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Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
#16104 07/07/11 11:00 AM
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Well, I and my friends may have done something really stupid on Sunday, July 3rd, but we're still alive to talk about it so I think we lucked out...I'm not sure.

On Sunday we hiked to the summit of San Jacinto. Beginning at 9:00 am, the skies were dark, my wrist barometer readings started at 29.30 and gradually went down to 20.00 as we hiked higher. We had sprinkles at times, wind at times and rain at times along the trail. I kept telling my friends we should turn back but they believe that I am always thinking "gloom and doom", so they told me we should all keep hiking towards the summit and see how the day goes. I was a faithful sheep and followed the rest of the herd even though my heart and head said "No, turn back". I really didn't know what I would
have done if lighting and thunder began. I know to get low, spread out from my frieds by at least 15 feet and to make myself as small as possible and not stand near or under trees, but I was in totally exposed areas at times and the nearest shelter was maybe a rock-over-hang.

We were over 10,000 feet when the rain fell the hardest and the clouds were the darkest. I'm not certain I would know a thunderhead from any other type of cloud.

What would you do if you were in this situation?


Last edited by lynn-a-roo; 07/07/11 11:02 AM.

Lynnaroo
Re: Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
lynn-a-roo #16107 07/07/11 11:47 AM
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Wow.....sounds like fun :-)


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Re: Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
quillansculpture #16109 07/07/11 12:20 PM
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Sounds like how Moses described it too ;-)

I don't like those conditions either. I won't summit under those conditions, but I guess I have always felt safe 700-1000 feet or more below the summit even if it looks stormy. Having said that, I really enjoy hiking in the rain so long as I have a hat to keep the water out of my eyes and a jacket is always nice too. When Steve C and I were hiking Half Dome, I retreated when I was about 20 yards from the top of the cables and saw clouds racing in. When I told Steve I was heading back down, he wondered about me, but supported my decision. As it turns out, nothing happened up there and Steve was no worse off for his decision to continue on. He got a little rain, but no lightning and no thunder. (He probably felt more comfortable with his karma. Me? I would be way too irresistable a target.)

Regarding the barometer--it will drop as you gain elevation regardless of whether there is a storm coming. According to this chart, standard pressure at 10K feet should have been at 20.6: http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/air-altitude-pressure-d_462.html


Brent

Re: Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
lynn-a-roo #16110 07/07/11 12:23 PM
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Well; first. . . yeah, if you've got a barometer, and you're seeing storm clouds, time to get the heck outta dodge! It's not time for sheep. It's time for shepherds.

Second - any of us CAN be caught by surprise out in the backcountry by storm patterns.

What you did do is pretty much the good advice.

Find shelter, (cave, nooks under boulders, etc.) BUT STAY OUT OF DRAINAGE! (in case of flash flooding)

Stay away from tall rock pinnacles, isolated trees, but you could be safe in groups or clusters of shorter trees. (lightning is most likely to go after the tallest object, but that's not guaranteed!)

Lightning actually is a slow process, and begins with a charge buildup, and there can be warning signs several seconds before the discharge. Hair standing on end, tingly feeling, etc. Some people have said they remember seeing it coming out of the ground or nearby objects (and photographs show this) - but this happens so quickly, there's no time to react.

Discard obvious conductors: fishing poles, ice axes, trekking poles, external frame packs, tent poles. (fiberglass doesn't conduct that well, aluminum conducts EXCEEDINGLY well!).

Getting down on top of your pack (to insulate you from the ground) (if you've got an internal frame pack) - hands touching legs, so current channels through your limbs, not your trunk, on your knees, tucked into a ball.

You'd think that your rubber boots would insulate you right? I've seen pictures of people's boots or shoes blown apart by lightning strikes. If the current is jumping across 1000+ feet of air, it can probably make it through 1/2" of rubber.

I have also heard, as a protection against shock from thunder, to cup your hands over your ears, and open your mouth. (to allow the pressure wave to equalize - so your eardrums won't rupture). But this wasn't in any training class I've yawned through.

I've been caught outside in hail, and so was my son, with his scout troop, in New Mexico, a couple of years ago. Not fun. There was another scout troop that was hit by lighting out in the field in California a couple of years ago too.(I'd prefer the hail, thanks!). You read about people getting killed by lighting at Yosemite all the time.

Main thing is to recognize unsafe weather conditions when they're starting to build up, and get down off the mountain and to a safer location.

