Posted by SummitSeekr, 08-09-05

White Mountain on Open House Sunday Aug. 7th.
The day started very promising with only stratus and some cirrocumulus clouds in the sky. Lots of sunshine, even better towards the summit where it seemed an inversion was keeping away the winds.Warm enough to shed clothing the higher we got.

At 10:30Am I was at 14,000 feet, 246 feet below the summit. Suddenly the air just got too quiet and small cumulus began to build under the stratus- a sign of some major weather developments. I still don't know what it was, but Something just told me "she's gonna blow" and I opted to turn back as my son in law went for the summit.

At 11:08AM the first thunder clap hit. After that point the storm came in so fast it defied beleif. Like the sign at the gate says, sudden storms possible. Believe them!

White Mountain Peak which had just been sunny was now engulfed with swirling smoke-like clouds and the whole mountain in minutes turned white with 1/2" hail which became 6 to 8" deep on the trail. Violent lightning strikes were hitting the base of the mountain. Hail was pea sized away from the mountain and chased me all the way back to the Lab. This wasn't the Mother of All Storms but certainly was one of her daughters!Son inlaw came out very bruised on the back from the hail strikes.

As I was running for my life, I was shocked at how many hikers had just arrived and were headed right into the storm...even after I was warning everyone. Some fools wearing only shorts and T-shirts! One runner/hiker (not dressed appropriatey) stated he'd never heard of anyone being struck at White Mountain therefore it probably wouldn't ever happen! This made me realize how correct Darwin's theory is!

This trail is not a quick exit like Whitney..if you haven't gone past Trail Crest and it's really a fast trail going down. White is all steep up and down for miles. My legs felt like lead pipes as I ran up the last mile to the Observatory where the trail then descends. Try running in 13,000 foot-plus altitude and see how your lungs work.

I counted only 7 other people and myself heading away from the storm, the bulk of the hikers going towards what I would consider certain death. We were surprised there were no fatalities that day. I just don't understand why hikers take their lives so carelessly. There will be another open house next year and the mountain will still be there. It's not worth dying over.

Posted by CheckSix, 08-09-05
SummitSeekr's report prompted me to recount an experience I had on Half Dome a few years ago. As many of you know, there is a famous placard on the Half Dome Trail - if one should see clouds developing over the horizon, do not pass this marker. In my group, we had left Curry Camp 1 hour earlier than the second group that elected to have breakfast first. We had reached the summit of Half Dome around 1200 and started our descent via the cables by 1230. Our second party was just ascending the cables and we crossed paths at 1300 hrs. As we passed, I suggested they turn around immediately at the top of the cables due to the developing clouds to the west. We waited for them well below the saddle as distant thumps of thunder could be heard. About 90 minutes later, the second group met up with us and recounted the static electricity was so great that all the hair stood out like halos on all parties (quite dramatic on the women hikers) and tingling electrical sensations could be felt between the bottom of their foot and their hiking boots! Now just envision these hikers holding on to the cables if lightning struck. Apparently, this happens quite often on Half Dome.

Posted by tomcat_rc, 08-09-05
Sunday - I won't forget either. Sierragator and I were attemtping a dayhike to 4 gables. when we were finally at the ridgeline we noted the distant thunderclaps and the building ***** clouds. Since we calculated we would be on ridgeline for over 2 hours with no where to down climb - we stopped to make some decisions. We decided to abort and try again another day. As we were climbing back down the weather would seem a little better and we questioned our decision several times. We even saw a couple at the largest of the horton lakes just starting to hike up into the basin. I questioned there sanity but decided we made our choise - somebody else's problem. By time we got close to the mining cabins I was gettting an occasional ringing in my ears. Not long after that the thunder starting rolling more angrily. At the cabins the rain started to fall. We both beat feet and kicked it into high gear. the rain was coming faster and harder with hail stones mixed in. Not even halfway down the fury was upon us. At times there was less than one second between the flash and the report of thunder. It was a very harrowing experience. Noted Mt. Tom had a white cap of hail on it. When we looked across the valley - White Moutain was indeed a white capped mountain. To this day I wonder where that young couple sought shelter or if they plodded on in ignorance - better someone else than me - I was one very scared hiker. Guess we all make our own choices.

Posted by SpankyBob, 08-09-05
Along with flooding, lightning is the leading cause of weather related deaths, killing on average 70-80 people a year in the U.S. Although the number of deaths may seem high, it is low relative to the total population and that is part of the problem. The death rate due to lightning strikes is approximately one in 3.6 million. At worse than million to one odds, most people do not take lightning strikes as a serious threat. For people who spend the bulk of their time indoors in offices, homes, and shops or factories the risk of lightning strike is so low that few people ever worry about it. However, when we look at the data for lightning strikes we see that 85% of strike victims are children and young men ages 10-35 engaged in recreation or work. Twenty percent of strike victims die and 70% of survivors suffer serious long-term after effects which may include a variety of physiological and neural problems. Beyond this an unknown number of injuries do not require hospitalization.

