtooth Ridge. I mapped out our climb the night before and we decided to take the West Slope.

The beginning of the trailhead was a piece of cake, however as we gained elevation I was getting further behind Leah, due to the bum knee I have thanks to a coffee table incident a few years ago. As Leah was taking the ridgeline I decided to take the western side of the mountain and boulder it as I am quite fast. Thinking that I could catch up with her this way proved false, as my boot became wedged between two boulders. Twenty-five minutes later, I managed to pull myself out and continue towards the summit. As I gained elevation the weather was getting colder and my thermometer was nearing 45 degrees. I was worried because I didn't notice if Leah had made the summit or not and decided to move forward to make sure she was okay.

As I made the summit, I noticed a newly formed storm that had been hiding behind Sawtooth and Mt. Evans. Black clouds billowed not far from me, and the approaching thunder in the distance nearly shook me out of my boots. I knew that I was in trouble. As I scrambled towards the ridgeline I was stopped by the most incredible force I had ever felt. A jolt went through my body and shook me from head to toe. I was thrown back about five feet and landed on some rocks. I had recieved an indirect hit of lightning.

I woke up due to vicious hail pounding my face. I remember being knocked down, but how long had I been out for? As I came to, dark black clouds hoovered above me and I saw lightning strike a boulder ten feet in front of me. This is when I knew that I was going to die on that mountain. I tried to stand up, but the electrical field was so strong I kept getting zapped. As I lay on my back I reached into my pack and threw my carbiners and water down the east side of the mountain so that I had as few conductors on me as possible. I then put my hat back on that had fallen off as the electricty in the air was pulling my hair straight up from my head.

When the lightning hit the boulder, it had charged all of the other ones and now they were buzzing around me. And if I touched them I got zapped. I had to find a way out. I looked down the east side of the mountain and thought that I could possibly roll down the side coming out with a few broken bones - but I couldn't make it past the electrically charged rocks without getting a heavy shock. A few feet from me, I found a patch of dirt where I curled up in a ball and covered my head with my hands. This is when I knew that these could possibly be my last minutes alive.

However, I wasn't going to let the mountain take me away forever. Eventually the electrical field lifted enough where I could slither between the rocks like a snake. Here, I did the army crawl and winced everytime I touched an electrically charged rock. I finally made it down far enough where I could crouch and then eventually stand, and I busted it full speed down that mountain. Once I got to safety, I turned around and looked at Sawtooth and Bierstadt, still not really understanding what had just happened. I knew that I had to get a picture of this. As I pulled my camera out of my pack and turned it on I zapped myself and the camera! But those pictures definitely speak louder than words.

As I neared the end of the trailhead I found a guy setting up camp and he asked if my name was Kristin. Apparently, Leah had spoke with him on her way down and asked him to tell me where she was at. He walked with me the remainder of the trail and Leah wasn't where she was supposed to be. We walked up to the next parking lot and I noticed a man in a cowboy hat and realized that Leah was with him. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had been missing for a three hours and Leah had went back to the ranch to get help.

But here I was, on solid ground hugging Leah and thanking God that I was alive. I had so much adrenaline in my system and couldn't believe that I made it down that mountain on my own.

When we got back to the ranch I started feeling really crummy as the adrenaline started to wear off. My body ached, I had a killer headache, and I was burning hot but freezing cold at the same time. When we got to the ER they took me right away and asked me a million questions as I was hooked up to an EKG machine. They monitored me for a few hours and took some tests and sent me on my way late that evening. Nobody could believe that I had survived the unthinkable. I walked away with a burn on my arm and a concussion. Other than that, my nerves are kind of screwy and my hands and feet 'fall asleep' at odd times. My heart is bruised from the shock, but getting better everyday. I climbed Mt. Democrat the other day and have never felt better. I am so thankful that I am as well as I am and the doctors credit it to my good health.

Nature is something that humans cannot compete with. I do consider myself a knowledgeable climber, but sometimes nature can outsmart the smartest outdoorsman (or woman for that matter). Funny thing is, I have always preached to my friends here at the ranch to watch for those afternoon thunderstorms and to start early. And I'm the one who got stuck in one.

So everytime you hear thunder, think of me...Sparky.
Let the beauty you love be what you do

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Postby Zenn » Sat Aug 11, 2007 11:52 pm

I'm drooling; my mouth is just hanging open because of this account.

Holy S!!

Can you post the pics?

~Jenn
There is no certainty, only opportunity.

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Postby bblack99 » Sun Aug 12, 2007 12:10 am

That's CRAZY! Glad to hear things turned out alright!

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Re: Lightning Strikes!

Postby Hiking Mike » Sun Aug 12, 2007 12:21 am

Sparky wrote:So everytime you hear thunder, think of me...Sparky.


I will. Thanks for sharing.
...And my memory shall serve me in the way that memories do:
To conjure bygone times, and shine them bright anew,
To erase the strain of effort from faces of the past,
And resurrect slight triumphs as glories unsurpassed...

