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You're on a mountain top, then rain then...
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Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
You're on a mountain top, then rain then... on 09/12/2006 18:11:55 MDT Print View

I heard an interesting story with suboptimal ending and wondering what the concensus was for the best outcome in future similar event. I know they were on the top when it was lightning / precip. We don't get much lightning or precip in AZ, so wondering for all you who hike more often in these environmentals IF you have a plan to deal with this, and what that plan would be.

Anyway, ~ 8 hikers were several days on the trail and have to go up and over a mountain top (~12Kfeet)on a clear day, have lunch, nice view. They get to the top, start lunch and weather comes in very quickly over a high ridge, quickly becomes heavy rain with some sleet or hail. The approach up for hiking was relatively steep, and becomes very slippery with the rain and sleet / hail. Then comes the lightning, reported as intense.

For those of you that hike in conditions that could turn into something like this, what/when would be your typical decision points?

(I would assume it would be to bail at the first sign of inclement weather, but maybe that's too simple.)

Edited by eaglemb on 09/12/2006 18:12:49 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: You're on a mountain top, then rain then... on 09/12/2006 21:00:01 MDT Print View

What was the suboptimal ending? It sounds like they stopped short of the ridge to have lunch when the weather came in. Well, you simply can't stop that from happening so you find shelter ASAP, make yourself NOT the tallest object and you of course do not continue going up until the storm passes. You won't be able to stay out of that situation if you hike enough at those elevations. One thing you could do is to plan on getting over ridges before noon if at all possible.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: You're on a mountain top, then rain then... on 09/12/2006 21:20:32 MDT Print View

In general, all over the American West (and for that matter in Canada) mountain thunderstorms tend to build up in the afternoon. A lot of it comes down to scheduling, and trying to be off of high peaks and ridges by noon or so is a good plan.

That works better in theory than in practice. All of my real serious hair-raising (sometimes literally) thunderstorm experiences have happened in the afternoon. The only thing more amazing than how quickly a thunderstorm can go from being a wild set of clouds on the horizon to a serious "Dr. Frankenstein, your lab is calling" storm is how quickly I can run, with a full pack, down wet talus slopes.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: You're on a mountain top, then rain then... on 09/13/2006 20:41:21 MDT Print View

The 'suboptimal ending' was that the group ended up very cold and wet including most of their gear, plus a fair number of scrapes from slipping and sliding down the top of the hill, plus several were scared $&!+less.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: You're on a mountain top, then rain then... on 09/13/2006 22:51:30 MDT Print View

Here in Japan the general wisdom is that most of the big rain storms and thunderstorms in the alpine mountains tend to happen in the afternoon, as has been mentioned here. That is why the majority of mountains walkers here wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. to get a good start to the day and hopefully avoid any bad weather. SInce the height of hiking season coincides with the start of the typhoon season storms are quite common and one of the reasons why so many walkers carry bomber tents.

Just three weeks ago I was on a six-day walk in the Kurobe region of the North Japan Alps, when, on the third day, after an early morning until early afternoon of overcast, quiet sky, I finally descended into the valley where I was to camp. The entire valley was hidden in gathering black clouds and booming with thunder. Just that I was heading into that had my knees shaking on the steep descent. It was five in the evening and beginning to get dark, so I hurried as best I could down the very steep, badly eroded, boulder-strewn path, hoping that the lighting wouldn't get me on the exposed ledges. I passed a party of five heading up (two with only daypacks on their backs, the other three without even rain gear), right up into the clouds (I had met them earlier that morning heading out for a day walk. The walk to their campsite was seven hours away) I arrived at camp just as a deluge hit accompanied with lightining that lasted until well into the night. The rain was so strong I couldn't see the nearest tent and the sandy ground ran with water. I got the tent up as fast as I could and was mightily relieved to finally hunker down and get out of the rain. The thunder and lightning kept me up all night though.

Edited by butuki on 09/13/2006 22:52:53 MDT.

Paul Tree
(Paul_Tree) - F

Locale: Wowwww
Lightning on 10/02/2006 11:25:01 MDT Print View

Usually of short duration, afternoon thunderstorms are common in summer in the Sierras and Rockies. Lightning can strike beyond the horizon. Keep your ears peeled.

Check weather report and sky often. Don’t be a high point. Move calmly off peaks and ridges. If rapelling, back up your brake hand with a prussik. Avoid metal and stream flows. Don’t huddle under a tall tree or rocks. In intense storms with nearly continuous lightning, squat (or sit on on your pack?) with feet and knees together. Allow raingear to be soaked so electricity can flow over rather than through you. Disperse individuals 50'+ and learn CPR to be able to provide aid in case of a a hit. Hypothermia is an attendant hazard. Raingear should always be one of the most accessible items in your pack.

And the number one rule of going anywhere: Don't Freak Out.

Edited by Paul_Tree on 10/02/2006 11:28:02 MDT.

abdon gonzalez
( - F

Locale: Misawa, Japan
Re: You're on a mountain top, then rain then... on 10/02/2006 21:59:33 MDT Print View

Sometimes there is nothing you can do to foresee how the weather will turn. Still, the fact that you know the weather can try to kill you is all the information you need to get prepared. On that venue, decision points begin way before you get yourself into a dicey situation. If you are improvising as opposed to executing plan B (or C, or D), it should be a clear warning signal that you were not prepared.

Here in northern Japan the Hakoda Mountains get the end tail of Siberian snow storms, which is great for accumulation but not so great when you get stuck on them. One morning we started walking from the top of the gondola when the wind began to pick up. In 15 minutes it went from being able to see blue sky, to hurricane-force winds and zero visibility beyond 10 feet. It took me about 45 minutes to crawl 500 meters on my hands and knees, dragging a snow board that was pulling me in the opposite direction. I had snow shoes, I knew the mountain and best/worst exit routes, I had layers, a poncho, tons of empty calories, and plenty of options. It wasn’t a walk in the park but at no time I felt like I was about to die.

Miguel, where in Japan are you? I’m in Misawa, Aomori Ken.