My point is that the odds of being hit by lightning greatly increase when you head outdoors. They increase again when there are active weather systems in the area. They increase even further when you head towards the active weather systems. And they increase again if you do not take precautions to reduce your chance of attracting a lightning strike. Unfortunately I was unable to find any statistics about the impact each of these risk factors may have, but if we estimate that each has a ten fold impact on the likelihood of being struck then the odds of being hit go from one in 3.6 million to one in 3,600. While some may quibble with my estimation process, my simple analysis demonstrates that there is a significant increase in the chance of being struck by lightning when climbing a trail into a storm. I think many inexperienced hikers and climbers overlook the change in their odds of living through a storm when they see clouds on the horizon.

I too have had experiences with electrical storms that have terrified me including a strike within a couple hundred yards of me when there was no rain and still patches of blue sky and as a scout on a backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierra my scout master suffered third degree burns when his fishing pole was struck while fishing.

As I mentioned at the start, lightning and flooding are the two leading causes of weather related deaths. If you wouldn't play in a drainage channel or stream bed during a flood warning, why would you go hiking into an electrical storm?

Posted by Tucker, 08-09-05
When we had that little Tsumani warning after the 7 pointer up off the NorCal Coast, people immediately headed for the shore line to watch - some to surf. This was after Dec 26th Tsunami so the strength of the darned things was fully understood. Yet, supposedly intelligent people went to look.

I think a lot of people live under the delusion that they are somehow immune to the forces of nature. And if you add youth to the equation *rolls eyes* I'm constantly amazed.

Posted by drewski, 08-09-05
I was at Tioga Pass on Sunday afternoon and saw the thunderclouds looming over Owens valley and thought about those of you who were out there. Fortunately you made the right decisions that day and made it out unscathed - blind luck for the others who hiked into it. But all of you make a great point, people simply don't understand the dangers. Case in point: I am at Curry Village on Monday morning and people are picking up the crab apples (apple trees in the parking lot) and feed them, by hand, to a "wild" 6-point buck. I was so irate! I wanted to confront them but decided against it considering how angry I was. But this just is an example - people don't think and simply underestimate the dangers.

Posted by AlanK, 08-09-05
SummitSeekr -- we were bicycling on White Mtn. on Saturday. We turned around less than 1000' from the top as the weather moved in. I could see lightning in the distance, although it was not immediately threatening. I had in mind the 22 miles back to our car (at the Visitor Center, not the locked gate) riding on wheeled lightning rods. It turned out that things never got really bad on Saturday, but your description of Sunday certainly eases any bad feelings about wussing out.

Posted by VersatileFred, 08-09-05
People are born with a human nature to defy authority and to experiment with new things on their own (just ask anybody with two year olds). If people do not see any consequences for what they do, they will continue to do what they are doing thinking that nothing is wrong. In today's society there are fewer absolutes than were observed in the past (just look at the number of people who are willing to believe Internet hoaxes). As a result, a lot of people experience problems in setting good boundaries in their life (just ask any marriage and family therapist). Sooner or later they will get injured in some way (and too often they will not have a clue that they are the people mostly to blame).

That is my 2c.

Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers

Posted by scotthiker2, 08-09-05
I agree Fred with but one exception - Mt Whitney climbers.

They come from all over and many have never hiked above timberline in their life. These people are simply ignorant.

I learned my lessons in Colorado.

Posted by VersatileFred, 08-09-05
It seems as if a lot of people have "romanticized" their trips to Whitney when they talk to their friends. Why else would people out of the blue say that they have been "waiting for so long" to do it whenever I mention a previous hike in a conversation? I come right out and tell them how my first hike up the trail was not fun when I was the only person in our group to stick around and escort another member of the group down in the dark because her legs cramped up. People think that all they have to do is hike the trail one time and push themselves to get to the top without having to think about the downhill part (that has a few places where you actually hike back uphill). As people have indicated on the board many times, the halfway point of the hike is the summit.
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers

Posted by wbtravis5152, 08-10-05
Summit Fever, Catch it.

Unfortunately, you see it all the time here, White and Langley.

We watched some fool running in a tee-shirt and shorts down NAP last year being pelted by pea sized hail. We cut our Cirque Peak bid short at the first clap of thunder as we were setting up our tents at Long Lake. Funny thing, the mountain was there the following day.

Nothing surprises more than there are not more deaths on these mountains.
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Blog
The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page

Posted by Kim in PL, 08-10-05
From what I saw July 20, I thought it was just my group being paranoid about lightning. We left the summit at 10am and 2 hours later were hearing thunderclaps. People were still walking up the trail with no evident concern. We hot-footed it down as fast as we could, stopping to don rain jackets, then remove them, then put them on again.

So we're coming down the trail, people are going up with backpacks asking us, "What should we do?" I recommend going to lower ground, camp, then hike when the storm is past. They can't get their mind around the idea of delay.

After this repeated scenario with various hikers who ask about the weather or ask for advice, then continue hiking up into the storm, I began to feel irritated. Later I wondered if I had exaggerated the danger in my mind. Then there was the boy scout incident, and I thought that would clarify things for people, but no.

Posted by dphelps, 08-10-05
I am planning my first trip to Whitney Summit. My biggest concern is actually the weather, and more specifically, lightning. Is Trail Camp a safe spot to wait out a thunder/lightning storm, or do i need to descend to a lower elevation in the event of a storm?

