Peak(s):  Mt. Princeton  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  05/21/2007
Modified:  05/23/2007
Date Climbed:   05/20/2007
Author:  docfrance

 Mt Princeton - Nature Wins  

Our group of 5 left COS at about 05:30 and, after a stop at the donut Mill in Woodland Park, headed for Mt Princeton.

We had no issues driving up the trailhead road in my stock F150 4x4 and parked just above the radio tours at about 11kft. We began our hike at aobut 07:45 with poles (no snowshoes). The road was dry from there until the the next switchback where snowdrifts blocked any vehicle access.

The sky was completely clear, very light winds, and the temp was easily in the low 50s.

We inadvertently missed the turnoff to the classic route and took the long traverse towards the "cross" below Tigger.


The road was clear the whole way with only a few small drifts and icy spots that were easily avoided in the rocks on the road shoulder. Upon reaching the end of the traverse, we turned right up the ridge toward Tigger, but enjoyed the great view of Mt Antero to the south.


From there, we scaled Tigger, again with very little snow--mostly boulder hopping.


Here's a view of Mt Princeton from near the Tigger trail.


From Tigger, we descended to the saddle between there and Princeton and began our ascent up the ridge. A couple of people were on the summit.


There was very little snow on the trail to this point, with only a few short traverses of snow fields near ridge crests and only an occasional post-hole.


The skies were still generally good, with only a few puffies, but there was one cloud over Princeton that didn't seem to move.

Our group of five was a bit strung out going up the mountain, separated by about 50m or so apiece with one of our USAFA cadets in the lead, I was in second position, and three behind.


The cloud got a little darker and as were were approaching within about 200m (trail distance) of the summit, light sleet started. It intensified and got a little darker, but there was no lightning or thunder in the area. It was no later than 10:45 at this point.

Suddenly, I noticed a weird "staticky" sound coming from the tops of my Leki aluminum poles and the ice ax hanging from my pack seemed to be sticking me in the back of my leg. I thought I was confusing the sound with the sleet and took a few more steps. Then, I HEARD and SAW my poles spark as they touched the rocks ahead of me. the next sensation was truly bizarre--the metal vent-hole grommets on the top of my hiking hat were arcing with my scalp. The signs were pretty clear by now that we were in some trouble. I got low quickly and took a few jumps down from the ridge line. My poles and ice ax were sparking pretty well, too, so I tossed them about 30 feet down the hill.

I yelled at my cadet companion above me to get down, turn around, and head down the mountain ASAP. He was alrady on his way. Two morons we didn't know above him were stopped hudding by a rock and said they were going to "wait it out." I turned and yelled downhill to the others in my group, but they'd already figured out what was happening, too. For the next several hundred feet, I did a combination sit-slide, jump, step, toss poles, recover poles, etc. We heard precisely one clap of thunder, but didn't see the lightning bolt--not a big disappointment, there, I assure you.

The sleet was still coming down hard, and then began mixing with snow. Others on the Tigger/Princeton ridge below us were now heading down the classic route traverse that led to the southeast and we followed.


A friend sent me this shot of our little electric squall taken from his climb of Harvard at about the time, I‘m sure we were scrambling down the mountain.


The sleet changed to snow and we descended, oddly, too and was coming down at a pretty good clip. The classic route was very snowy and the whole group post-holed their way down. We stopped once to put on gloves and make sure everyone was okay, but that's it.

Post-holing down-hill tore up our shins as we scraped them on covered rocks, but that was the only injury. Boots and socks were wet also from the quick descent, but nothing serious.

We arrived at the trail split (that we'd missed earlier!) at around 12:15 and wondered how on Earth we'd missed it, but were glad we'd made the ascent during in that direction because of the lack of snow there--and I'd recommend that route to all those without snowshoes for at least another couple of weeks. The rest of the hike down was uneventful and we arrived at tour truck very shortly after 13:00. there was no precip on the trail or roads below about 11.5kft, and the drive down was equally tranquil.

This was our first encounter with lightning on a peak. Though I'm sure many here have had similar experiences--and offer commentary on our course of action--I've got to tell you it was just about the scariest thing I've been through. (Not completely idle statement for those that know me personally). We had absolutely no regrets about not summiting and felt pretty damned good about just being alive. The beer at the bottom had a special taste that day!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Good post
02/05/2011 00:22
Should be a helpful TR to aspiring hikers regarding weather.


11/30/2010 17:28
decision... more brains than I'll ever have and for that you get a 5


05/22/2007 15:52
Wow, glad to see you came through it safely!


Similar Experience
05/31/2007 18:26
Had a similar experience on Princeton a couple of years ago.
A Fathers Day climb started out beautiful and sunny.
Black clouds made their appearance as we reached the ridge.
Some others further toward the summit had uncertain outcomes but, there was plenty of thunder rumbling down toward us. Princeton is on the re-do list with no regrets.

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