Talk to me about lightening storms in the mountains

GoGriz1234

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After having been caught in a few lightening storms in the high mountains, and on remote rivers, I am curious what others do in that situation. If the storm is rolling right over you guys, are you sheltering in your tents, taking a chance and hiding below the cover of a grove of trees, or are you ditching all of your metallic gear and going to the middle of a clearing and making yourself as small as possible and hoping for the best? I tend you ditch most of my gear and try to wait out the storm away from tall trees, but not necessarily away from all trees.

No matter what your strategy is, few things are as exhilarating as being caught in a high mountain lightening storm - gets the heart pumping!
 

Schaaf

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I’ve never been one that gives it a lot of thought but a few years ago I was up on a ridge by myself in Eastern Montana when a thunderstorm came through. After a few minutes it was right on top of me and I looked around and noticed the only other things on the ridge was a few Juniper bushes lined up on the north edge.

For a guy that threw shot and discus in Track, I was covering some ground to lose elevation in a hurry.
 

GoGriz1234

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I hadn’t given it much thought either until recently when I was rowing my family down the river in a raft and a storm popped over the mountain and the lightening started hitting all around us. I looked at the raft frame, the oars, the fishing rod and then my wife and two kids and I thought this could be bad… nothing happened of course, but it makes a guys think when he suddenly is that powerless.
 

flatcoat

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Not only do the metal Phelps bugle tubes sound good, they come alive in the thick of electrical storms...Anyone else get caught in the remnants of that tropical storm that shot north and hit ID/UT/WY Septemebr 3rd last year?

I've had plenty of fly rods vibrate on me, when I worked for Sage a customer sent us his rod that had been struck by lightning. All of the resin had been evaporated out of it so it was nothing but loose strings of fiberglass with the wraps and guides and cork/seat intact. If you ever tour the factory it's worth checking out.

Was picking huckleberries with the dog some years back and a tree just a few hundred feet above us got whacked by lightning and and split. Little close for comfort.
 
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I worked on a survey crew carrying a 15' metal rod, or a bundle of pin flags and often we got caught in lighting storms. That rod will buzzz, or your hair will stand straight up before a strike. So I did some research. If caught in the mountains in a lightning storm, do not get into a drainage like a stream bed, with or without water in it. Once, I watched a strike come down right next to me while I was descending on the adjacent trail, and the lightning followed the drainage down. Friend of mine was killed by lightning while on a trail in a drainage. Stay away from barb wire fences: they also conduct the current and have killed many a string of cows. Also, get off the top of the mountain of course. The safest place to be is in the middle of the mountain, and not under the tallest trees. Hunker down, be small, and wait for it to pass.
 

RobG

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If you have several people in your party I’ve heard you should spread out so that if one person gets hit the others can help.

I guess lightning will take the most conductive path to ground which might not be through the highest point. Maybe that is why it traveled down the creek bed.
 

D_Walt

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I got caught in a “thundersnow” storm on a ridge at 11,000 feet in Colorado about 10 years ago during first rifle season. It was pretty cool at first, snowing hard with thunder, then I could feel the static electricity building before every boom, the flash and booms were all at the same time and one hit a tree about 40 yards from me which was about as far as I could see in the snow, scared me a bit. I dropped about 500 feet into some aspens and waited it out. Only lasted 5 or 10 minutes but I was puckered up a bit.
 

Nameless Range

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I recently took a wilderness first aid course and this topic was discussed.

There’s a lot of data to reference to know what puts you at greater risk than others things. This article was written by the outfit from which I took the training


I was caught in a lightning storm on Gray Wolf Peak in the Missions almost 20 years ago. It was terrifying. Lightning struck the ground probably 200 yards from us. We were in the alpine and there was no where to go nearby, and getting out of the tent would’ve meant getting soaked and exposed. Just hunkered down and like a bad trip, just wished it was over.
 

trb

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I came very close to getting struck by lightning while climbing Middle Teton 15 years ago, and have been caught in several bad high altitude storms here in Colorado, but the worst lightning storms I have been in were in Northern Manitoba canoeing out to Hudson Bay.

Storms would roll in so fast from blue sky that you'd barely have any time to get off the river and set up a tent before they hit. The clouds sat incredibly low so that the thunder feels like it is right on top of you, lightning flashes every 2-5 seconds, wind completely flattening the tent making it feel more like a bivy, sheets of rain that would reduce my tent to a indoor pool in a matter of minutes...truly humbling experiences. It always occurred to me that the tent poles might be particularly attractive, especially approaching the Arctic Circle and trees petered out to tundra. I sometimes sat on my plastic sleeping pad, wishfully thinking that it might insulate me from a strike that felt inevitable. Then about an hour or two later it would be completely blue skies again. The first thing my dad did when we got back from the first trip was buy a Hilleberg. In retrospect I guess sheltering outside your tent would probably be smarter, but it sure is hard to do that in a really bad storm unless you have altitude you can descend.