Posted by Bob K, 08-10-05
Hi dphelps, I was at Trail Camp on July 28 during a thunderstorm that was on and off for about 6 hours. The nearest lightning strike was about 2 seconds away. I felt safe in my tent. But that doesn't answer your question. All I can add is another question for the message board:

For all the years that people have been going to Trail Camp, does anyone know of a case where someone was struck by lightning there?

Posted by lcpman, 08-10-05
I and a few friends were part of the 10 or so people that got zapped a top Mt. San Gorgonio a few weeks ago. We ignored all the warning signs, rain, light hail, humidity, forming clouds. We ran down the mountain only to have the storm over run us with very strong rain and hail, about 4" thick on the ground and lightning and thunder loud enough to make you jump. We could have gotten down fast in a boat. So...our trip this last week from Cottonwood to Whitney included a watchful eye towards the sky. When crested the ridge by Discover Pinnacle, we choose to cut our trip a day short, skip the summit and descend the main trail. The weather was not good and turning worse yet we passed 30 or so people going to the summit and saw many more on the summit. It rained and hailed and dark clouds came and went as we descend to the Portal. I guess we only learn when we personally have near death experiences and I suppose in time the effect will fade. Odd creatures we are.

Posted by quentinc, 08-10-05
I was on top of Langley at the exact time you mention (10:30) and had the identical experience. Clouds billowed in almost from nowhere. Fortunately, it's a quick descent from the peak itself, but the whole area is high and exposed for miles, and I rushed down with literally awesome lightning strikes all around.
On the other hand, no one was trying to head up. Even if people were cavalier about lightning, the hail and downpour would have changed their minds pretty damn quick.

Posted by kazz, 08-10-05
There's an excellent book on this topic: "Deep Survival: Who lives, Who Dies, and Why" by Laurence Gonzales. It combines case studies of fatal accidents, wilderness and otherwise, with a thorough review of research on the brain to build theories of why people sometimes behave irrationally when faced with life-threatening conditions. (It's also very well-written -- a total page-turner.)

I recently picked up a copy and although I haven't finished it yet, it looks like the short answer is that emotion and conditioned behavior have a tendency to overwhelm the rational mind under stress. Furthermore, if one has previously been in a dangerous situation (such as a lightning storm) yet emerged unscathed, that experience carries more "weight" in the brain than something one has never experienced, such as being hit by lightning. The known usually outweighs the unknown.

Beyond that, it may be that those of us who seek our thrills in the mountains, with their inherent risks, are by nature more prone to gambling with our safety in a given situation. Fascinating stuff!

Posted by Sierra Sam, 08-10-05
I too just read Deep Survival. He spends a fair amount of the book discussing "what the H*ll were they thinking?" adventure situations where people do incredibly stupid things resulting in major injuries or death. His thesis is that we all have "bookmarks" or images in our minds that can over-ride the reality of the situation. These often seem to kick in when we are in a goal oriented adventure situation - like trying to reach the summit of a big mountain after months of preparation. Instead of rationally evaluating the risks and making smart decisions, people often see it as they would like it to be and forge ahead - into lightning, into avalanche slopes, etc. etc. This problem is compounded, in my experience, on big mountains where people are often very tired, dehydrated, in caloric deficit and hypoxic. Not a situation where good decisions are made.

One of the characteristics of survivors described in the book is that they listen to that little voice warning them about danger. In addition, he talks about the importance of "be here now." Face the reality of your situation and act on that, not what you hope to find (like a path through the lightning on the way to the summit).

Posted by sherry, 08-11-05
SummitSeekr- I was one of the seven heading AWAY from the fireworks with you. I was at the base of White Mountain making great time, lots of energy. I could have easily made the summit. I felt like I wussed out too, but I realized something was going to happen too and bailed before the thunder and lightning started. I really made the right decision. I didn't want everyone reading of my death in their newspapers.

I was amazed at the number of elderly hikers going it alone.People in their late 60s and 70s. I was tempted to turn back and help them, but when the weather gets like this it's every hiker for themselves unfortunately. Don't expect anyone to save you. WMRS personnel certainly didn't drive any of their vans and pickups out to save us!

The first weekend in August is the very worst time for White Mountain Research Station to hold an open house. All monsoon.

WMRS: If you read this, do you think you could change the date to Labor Day from now on? You had a lousy showing this year as compared to last year. I think the weather kept most people away.

Posted by Passinthru, 08-11-05
Touche', BOB, am in agreement, elderly is a "state of mind".................steve
When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

Posted by sherry, 08-11-05
Bob, at 60 I consider myself "pre-elderly." But, hey, I was up there, also running in the high 13,000 feet and despite a not so great EKG I just got, it didn't kill me.

But I just wanted to add about lightning one thing. I found some old letters written by a great aunt back in the 1930's and 40's. She wrote graphically about an in-law who had been milking a cow in the midwest during a storm.

There was the farmer, the cow and a calf. Lightning hit the cow, then travelled through the farmer and the calf. Being that they were all water-filled mammals, the lightning strike gutted all three from rectum to chin, not just stunned or burned them.
I think people may think they'll only be stunned by the strike and hopefully there will be someone around to perform CPR, bring them back.Or that they are indeed impervious to the forces of Nature.

