Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Struck by lightning
Display Avatars Sort By:
Josh Garst
Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 09:09:41 MDT Print View

It's surprisingly hard to find any info & stories about other backpackers that have been struck by lightning while in the backcountry, so I thought I'd start a thread.

I was struck two days ago about 2-1/2miles off of Gregory Bald in the Smokies. When I was on the bald I could see a pretty big storm system off in the distance. I really didn't think much of it, but I wanted to drop elevation and get under the canopy ASAP. When I was about a mile off of the bald It began to rain slightly, nothing that really had me worried. I had been out for a few days, so I counted the rain as a shower.

A few minutes after the rain started I started seeing thunder and hearing lighting. I estimated that it was about 3 miles away. I was counting the seconds between thunder and lighting as a saw/heard them to try to keep up where it was in relation to me.. Within fifteen minutes the storm system was pretty much right on top of me. I had dropped at least 1000ft by then, but still I was real nervous.

The trail was pretty flooded from the downpour & the thunder was so loud that I flinched when I heard it. I was thinking of hopping off the trail to get out of the trail river that was forming & lose elevation as fast as possible.

Not a minute after I had that thought I was on my knees screaming loudly and crawling off the trail through some bushes. I had double vision and I could see a pinkish orangish outline from the lightning strike at the center of my vision. It took me about 40 seconds to come to my senses. I'm a pretty gungho person & honestly I cant remember the last time that I was really afraid, but at that point in time I was scared beyond belief.

My only thought was I didn't want to get struck again. The storm system was still on top of me. Both of my eardrums where busted from the strike... The noise from the thunder was so loud that I couldn't think. I found the lowest tree that I could dropped my pack and hugged onto it for about 15 minutes.

My short term memory was a bit shaken during this time, but now I remember seeing the lightning bolt come down in front me. I'm not sure if it came up from the ground through my left foot and out my right hand/poles or hit my right hand/poles first & wen't out my left foot, but those where the main points of contact.

When I felt a little safer I walked up to my pack and pulled out the map. I was only about three miles from my campsite, but I wanted to leave the park. I was a little over six miles from the nearest road, so I put on my pack and hesitantly picked up my poles again and started the trek out. I came out at Cades Cove and hitched a ride to my car.

All in all I was very lucky to get out of the strike pretty much unscathed. I still hear a light "whitenoise" ringing in my ears & my hearing is sensitive. My eardrums should be back to normal after 2-3 weeks.

Main moral of the story for me is to trust my first instincts when I feel in danger. If i had dropped my poles/pack and clinched around the lowest tree I could find. I would of at least decreased my risk of being struck some.

I just thought I'd post this as a reminder of what can happen when you're in the backcountry & hear any stories of anyone else that has been struck.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 09:17:22 MDT Print View

From the story it sounds like it struck near you in front, but not a direct hit.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 10:17:21 MDT Print View

glad you survived.

I don't understand the clutching a tree thing.
I've always heard that crouching into a ball with feet together to minimize ground contact was the thing to do.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 10:47:46 MDT Print View

Any burns, charred clothing, welded zippers, or singed hair?

steven franchuk
Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 11:37:46 MDT Print View

Your post brought to mind this event in 2005. 2 people in a cout troup were killed on John muir trail in 2005.

I hope your recovery goes smoothly.

Edited by Surf on 06/30/2013 11:38:36 MDT.

Josh Garst
Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 13:25:12 MDT Print View

Yeah, I'm not 100% sure if I was directly hit(It sure as hell felt like it though). In fact now that I'm thinking about it more it doesn't seem likely...I got off really light. I have a minor burn on my back a little bigger than a half dollar & I don't believe anything was singed or burned. My memory isn't the best when the actual strike happened. About two thirds of my calf was in pain and a bit numb with most of the pain being in my foot where my big toe is. My right hand was also numb with some pain.

Feet together with just the balls of your feet touching the ground is defiantly the way to go. The fear that the strike put in me made me want to hold onto something.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 13:47:14 MDT Print View

When a leader strikes the charge radiates out, losing strength as it goes. Think ripples on a pond. You probably didn't take a direct hit, (you're still alive) but air blast alone is enough to do significant damage. Add in some high voltage and a bunch of current and things get tough.

Regardless of the details, your internal electrical system took a hit. Take care.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Re: Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 17:12:36 MDT Print View

Almost several years ago. The stays in my pack started vibrating when a large dark cloud came down towards me while I was exposed in the meadow going to Jack's Creek in the Pecos wilderness. I went into some nearby trees and set down my pack as a small bolt of lightning hit the spot in the trail I momentarily stood at.

Just got another warning from Zeus 2 days ago north of Taos (Columbine Hondo WSA). Hail with lightning hit and I crouched into some trees. Saw lightning flash and counted one-thous .. boom.