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wllm

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I've been caught in a number of storms... scariest was in CO, late October lightning in a snow storm.

Try to get off a ridge, not be the tallest point, crouch on the balls of your feet... etc. I'd probably only wait it out in a tent if my tent was in a safe spot.
 

GoGriz1234

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I recently took a wilderness first aid course and this topic was discussed.
There’s a lot of data to reference to know what puts you at greater risk than others things. This article was written by the outfit from which I took the training

I was caught in a lightning storm on Gray Wolf Peak in the Missions almost 20 years ago. It was terrifying. Lightning struck the ground probably 200 yards from us. We were in the alpine and there was no where to go nearby, and getting out of the tent would’ve meant getting soaked and exposed. Just hunkered down and like a bad trip, just wished it was over.
Thanks for posting this. After reading the article, it caught my eye that lightening is not attracted to metal, but only that metal conducts the electricity well if it is hit. I don’t know why I had it in my head that lightening is attracted to metal (I swear it was from grade school or Boy Scouts), but it looks like the info in the article is correct (see this article for confirmation https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-myths ). Maybe in a tent away from big trees is the ticket in these situations.
 

Gellar

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I came very close to getting struck by lightning while climbing Middle Teton 15 years ago, and have been caught in several bad high altitude storms here in Colorado, but the worst lightning storms I have been in were in Northern Manitoba canoeing out to Hudson Bay.

Storms would roll in so fast from blue sky that you'd barely have any time to get off the river and set up a tent before they hit. The clouds sat incredibly low so that the thunder feels like it is right on top of you, lightning flashes every 2-5 seconds, wind completely flattening the tent making it feel more like a bivy, sheets of rain that would reduce my tent to a indoor pool in a matter of minutes...truly humbling experiences. It always occurred to me that the tent poles might be particularly attractive, especially approaching the Arctic Circle and trees petered out to tundra. I sometimes sat on my plastic sleeping pad, wishfully thinking that it might insulate me from a strike that felt inevitable. Then about an hour or two later it would be completely blue skies again. The first thing my dad did when we got back from the first trip was buy a Hilleberg. In retrospect I guess sheltering outside your tent would probably be smarter, but it sure is hard to do that in a really bad storm unless you have altitude you can descend.


View attachment 228961
The lightning sounds frightening.

I have a soft spot for canoeing in the far north. I’d love to hear more about your adventure to Hudson Bay in another thread.
 

geewhiz

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At one point I was camped on top of a wide open ridge and i was sure I was going to get zapped. I extended my aluminum tripod as high as it would go and put it a little ways away from my tent and hoped for the best. I survived, which is good news. (y)
 

longbow51

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I've had plenty of fly rods vibrate on me, when I worked for Sage a customer sent us his rod that had been struck by lightning. All of the resin had been evaporated out of it so it was nothing but loose strings of fiberglass with the wraps and guides and cork/seat intact. If you ever tour the factory it's worth checking out.
Yeah, we've had that buzzing fly rod as a storm approached. Fish were going crazy too, big fish every other cast. Left the rods in the raft and hunkered under some willows.
 

neffa3

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I've been hunkered down scared poopless many a times, but the worse were always down lower surrounded by dead trees in an old burn. The lightening was certainly terrifying, but the prospect of a tree falling on you in one of those micro bursts that comes with a storm was WAY higher. One storm I remember hearing 6 trees fall in my immediate vicinity... One of those nights we wish you'd lived a bit cleaner life.
 

COEngineer

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The first time I went sheep hunting in CO, I spent 11 or 12 days of the season above treeline for most of each day. Every day a storm would blow through and every day I would think, "It's not that bad, I don't want to give up a thousand feet of elevation for a storm that will probably last 10 mins." Every day, I would sit there until, "BAM," and I would start running down the mountain and try to find a low spot and a short bushy tree to hide under.

Lightning is one of the few things my logical brain (which tells me the chances of getting hit are tiny) cannot overcome my lizard brain (which is screaming "RUN AND HIDE!").

The worst time I had, though, was an unfamiliar mountain in WY on a backpacking trip with my wife. We got caught in the middle of a high flat area and there was no way we were going to get out of the danger zone. I stuck our aluminum hiking poles upright in some rocks and we got 100 yds apart and crouched on the balls of our feet for about 15 mins. Not fun.
 
Yeti

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