Posted by scotthiker2, 08-11-05
I think we have to be aware that most people who hike Whitney do not have the "time" built into their schedule to wait another day or two.

They come from the east coast, Europe, S. America, etc. Delays can be very inconvenient.

There are many folks on this board who live within a one to five hour drive from the Whitney trailhead. For them, it is much easier to make the decision to turn around.

The permit system further complicates the matter. Are you allowed to camp beyond your extended date on the permit? I doubt it, but I have never had one of these permits. When I last climbed Whitney, there were no permits.

For those of you who are short on time, you might want to consider booking you permit later in the summer (like September) to reduce the chance of lighting delays.

Many people who die climbing mountains can probably trace their fate back to a lack of time (perceived or not.)

Ed Viestrus always knew when to turn back. Now he has climbed every peak higher than 8000 meters over a span on many years. He must not have had a 9-5 day job.

Posted by Fred98, 08-11-05
Hey, I was there, too. I just posted two photos shot about an hour or so apart.

In this thread:


(and since I just got home to Seattle after two days of driving from Tuolumne, I can't figure out the html for the link at this moment)

I had fortunately made it to the summit and foolishly enjoyed an hour atop. Had I known what was coming I would have fled 59 minutes earlier.

One runner asked if the hut was protected by a lightning rod. I said it probably was but was not open and besides, he, himself was not protected. Two folks asked me (on my way down) whether they should attempt it. I said that while I made it before it turned foul, I did not recommend it. They continued up. I have not heard of any injuries but that is amazing. The lightning was wild. I have never been that much in the midst of it, not even in the Wind Rivers where it happened each afternoon.

And yes, those TWO uphill sections on the way DOWN were not easy fleeing the storm. The grauppel went for the exposed, rear of my calfs. There was about an inch of the stuff frozen to my pack when I got back to my car (research station)

AlanK - I believe that I spoke with you two at the visitor center on Sat. Fascinating - I mentioned your comments on Sat nigth at the gate and also thought of you on Sunday when the fury was NUTS and how you made the right decision since you could have faced what happened on Sunday very easily. Yes, metal bikes between the legs would not have been a very comforting concept and steering in the icy grauppel would have been difficult. I was the guy who said that "I could probably not pedal and breathe at the same time."

Posted by Candace, 08-12-05
I've seen two fierce lightning storms on Whitney and both times turned back about a mile before the summit. I ran back to Trail Crest and ran down the switchbacks as fast as my legs would carry me. Yet others continued on, utterly oblivious to the insane weather, gail force winds and hail. In fact most looked at me like I was nuts turning around, and blithely trudged on in lightning strikes every 30 seconds.

A couple days ago I was at Charlotte lake, 3 miles from the summit of Kearsarge Pass. The day was beautiful but I could see strong clouds gathering in the distance. Within 10 minutes, the entire Kearsarge Pass was enveloped in b-l-a-c-k clouds and it began raining heavily. Again I ran like a maniac down the switchbacks as the lightning bolts started darting around the summit. As always, groups of hikers continued on towards the pass even as the rain poured down. One guy said calmly, "It'll blow over, no biggie."

Maybe I should envy this attitude but it never ceazes to amaze me. I ascribe it to ignorance but maybe I'm being cynical. Maybe these people are simply more daring and adventuresome. Lightning has killed 7 or 8 hikers this year alone and is a real, legitimate worry to anyone in the wilderness, but if you're a thrill seeker, I guess it's part of the jolt.

With Whitney, I feel that so many people travel long distances, many from thousands of miles away, that they feel compelled to summit no matter what.

Several times I've been trapped in lightning storms where the hair stood up on my arm and you could hear the crackle of electricity. That is *scary.* I believe that part of hiking responsibily is to err on the side of caution, especially with lightning and weather issues. This is the worst summer for lightning I've seen in 10 years, so please be careful, everyone. Watch the sky and don't hike on summits in lightning storms. frown

Posted by AlanK, 08-12-05
My $0.02: The average person has never seen/known someone who was hit by lightning. It is a theoretical danger that can be denied into non-existence. If you are not aware of the danger, it doesn't take exceptional bravery or fortitude to walk through a thunderstorm. Just think about how many people are struck over the years because they opt to continue with that round of golf. The key is to be able to deny the danger.

Some of us read or hear vivid descriptions of lightning-related injuries or deaths and recognize that walking through a thunderstorm is a truly bad idea that makes big trouble infinitely more probable. We're the ones who turn around.

The fact is that most people who walk around in thunderstorms survive. Just because the danger is exponentially greater does not mean that you will be hit today. To me, taking that chance is utterly stupid. But people still do it, and most get away with it. We attend the funerals of the others.

Posted by Jeffrey Cook, 08-12-05
I've been pretty lucky weather-wise at Whitney; while caught in our chased down by thunderstorms and hail several times, I've never had to give up a summit because of weather. I have, however, had to turn around short of the summit a number of times on other mountains in Arizona and elsewhere--sometimes at the first faint rumble of Thunder, sometimes just from the look of the clouds. NEVER has the decision to turn around proven to be a mistake. Every time I was glad I'd made the decision, and would have been in deep you-know-what had I continued. Ego simply has to be removed from the decision.