A recent article from Backpacker claimed it doesn't matter if you have metal but I remember my buzzing frame stays. Wish I brought my carbon poles the other day. That way I could die smug and self-assured.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 18:22:14 MDT Print View

I'm curious if you smelled the ozone and tingling sensation that's typically associated right before a strike occurs?

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Struck by lightning on 06/30/2013 18:40:03 MDT Print View

carbon fiber will conduct electricity, perhaps diamond poles are the way to go.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
near a lightning strike on 07/01/2013 13:51:10 MDT Print View

I was with a group of people on top of the Matterhorn out of the town of Bridgeport, CA, sitting about 20' from the top of the peak. It was cloudy but there was no lightning. Suddenly there was a huge blinding flash, and a huger sound, and then I was deaf. I could not hear a thing. I quickly threw my stuff into my pack, as everyone was doing, and we scurried off the peak in strange silence. We were all facing away from the peak, but it had to be 20' from where anyone was sitting. Just before the strike my hair stood on end and my skin tingled. In those days (1969) I was probably wearing wool. Our hearing slowly returned over the next hour.

Alasdair Fowler
(MessiahKhan) - F

Locale: Newcastle, UK
Struck by lightning on 07/01/2013 14:38:22 MDT Print View

I was struck by a secondary strike in 2010. Me and my wife were on the top of Sulphur Mountain, near Banff, Canada. All day it had been raining heavily with some thunder further away. As we started to descend, a lightening strike hit the metal pole on the summit of the mountain and arced down to trees on the other side of us, further down the valley. As it arced over us, a side shoot shot down through me. I saw a giant white flash and all my hair stood on end. I was definitely hit, but fortunately it wasn't the main strike. Straight away we ran back to the cafe at the top of the cable car for shelter and sat out the weather.

Another time in Slovakia about 15 years ago, we had been crossing a very sharp rocky ridge. As we descended a storm blew in. When we turned round we saw lightening strike the ridge we had been on 30 minutes earlier, bouncing from rock to rock the whole way along the ridge. If we had still been up there we would have been in serious trouble, with a long hard climb back down!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Struck by lightning on 07/01/2013 14:51:38 MDT Print View

I took a lightning engineering class one time many moons ago. There are all sorts of tendencies for lightning behavior and what paths it will follow. However, lightning sets its own rules, and it can seem to jump across gaps that just don't make any sense. You would expect that if it hits the top of a metal pole, that it would follow the metal as a conduction path all the way down into the ground. But it can suddenly side-flash out and hit something else halfway down. Go figure.

Figure a lightning strike carries 60 thousand amperes of current. Get a direct hit, and you will be a crispy critter.


Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
not direct... on 07/02/2013 20:11:48 MDT Print View

Yeah. Most of the incidence with lightning I've read about have ben the secondary effect of being NEAR the impact when the lightning fans out from the source.

The damage can still be significant and life threatening.

I've been close a few times but just rapidly descended to avoid getting nailed.

I was in that horrible hail storm in 2011 that killed a woman on half dome.

The hail and lightning were insane. There was about 1' of hail on the ground...

The tree about a mile from my campsight was hit by lightning and it was burning all night giving the effect of a second sunset.

One of the craziest days of my life.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Struck by lightning on 07/02/2013 23:54:31 MDT Print View

"Figure a lightning strike carries 60 thousand amperes of current. Get a direct hit, and you will be a crispy critter."

And it takes a tiny fraction of that to stop your heart if it hits you the right way. With the obsessive crowd here it is time for an article measuring the flesh to ground resistance of different shoes (and socks) - both wet and dry. ;-)

Edited by millonas on 07/02/2013 23:56:17 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Struck by lightning on 07/03/2013 00:32:31 MDT Print View

Back around July 1991, there was a lightning incident at the stone hut on the very summit of Mount Whitney (the highest place in the U.S. lower 48 states). Tragically, one person was killed outright and others were injured. Still others in the room were not seriously injured, and they had to wait out one night before they were evacuated by helicopter. In the process of that, they noticed that their feet hurt, so some started removing their boots and socks. They discovered that the synthetic socks were melted onto the skin of their feet. There was such a tremendous electrical surge this way, even beside the fatality and injuries.

Think about that on the next time that you are pulling on synthetic socks for your next trip.

Incidentally, the park service realized the error of its ways, and there was a work team sent up to the summit very quickly to do a proper lightning grounding system for the hut. I hiked up to the summit about one week later to discover all of the new grounding rods, cables, and straps. It was a textbook installation. Just too bad that it couldn't have been there prior to the incident. Hey, this is your federal tax dollars at work!