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Postby michaelverdone » Sun Aug 12, 2007 12:30 am

zap! Glad you're ok.

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Postby KenE » Sun Aug 12, 2007 9:36 am

Well chosen handle there "Sparky".

I've had two close calls, one on the mountain and one sailing. Your story left me slack jawed.

I think you can relate to "There are no atheist in foxholes". Time to get small and one on one with your maker.

Glad you're here to tell us a compelling story.

All the Best,
Ken[/b]
What do you call a guy like me up here
More than a hiker, but not quite a mountaineer
The thighs labor and the breathing is hard
I hold high places in the highest regard

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Postby MOOSE DROOL » Sun Aug 12, 2007 9:44 am

:shock:
Glad to hear that you made it out alive. Holy cow!
"There are only 3 sports, motor racing, bullfighting and mountaineering; the rest are merely games." - Ernest Hemingway
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Postby MUni Rider » Sun Aug 12, 2007 9:49 am

Wow! Glad you are okay. I know we all streatch our luck with the start times up the mountain from time to time... I'll keep your story in my mind the next time I hit the trail.
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat." (Theodore Roosevelt)

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit." (Edward Abbey)

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Postby KeithK » Sun Aug 12, 2007 9:54 am

Incredible! I'm glad you are okay! A great lesson to be learned, for sure.

I actually attended a BBQ last night at the house of a professional weather forecaster; lightning is one of his focus areas. He said that the last 2 summers have been extraordinary with regard to electrical activity, and thought I was lucky to not have encountered any kind of sketchy weather so far this summer. It should just reinforce the importance of being as careful as possible up at them there heights!
Snow is dumb.™

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Postby Sparky » Sun Aug 12, 2007 1:01 pm

Hi everybody,

Thank you all so much for the kind words. Everytime I hear of somebody going off to climb I think of my encounter and hope that nobody gets stuck in a situation like I was. Starting early is key, however, those storms can definitely creep up on you, like it did to me. But I tell you what, being up on that summit by myself with nobody around for an hour or more was a pretty powerful feeling. And getting down all in one piece, couldn't even tell you how I feel about that!

I just need to re-format my pics to post on here, so they should be coming up soon!
Let the beauty you love be what you do

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Postby coloradokevin » Mon Aug 13, 2007 1:54 am

Glad you made it out okay!

I've had a few close calls with lightning, but none that close!

Re: Lightning Strikes!

Postby jimlup » Mon Aug 13, 2007 6:40 am

Sparky wrote:My first 14er of the season was Mt. Bierstadt. On the summit I had an encounter that I'll never forget....

As I made the summit, I noticed a newly formed storm that had been hiding behind Sawtooth and Mt. Evans. Black clouds billowed not far from me, and the approaching thunder in the distance nearly shook me out of my boots. I knew that I was in trouble. As I scrambled towards the ridgeline I was stopped by the most incredible force I had ever felt. A jolt went through my body and shook me from head to toe. I was thrown back about five feet and landed on some rocks. I had recieved an indirect hit of lightning.

I woke up due to vicious hail pounding my face. I remember being knocked down, but how long had I been out for? As I came to, dark black clouds hoovered above me and I saw lightning strike a boulder ten feet in front of me. This is when I knew that I was going to die on that mountain. I tried to stand up, but the electrical field was so strong I kept getting zapped. As I lay on my back I reached into my pack and threw my carbiners and water down the east side of the mountain so that I had as few conductors on me as possible. I then put my hat back on that had fallen off as the electricty in the air was pulling my hair straight up from my head.

When the lightning hit the boulder, it had charged all of the other ones and now they were buzzing around me. And if I touched them I got zapped. I had to find a way out. I looked down the east side of the mountain and thought that I could possibly roll down the side coming out with a few broken bones - but I couldn't make it past the electrically charged rocks without getting a heavy shock. A few feet from me, I found a patch of dirt where I curled up in a ball and covered my head with my hands. This is when I knew that these could possibly be my last minutes alive.

However, I wasn't going to let the mountain take me away forever. Eventually the electrical field lifted enough where I could slither between the rocks like a snake. Here, I did the army crawl and winced everytime I touched an electrically charged rock. I finally made it down far enough where I could crouch and then eventually stand, and I busted it full speed down that mountain. Once I got to safety, I turned around and looked at Sawtooth and Bierstadt, still not really understanding what had just happened. I knew that I had to get a picture of this. As I pulled my camera out of my pack and turned it on I zapped myself and the camera! But those pictures definitely speak louder than words...


Wow! That's a very serious account. You got a full dose of 14er on that 1st climb! As a physics teacher, I'm particularly interested in the specifics of this account. I'm surprised that the rocks stayed charged for that long. I guess rocks/boulders and granite aren't particularly good conductors so once charged they stay charged! I'm surprised that your camera was still charged when you reached the base. Apparently, it was totally dry and insulated from surrounding objects.

Very cool account! Thanks!
"Just because you have the gear does not mean that you are a Mountaineer!" My daughter's cynical comment about my hobby...

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