Posted by Candace, 08-12-05
In addition to the book Kazz recommended, "Deep Survival: Who lives, Who Dies, and Why?" another interesting book is "Death in the Grand Canyon." This book has a couple of chapters about people being killed by lightning or other weather-related issues in the canyon.

The book has some stats relating to "MES," which stands for "male ego syndrome." Apparently the vast majority of people who die in the canyon are young male hikers under the age of 25. They are usually fit but make very unwise decisions, fueled by youth, ego or a combination of both. The authors explained that women will almost always turn around in a menacing situation and most men over 35 will do so as well. But young men oftentimes want to trust fate or think they're invincible, so they continue, sometimes with fatal consequences.

In the middle of lightning storms, I've seen plenty of women, young men, kids and old people all continue in the face of danger. I've not noticed "MES," but apparently, many studies confirm that hiker fatalities are often men under 25.

Posted by Candace, 08-12-05
Here's an article from today's L.A. newspaper about lightning:

Bolt from the blue

Recent deaths and injuries from lightning abrupt reminders for Boy Scouts and other outdoor adventurers about dangers of thunderstorms

By Cerise A. Valenzuela

The odds are in your favor.

There's a 1 in 3,000 chance you'll be struck by lightning in a lifetime of 80 years, according to the National Weather Service.

Yet, a strike killed a 15-year-old Boy Scout and injured three more sleeping in a Salt Lake City, Utah, log shelter Aug. 2. One week earlier, lightning struck five Scouts and two troop leaders, killing one adult and a 13-year-old boy camped in the wide, grassy meadow of Sequoia National Park near Mount Whitney.

These incidents came immediately on the heels of the death by electrocution of four adult Boy Scout leaders when they lost control of a giant tent pole and it hit nearby power lines. They were setting up camp at an annual Jamboree that draws to Virginia 40,000 Scouts from around the world.

Suddenly, the vulnerability of every hiker, camper and protective parent sinks in.

Once obscure, the odds of serious injury or death have turned to shocking reality. And it isn't just Boy Scouts in danger. Common summer lightning storms and, yes, common carelessness put all outdoor adventurers trekking mountain and desert trails at risk.

"It made me stop and think. It really struck home," said Rick Stipa of San Pedro, an assistant leader of the city's Scout Troop 854.

"I'm going back mentally to training and asking myself, 'How do you avoid getting struck by lightning?' and 'Where should you be camped?'

"I don't know if I'm worried. I just want to be prepared," he said.

Although most Boy Scout troops halt meetings in summer months, it's high season for leadership training and organized hikes.

Stipa said he will prepare by re-reading his Scout Guidebook and searching the Internet for area weather reports and tips on lightning safety.

His son, Frank, stuffed his pack with the usual rain gear, first-aid kit, flashlight and pocketknife. He's not overly concerned.

"I haven't really been listening to or reading the news about it," said the 15-year-old.

Is he doing anything differently or preparing to set up camp more cautiously?

"Not really," he said.

Unfazed, Stipa said he and the other Scouts likely will review emergency procedures and lightning safety at camp and again next month when troop meetings resume. There isn't much choice in the matter.

"The point is, it could happen to anybody out there camping. It just happened to be Scouts," said Deanna Palmer, who leads San Pedro's Troop 854.

"We think because it's summer and we have beautiful weather here that we don't have to worry, but we don't know about the weather ... in the mountains. There are lessons for everybody."

Thunderstorms turn to flash floods in minutes and the boys' training prepares them for the worst.

Six months ago, camping in Idyllwild, the group was hit by snow, then rain, then an absolute deluge.

Some leaders suggested waiting out the wild weather. Palmer said, "Pack it up," pulled up tent stakes, and led the trek down the mountain hoping to stay ahead of flash floods, or worse, ***** ice on the roads.

"We packed up and left and they closed the road the next morning. We would have been stuck," she said.

"I tell them, 'Trust your instincts.' If you feel it and you don't think it's right, take your instinct and get out of there," she said.

Experts suggest listening to your instincts and the weather.

Watch the sky, listen to the gap between lightning and the crash of thunder, and react quickly.

Scientists suggest that if you can hear thunder, the lightning is probably within 10 miles. If the gap between the flash of lightning and the crash of thunder is 10 to 15 seconds, the lightning is as close as two or three miles, and it's time to seek shelter.

Do not camp on hilltops or in open spaces.

Minimize your risk of getting hit by lightning by moving to a safe place before the lightning becomes significant.

Stay away from tall objects such as trees and poles or objects that conduct electricity such as metal fences.

Seek shelter in a low area, under a thick of small trees. If you can, get to a building or a metal vehicle with a hard top.

If you're caught in a flat, open area, avoid contact with other people, crouch down with your feet together and your hands on your knees.

"The mountains are beautiful, but unforgiving," said the membership chairman and board member of the Los Angeles Area Council for Boy Scouts of America.

"It has reinforced our training that you can avoid certain things and take precautions," he said.

