Posted by Mtn Dreamer, 06-09-03

Last year my son and I were at Trailcamp Aug. 19 and made the summit Aug 20 about 11:30am; we had perfect weather. This year our permits are for July 1&2 and I do not know what to do, when or if we encounter "Lightning". Any ideas, thoughts or experiences would be appreciated. Thanks!

Posted by Misha, 06-09-03
If you are referring to lightning as a part of thunderstorm, one thing needs to be followed religiously: stay away from the summit and any exposed ridges!!

Posted by Above the treeline, 06-09-03
As you know, the summit hut gets hit by lighting many times during the year. Best advice is to summit early and stay off the top during Thunderstorms. If your hair starts standing up or you see sparks coming off your boots (static electricity) the conditions are just right for a lighting strike..... you could be killed the next moment. Don't be the highest point. Get off the top.

Posted by Sierra Sam, 06-09-03
There is only one smart thing to do - get lower and stay away from open, exposed areas. Seeing your ice axe glowing with static electricity is not a pretty sight. Someone is killed almost every year on half-dome by a lightening strike because they didn't have the sense to leave the summit during the storm.

Posted by Richard, 06-10-03
I assume you will be camping at Trail Camp. Start up the switchbacks at first light or even before sunrise using headlamps. Thunderstorms tend to be afternoon events. If you are back in camp by noon, it is most likely that you will ahead of any lightning. Of course, the Sierras can produce any kind of weather at any time. If you see clouds building, prepare to turn around and go down. The weather forecast for the eastern Sierras is prepared by the Las Vegas office of the NWS at:

Click on Bishop to see the forecast. It can be helpful to click on "Forecast Discussion" in the lower right hand corner and read the details. Good luck!

Posted by Jimbo, 06-12-03
You do not want to be on the top a mountain during a thunder storm. We humans are basically big bags of saline solution and as such, we are true lightning magnets. The best thing to do when there is a threat of lightning is get down. We will be going up 30th of June. We will be the motley crew of 4. See you on the mountain.

Posted by LIGHTNING, 06-16-03
three years ago myself and two friends were on the mountain a little too late in the day. When we got to trail crest, people coming down said they were hearing a buzzing sound at the top and warned us that this is a precurser to lightning. The one girl in our group(clearly the smartest of the three in hind sight)opted to turn around and go back to trail camp. The two of us, not willing to give up that close to bagging the summit, pressed on. When we got within 50 yards or so of the hut, my poncho started to buzz and my hat was crackling so loud it scared me half to death. We ran down off the top toward the bathroom thats just below the summit and got into a little rock cave. About the time we sat down to rest a bit, my friend said he heard the crackle again coming off of my poncho again. He got up and ran away to get away from me and the cave. I got up and chased him down the hill. I know this doesnt sound possible, but even at that altitude, we did not stop running until we got to the windows. It is the most horrifying thing I have ever experienced in my life. It is also where I got the nickname lightning(short for lightning rod)Trust me on this one, if it is cloudy and threatening, turn around and go back. The mountain isnt going anywhere and will be there next time. Its not worth the nightmares.

Posted by ScottHiker, 06-16-03
I used to perform land surveys (and bag 14'rs) in the high country of Colorado many years back. Lightning was a constant problem when above timberline. In the rockies, daily thunderstorms are the norm during July/August. The way we used to approach it was to get up early and start with a moderate pace up the mountain. As we got higher and higher we would either go faster (if clouds were forming) or ease up a bit (if sky was clear). As a rule, we wanted to be coming down no later than 1pm (unless the sky was very clear). There were a few times (during work situations) when we got stuck at 13,000+ feet waiting for a helicopter ride down as bad weather rolled in. Our instruments began to buzz and our radios were immediately turned off. Being near lightning charged areas also causes an ozone taste/smell that is very similar in sensation to having a cavity drilled out by the dentist. In any event, you never want to expose your loved ones to this experience. Get up early and if clear relax on top of the peak, otherwise get down before the clouds build up.

Posted by TomC, 06-18-03
As Throcker mentioned on the Death on Whitney post, the hut sign says not to take shelter inside during a lightning storm. All those steel lightning rods and metal roof attract lightning, even though it says inside not to remove the wood floor (implying some protection if you are not touching the walls)

Posted by Jimbo, 06-18-03
A long time ago, a school mate of mine got a kite caught in some electrical lines. He went to the pool in his back yard and got the skimmer with an aluminium pole to retreive (sp). As he reached the kite with the pole, a bolt of electricity hit him under the shoulder and literally blew a hole about 1" in diameter through his body from his chest clear through to his back. He was very lucky (and I use the term lightly)in that the bolt missed every organ in his body. He just had a big hole in him. He lived but had to learn to do most everything anew and endured years of painful rehabilitation. I learned that lesson the easy way: Electricity, whether from power lines or lightning is not to be taken lightly. Also, if you are lucky enough to survive a lightning strike, your odds of getting hit again increase exponentially. Heed the warning signs and respond accordingly. See ya on the mountain.

Posted by Jim F, 06-18-03
In his article "Thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevada" Norman Clyde chronicles his first ascent of Thunderbolt Peak (14,003 feet). Clyde notes that this was one of his few close calls from thunderstorms during many decades as a vagabond climber in the High Sierra. Concerning thunderstorms he wisely advises," ...generally speaking, I have preferred to be on my way elsewhere as soon as I am aware that one is approaching."

Posted by Ken, 06-20-03
Will said:

So, don't go near the summit if there are thunderstorms is clear enough. However, is Trail camp OK? We are planning on spending the night in trail camp, and I would expect us to get there in the afternoon. I am just not clear if when thunderstorms occur the advice is to run all the way down the mountain to Whitney Portal, or just off the summit and ridge line (i.e. to trail camp). Finally, wouldn't being near those cables in the switchbacks be more dangerous than crouching somewhere further up?

You don't want to be the highest point, probably the biggest determiner of striking points. The metal, in and of itself, is not that big a deal, as it is simply sitting in the rock, so the rock is the ultimate conductor. If you were on a high spot, then metal might tip the balance, but a thousand feet below the high points, it is just not relevant. If you've never been to trail camp, you wouldn't have a sense of how much high stuff there is around you there. I don't think I'd go and stand out in one of the larger flat areas, but it is pretty safe there.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.

Posted by sherry, 06-22-03
The summit, Trail Crest, Trail Camp are not the only dangerous spots on this trail. A group of us got caught in a terrible storm at Lone Pine Lake, Aug.9 1974. The lightning and thunder were simultaneous so the storm was right over us. We could smell burning pine also. So take notice of the many burned trees on the trail from the Trailhead to Outpost Camp. There's lots of them. I think Doug can show you a lightning hit tree near the store.