Peak(s):  Mt. Princeton  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  06/02/2012
Modified:  06/03/2012
Date Climbed:   06/02/2012
Author:  zephyr_pelicante
 Where did those clouds come from?  

Electrical Safety

After a three week course required for my major on electrical safety, I got my first real world test. I had always been warned from veteran hikers and countless safety tips on this website to know when to turn around, and today I did, about 100ft below the summit.

Early start. Some delay getting to the trail.

Three of us, Craig, Kodi, and I, left Golden, CO around 4:15 AM. We lost a little bit of time finding the road after we went too far south on 285 and also by having to stop and ask at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs for directions.

Up the 4WD road and beginning of hike.

We parked about 2 blocks below the radio towers. Some 4WD roads you can get by with a car that has good clearance, but not this one. A low-clearance Subaru probably would bottom out.

Walking up the 4WD road

The sky was pretty clear as we began hiking up this 4WD road to the trailhead at 7:30

Kodi and the valley

Finding the trail

We lost some more time as we went to the too far up the 4WD road (the trailhead is on the right side about 0.75 mi before you get to the top.) But we eventually made it to the unmarked unsigned trailhead and continued hiking up to the peak.

Beginning of trail

Peak mostly free of snow


Soon we noticed there was a good amount of bouldering to be done, and unintentionally deviated from the trail a little and ran into some rather enjoyable rock-hopping. Unfortunately, soon we saw some dark clouds beginning to form that were quickly traveling toward us from the west.

Dark clouds begin to form

Dark clouds forming

Soon the sky is filled with some pretty dark looking clouds, but we continue up the trail not hearing any thunder. As we hike up the steep south ridge below the summit the clouds continue to darken and we start to get some hail. Soon we do hear thunder, but it is considerably far away so we continue on. However, the thunder gets nearer, and Kodi's hair starts to stick up on his head.

Kodi on final summit pitch

Should we continue?

All this time we are getting more uneasy about continuing on, and got to a point where we could see the top about 100ft away from us. We had seen a Peyton Manning doppelganger a few times on the trail, and he decided to turn around. We saw about 6 to 7 hikers on the trail looking up to us to see what we would do. After a pretty loud and near lightning strike (just to the north of the summit) we decided to turn back, and many lower hikers with us.

One hiker proclaimed proudly that he was just going to "sprint up and bag the sucker" who we later learned also turned back about 10 ft from the summit after he experienced a strange headache and buzzing sound.

Turning around

We scurried down the peak quickly and were happy with our choice after seeing several more close lightning strikes. To be honest though, we were disappointed to see things clearing up after we had descended about 1000ft. We briefly considered trying to go back up, but we had gone off of 3-5 hours of sleep and just wanted to go home.

The trip down again held some pretty fun bouldering sections for a good percentage of the trail. It's was all really enjoyable solid class 2 terrain, although we noted there were some places we could have tried some class 3 moves (chimneys and steep faces & such) had we been so inclined or were the weather better.

Craig on descent

We got back to the car by 1 clocking in at ~5.5hr. By the time we were driving away on the paved road the conditions were bright and sunny again on the peak

This was Craig's unlucky #13 and it sure seemed that if we had arrived 30 minutes later or earlier we would have been fine. We certainly had more than a few "what if's" on the decent concerning the delays in finding the peak.


----> Research the peak better beforehand. We changed to Princeton from massive the night before in hopes of better weather. I thought I knew the area better, but a better look at the route description and google earth would have saved us about 30 mins.

----> Know when to turn back. As disappointing as it is to not summit this might have been our biggest victory today.

----> Climbing mountains is unpredictable and conditions change fast. This trip is a perfect example of this.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/03/2012 01:48
After topping out on Shavano and reaching the Shavano- Tabeguache saddle, I noticed the formation of the same black cloud in your picture. Did not anticipate the rapid growth of the storm system and after getting a bit of summit fever and topping out on Tab, we traversed the slope of Shavano at 13,500 down to the false summit, encountering hail. No static, but did visualize the lightning you saw that appeared to be close to Antero. Also had some lightening strikes to the south. What a wild day in the southern Sawatch. Disappointed in myself for continuing up Tab. Never thought I would make the mistake of getting summit fever during sketchy weather.


06/03/2012 01:48
Glad you are safe! Hope the peak-bagger learned a lesson or three!


06/03/2012 01:53
I was actually really curious to hear from somebody from those southern peaks. At first we thought you guys had a better situation down south but soon enough the entire valley was engulfed in dark clouds.

Congrats on the summit(s)! (and congrats on the safety)
I think 9/10 times we would have been ok to take that last pitch but it's not worth the risk. Who cares how many 14ers you've done if you're dead right?


We were there
06/03/2012 01:58
Great report. That storm came out of nowhere! Completely echos what we experienced. On the way back from the summmit, I heard the rocks buzzing on the ridge. I've never hiked faster down a mountain (a little too fast as I actually lost footing and somersaulted down some rocks) We were pretty freaked out to say the least. It was a very smart decision that you turned around. Did you see the plaque memorial on one of the boulders after the ridge? It was in memory of someone who was struck by lightning!


06/03/2012 02:01
correct. Tabeguache will be there tomorrow and probably a few more years after that!

The rainstorm over Telluride was far off in the distance so that wasn't a concern. We had two cumulonimbus clouds form suddenly, one to the south of Tab/Shav, and one to the north which was yours. So Tab/Shav climbers were fortunate in that respect. In my 20-some previous climbs I've never seen anything like this. Always off the summit before noon and never encountered weather. Lessons learned.

You guys have some guts. If I felt static I'd be flying down that mountain like crazy.


safety first
06/03/2012 02:32
always a good idea to travel with hair lords.


You are smarter than me
06/03/2012 17:16
I was on La Plata at this same time. Ran for the summit. Heard the buzz, felt the hair stand. No actual lightening seen though. My quickest descent ever, by far. Stupid. This storm built really quickly and before noon. Still, that's no excuse. Happy/lucky to be sitting at home reading this. Lessons learned, start earlier and turn around sooner.


06/04/2012 18:03
I'm glad nobody got electrocuted on those mountains. But guys, did you read the weather forecast for that day? Here on, choose the peak? I did and it said exactly what you got into. Severe thunderstorms at noon and afernoon. In case the forecast is like that, I either start very soon (5 am on trailhead or sooner - considering sleeping in the area) or choose another day. And while hiking, look around all the time and be ready to turn back when see the cloud reaching certain size. Not when I hear thunders close to me. I think you - zephyre returned extremely late given the conditions you were in. Hearing thunder and thinking its far enough, what a dumb thinking, you know that lightning can spread miles far from the cloud, right? When I started with hiking here, I was doing same mistakes. In 2006, I hiked Evans, clouds were forming and I didn't return until I was about a mile from the summit when I saw summit to be directly hit by lightning. I ran down and made it to my car without problem. But learned from my mistakes. Similar way you are learning now. Lightning is nothing to play with.

Fast Jimm

Extremely interesting.
06/29/2012 03:09
Was on Princeton today, had the same type of storm beginning around noon, but it was localized a couple miles east of the summit until about 1 PM or so. These collegiate peaks are serious business.
That comment about the guy who made it 10 feet from the summit and turned around because of the headache and buzzing sound is truly freaky.


06/29/2012 03:26
We turned around at first sign of lightning. I forgot to mention that there were several people who continued up even after seeing the lightning. Not my place to judge, but the way the hiker described the feeling made my stomach turn as well!

After Princeton I bought a headlamp and have since embraced ultra-early morning starts (2-5am). I absolutely agree that bad weather creates a totally different mountain!

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.