"Do not go under that tree or camp at any high point where lightning can strike," he said in a stern voice.

The Scouts and leaders who were struck by lightning had taken precautions too, he pointed out. "But what are the chances?" he asked.

"You certainly have to be ready to take other measures in the event an emergency occurs," he said.

"I realize that sounds a bit like common sense, but that's truly what it is. This is not the place to be careless or for false bravado or anything when you've got other people's kids at risk.

"I don't think it's going to discourage any kids from going camping," he said. "They just need to practice ... for emergencies."

Posted by mpmartinez153, 08-12-05
For those who think they can out wit Mother Nature, please read "Shattered Air" by Bob Madgic, Burford Books, 2005. The mountain will be there next season.

Posted by SummitSeekr, 08-14-05
This was in my local paper this morning. Explains the mountain/weather mechanics:

..."Whether the storm is over land, ocean or coastal areas, clouds with more ice produced more lightning, researchers studying satellite radar images report in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters.

'The new thing is that when you look at different areas of the planet...the hypothesis about the importance of ice holds up.', Walter A. Peterson of the University of Alabama at Huntsville said Thursday.

He said weather scientists have known there was a relationship between ice and lightning, but were learning new details by studying the National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite images which can look at boththe number of lightning strikes and the volume of ice in a cloud at the same time.
Crucial is what is called precipitation-sized ice, particles of a millimeter of so which sometimes can be seen falling as small hail. "Where you have more of that, you tend to have more lightning", Petersen said.
These small particles crash into smaller ice particles in the swirling winds inside storm clouds, resulting in a separation of electrical charge."

Well, given that in the Sierra Nevada Range and the Whites, altitude will freeze any moisture, just expect lightning to accompany ANY storm. Sometimes the storms come up but don't coalesce into any action at all and we're lucky. Those are the lucky times.

Posted by scotthiker2, 08-14-05

That would certainly agree with my experiences in the Rockies and the Sierra's.

Posted by kazz, 08-14-05
Re Alan K's post: "My $0.02: The average person has never seen/known someone who was hit by lightning."

I actually do know someone who was hit -- probably not a direct strike, but a glancing blow from lightning that had struck granite and traveled through his climbing equipment. Thought you all might enjoy his description of the experience:

<< A friend and I were climbing a route on Middle Cathedral in Yosemite called the 'Central Pillar of Frenzy'. It was a balmy summer afternoon and we didn't expect the violent thunder shower that caught us on the third pitch, about 300 feet off the deck. I found out what caused those interesting blac k streaks on the route; water, lots of water. It came funneling down from the acres of rock above and hit us like God's cold fire hose. We had to get out of there, so we swung over to the right, out of the waterfall, and began to rappel. About half way down the rope got jammed in a crack and we were hanging from some bolts trying to free it when we heard the boom of thunder. I remember looking into my partner's eyes, which looked like two fried eggs, and starting to say something, probably "Sh**!", when I felt a tremendous pinch as my biceps and the muscles in my shoulders clenched. The boom followed an instant later. We just got zapped!

It's amazing how quickly you can communicate a lot of information with just a look. His bugged out eyes meet my bugged out eyes and that said it all.
We cut the rope, salvaged what was left, and set a record for rappelling on half a rope. >>

Posted by summit scott, 07-26-06
My first Sierra summit was Agassiz in 1971. We had just spent a few hours working up some class 3 chute from Dusy Basin, and pulled onto the summit. We had seen the clouds building to the west, but they didn't look too serious. Within a few seconds we realized our folly. The hair on our arms was standing straight and the air itself seemed to be buzzing. We got out the **** outta there. A year later I summitted Whitney in a storm that came up just as quickly...and learned. Since then I've made and led countless trips - always remembering that summits are best enjoyed on cloudless mornings and storms are best enjoyed from a distance. quickly

Posted by coloradolady, 07-26-06
Every year I encounter people on Barr Trail heading up Pikes Peak that should be turning around because of an approaching storm. You can warn them, but their usual response is "I am only in town for a few days and I want to get to the top". I am always hoping I don't see their name in the paper the next day - "so-and-so killed by lightning while hiking on Pikes Peak". Lightning doesn't care who you are or why you are on the mountain. It is a very real danger and one to be very respected if you want to be sure to live another day to hike another mountain. The mountain will be there tomorrow - respect the weather so that you can be there as well.

Posted by summit scott, 07-27-06
Pikes Peak - there's a mountain that can teach you a lot about lightning. I lived at the base of it for a few years and used to run the Barr Trail as a workout. It didn't take long to learn that you didn't want to be anywhere near the switchbacks after 1 PM in July, August, and Sept. The mountain generates its own weather, and in those months it is a nearly daily thunderstorm that hits the summit just after 1 and the town of Colorado Springs around 3 PM. The swichbacks are very similar to the 97 on Whitney except they take you up an exposed rib right to the summit - no place to hide until you get to the top and enter the cog railway station.

Posted by msmith, 07-27-06


Lightning death

Although not "on Whitney" it was in Sequoia Park and only a few miles away.

Posted by mono, 07-27-06
Hehe. Try it a couple hundred times and start a new thread on it.