Re: Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
Brent N #16112 07/07/11 01:28 PM
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Yea, I guess I was a little flippant....kind of kidding actually, but I'm scared to death of dark clouds over Whitney. On Monday, I was talking to Doug at the portal as Thunder was rumbling through the mountains. Not a chance I'd go higher than the trees in conditions like that. Most of the lightning though looked to be in the valley, all the way from Lone Pine to Adelanto. Pretty neat hard showers on the way home.


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Re: Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
quillansculpture #16115 07/07/11 02:13 PM
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Thanks for the info on the barometer; (I guess I've never carried one) -

But here's some info on recognizing dangerous clouds and storms:

Last August, coming from Mineral King into Big Arroyo, when I was coming over Black Rock Pass, I noticed clouds building up in a very visually striking pattern, as I ascended.

I grew up in the midwest (Illinois), so I am very familiar with how thunderheads LOOK. But I transplanted to California; and I actually don't often see thunderheads near where I live now. When there are storms, they usually roll in as a low-altitude marine-layer first.

. . . so as we came down into Little Five Lakes, this cloud-pattern began to pile up into a familiar "popcorn" stratocumulus shape, DARK underneath! ... and rolled over and covered the whole sky. Then we heard thunder. By then, we were into some trees and boulders, and we got rained and sleeted on.

The next day was clear - but as we were climbing up onto a 12,000' peak (Eagle Scout Peak) near Kahweah Gap, I started to see that pattern of clouds gathering, the same as I had seen about the same time-of-day as the day before (1pm or so). Just - above the ridgelines and peaks, hazy clouds were forming and disappering right before our eyes, on and off, for about an hour. Amazing and hypnotic to watch. (this was happening over OUR peak, as well as the Kahweahs, across the Arroyo valley).

I figured this was the pre-cursor to another afternoon stormfront, and I was right.

I thought I had more time - but I was wrong.

We dilly-dallied on the mountain, bouldering, for about another hour before the clouds came in solid. Above 11k', we were fogged. Had it been a storm, at that time, it could have gone badly for us. Luckily, the worst we got was some light sprinkles on the way down. Nothing indicated to us that we had any dangerous conditions imminent, so we didn't crouch down at any point.

Now: realize - even the wispy clouds forming rapidly in that pattern like that can generate lightning. It's the updrafts and downdrafts within the clouds at the 10,000 - 20,000 - 50,000' level that are theorized to generate lightning. Lightning can even come out of a clear-blue area of the sky (under storm-forming conditions; where there is moisture, updrafts, cool+warm air mixture, etc.) So, there was some risk in my decision to remain on the mountain; but getting down (instead of sheltering) had to be a priority, once we were fogged in.

Wind and rain and hail are scary, and they can be dangerous, of course. But lightning kills the most.

In general, (but not as an absolute) - summer storms tend to form in the afternoon, when the daytime heat has warmed the air, and caused it to rise, generating updrafts, mixing with cooler, drier air at higher altitudes, forcing the moisture to condense. This pattern can repeat day after day after day, if conditions are right.

Moreso in the mountains, because you have runoff water, and moist soils concentrated in the valleys, and that moisture evaporates in the heat, and the prevailing winds pushes it up and over the terrain to higher elevations (which was what likely caused the "dancing clouds" effect I was seeing, along the ridge at Blackrock Pass). That rain gets dumped, the next valley over.

This is why it is important, when you're planning a day-hike up to a peak, to get up to the summit as early as possible, and get off the peak generally by noon or 1pm.

Obviously, you can't predict weather like clockwork like that. But sometimes, summer weather can get into very predictable daily patterns.

Re: Hiking Under Dark Clouds, Rain and Wind, Totally Exposed
lynn-a-roo #16116 07/07/11 02:58 PM
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I'm heading up to San Jac tomorrow for the 2nd time this season. Going onto Whitney on the 21st. Down in SD county we had flash flood alerts in the borrego springs area all afternoon. No thunderstomrs on San Jan this afternoon though. Hoping for a clear day tomorrow. I'm planning to be at the trailhead off Humber Park by 7:30am so I shld be off the peak well before the afternoon thunderclouds roll in (if any). Will report otherwise.

Anyone heading up Whitney on a day hike on the 21st or at SJ tomorrow shoot me a PM.

Thanks all for the great posts.

Luis


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