In Doug's book "Mount Whitney: Mountain Lore..." there's mention of of the very first and I believe the very last who perished from lightning strikes.
"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." - Proverbs 25:2

Posted by summit scott, 07-27-06
was that where hikers had taken refuge in the hut on the summit and were electrocuted with a direct hit?

Posted by mono, 07-27-06
Yup. He was killed in July 1990. His parents were quoted in Doug's book. It also states that the first person to be killed was Byrd Surby in 1904.
"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." - Proverbs 25:2

Posted by Tourbillon, 07-27-06
Amazing. 42 posts on the logic of hiking toward lightning on a 14,000 foot lighting rod - and by golly some folks actually focus on the low odds and ask "why not?"

Perhaps next, a thread on Russian Roulette. I'm fairly confident that someone will point out, quite accurately, that you have an 84% chance of not losing.

And, most smokers never get cancer.

So let's all smoke, play Russian Roulette - and keep on truckin' to the summit as the storm clouds gather.

Posted by scotthiker2, 07-28-06
The vast majority of smokers die of heart attacks or other organ failure (mostly due to smoking). Put another way, they die from these issues before cancer has a chance to set in.

I would never hike into a thunderstorm. It only takes one serious lightning adventure to change the attitudes of most skeptics. The majority of folks who die from lightning probably tend towards the "lightning" ignorant.

Posted by LT71, 07-28-06
Even though this discussion reminds me political TV debates where you don't have to back up your statements with facts, provided you insert words like "probably" "maybe" into every sentence (both sides of the barricades), I think IronmanY2K has a point. If It is a calculated risk, it is you decision, to take it or not. I have checked lightning fatality stats for past 10 years (US only, National Weather Service data). Bottomline - you are not safe wherever you are. According to NWS, calling your friend - a dangerous business if the storm clouds less than 10 miles away. Do you call anybody a lunatic if he/she is on the phone during storm? (phone/lightning related fatalities 1996-2004 =0). I would call it calculated risk - if you need to make a phone call - just do it.

Coming back to lightning and mountains, according to the NWS stats the stupid thing to do would be practicing your golf swing on the summit. You would fall into most of the risk groups accounting for the lions share of the fatalities - elevated, open location, golfing, being tallest object in the surrounding area etc (risk is further increased if you do that while being roped and talking blasphemies on the wired phone frown

Most of available "safe places" - cars, shelters, buildings provide FEELING of being safeER, peace of mind but only small lessening of the odds to be hit compared to hideouts on the mountain.

Please notice - I am not suggesting climbing during the storm is safe thing to do. I am only weighing options what to do if you for one reason or another are caught by thunderstorm. Running to the "safe place" versus waiting it out on the mountain.
I would probably stay if it would be only me. With kids - tough call.

Posted by Candace, 07-28-06
"Neither does running down the mountain because lightning blows in. You are no safer at Trail Camp than at Trail Crest."

Since I'm the person who is inexplicably getting flak for running down the mountain, I can tell you this statement is just plain wrong. You weren't there that day, I was. I've hiked since I was 15 years old all over the world in all types of conditions and am perfectly able to judge what is safe and what is not.

The conditions 1/4 mile from the summit that day were dangerous. Lightning strikes every 20-30 seconds. Wind gusts so strong it was nearly impossible to stand upright. The hair stood up on the arms of the man hiking directly in front of me. Even an imbecile with no experience in lightning knows that when the hair stands up on your arms or neck, you are in trouble.

The prudent thing to do (the *only*) thing to do was to get out of there as quickly as you can. There is no trail guide in existence that doesn't dispense this advice.

As for conditions not being "safer" at Trail Camp than the summit, again, you are in error. As soon as I passed the sign at Trail Crest and got on the front side of the mountain, the rain diminished, the clouds dispersed and conditions were much safer.

So all you macho guys who think it's obviously panty-waist behavior to jog down a trail in the midst of dangerous weather... then you're welcome to the summit.

Posted by IronmanY2k, 07-29-06
>>>>>>I counted only 7 other people and myself heading away from the storm, the bulk of the hikers going towards what I would consider certain death.<<<<<

Certain Death? Well, please tell us how many actually died?

None, Nada, Zip, Zilch, Zero.

Posted by larissahorn, 07-29-06
Let's get some real numbers here...

From: NOAA,

"According to statistics kept by the National Weather Service, the 30 year average for lightning fatalities across the country is 73. Lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time, and because lightning does not cause mass destruction, such as from a tornado event or a hurricane, lightning generally receives much less attention than the more destructive storm-related events. Due to under reporting, it is estimated that, more realistically, about 100 - 120 deaths per year occur because of lightning. Documented lightning injuries in the United States average 300 per year; however undocumented lightning injuries are likely much higher."

That means the nat'l weather service estimates around 500 deaths/injuries each year from lightning strikes in the US. That's a 1:600,000 chance. Now, add in the fact that most of these strikes occur in people who are engaged in outdoor activities. I'd bet no more than a third of the population fits this description at any given moment. So, while you're out hiking in a storm, your chances are down to 1:200,000. Now add in the fact, that you're not only outdoors, but on top of the highest point in the lower 48 in a thunderstorm. I'd say that would change the stats quite a bit more.

It is a game of Russian roulette, though slightly different in that the revolver now has 100,000 chambers. You can spin it and hope for the best, but there's still a bullet in one of them. I admit, I'm more conservative because I'm used to leading groups in the woods. When you're responsible for 10 lives, the odds change a bit more drastically. I only get a 1:20,000 chance we all make it out ok. It's not worth it to me to increase that risk any more than necessary.

Seriously, I hiked through storms last week in Sequoia, and while I didn't die from it, it was NOT enjoyable. There is absolutely no predicting the weather up there. Remember how often your own community weather forcast is wrong. Accurate forcasts for this kind of mountainous area do not exist, and certainly can't be made by your average hiker.

It was almost a perfectly clear morning when we summitted last week. We saw pretty fluffy white clouds start to form about 10 am. My rule was that we had to be off the mountain by noon. The fluffy white clouds had turned dark by that time, but were still dispersed. So, we ran down the trail and made it below treeline by 3. The lightning had started well before that, though.

Posted 07-29-06
Before going to the summit, I was told to be off the mountain by 2 pm. We arrived at the summit at 12. I noticed grey clouds to the west and started our descent within 30 minutes. We were approximately 300 yards below the summit when we were knocked flat on our face. We were told not to use our treking poles due to electricity going from the ground to our hands. We ran until we were below trail crest, and the lightning disipated. I had residual tingling in my fingers for 2 days. My agenda of summiting as a family, while ignoring some clouds to the west was not the smartest thing I've done.

Posted by Tom S, 07-29-06
"Start down by noon, storms roll in soon."

The 2:00 turnaround time is a constraint imposed by the 5 1/2 to 6 hours typically needed to return to the Portal by dark; it is not for bad weather avoidance. I am normally an afternoon and evening hiker, but on Whitney I am almost always on the summit before 11:00. As I pass through Trail Camp on the way up, it's like going through the little towns on 395, I slow down for a few minutes but keep on rolling, because I've got a destination to reach and the clock is ticking. At Trail Crest I realize I've beaten the weather once again and have it in the bag, and I ease up the pace somewhat.

It's a normal strategy in the mountaineering world to summit a big mountain as early in the day as you can, as weather risks accumulate with passing daylight hours. "You can rest when you're dead" (tired on the summit and on the way down...)

Posted by Laurie, 07-30-06
My husband and I hiked Mt. Whitney a few days ago (July 27), on a one day hike, and a storm came in around 12:40 p.m. When we hit Trail Crest around noon, there were a few clouds in the distance, but they didn't seem too close. I didn't realize how far the summit was from Trail Crest, or more accurately, how long it would take us to get to the summit due to being slowed down by the altitude. We got within 100 yards of the summit, and it started thundering loudly. I didn't see any lightning, but that could be because I was concentrating on where to put my feet. Also the storm was not directly overhead, it was over another range of mountains. We talked about turning around, but we were so close! And the people coming down were encouraging us - "almost there" "you can do it!" so I didn't want to overreact. I can blame it on the altitude, and ignorance, but it was also stupidity to let my desire to make it to the top overwhelm good sense. About one minute after it started thundering, we were suddenly both knocked to the ground, pushed us down hard from behind. We were both dazed for a few seconds. I felt tingly, and my teeth hurt! I never heard the thunder or saw the lightning strike, and there was no warning from static electricity in the air or anything else. After a few seconds I realized what happened, got up and ran back to my husband. I said "We've got to get out of here!" and he said "I just got hit by lightning!" I said "I KNOW, so DID I!" After we determined we were both okay, we turned and RAN down the trail. I didn't see anyone coming up behind us, but there were a few people on the summit at the time we were hit. I assume the lightning hit the summit building or somewhere nearby and traveled through the ground to us. On the way down, someone passed us who had been at the summit and said everyone there had been shocked but were okay. When we were near Trail Crest, but still on the back side of the mountain, another lightning strike hit the rock about 10 feet above my head. I didn't see that one either, because I hit the ground when it hit. That time I did have some warning, as I felt static electricity and somehow KNEW it was about to hit. But my husband was about 20 yards behind me and he saw it hit (he wasn't affected by that one at all). That strike wasn't as bad for me from a physical perspective (not as badly shocked) but it was even more terrifying than the first one, since by then the lightning was in full force and I just knew I was going to die. It still wasn't raining much, and we never did get any hail or strong rain. We ran back down to Trail Crest, and felt a bit safer, but not much. Then we ran/walked down the switchbacks, and by the time we got to Trail Camp I felt a lot safer. While I knew lightning could strike anywhere, I also believe it is a LOT safer to get down as quickly as possible, while being careful not to fall.

I spent a lot of time praying on my way down the mountain, and I thank God that we made it down safely, and I believe everyone else up there that day did also.

I couldn't find a T-Shirt that says "I got struck by lightning at the top of Mount Whitney", so I took my mom's advice, considered one lightning strike equal to 100 yards, and bought the shirt that says I climbed Mt Whitney. And on the back it says "Nothing in this world would make me climb Mt Whitney again!"

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