Close calls with lightning yield fear, Don King ‘do
It was only a low rumble from the dark skies, but that was enough to scare me. There would be no snacks on Mt. Guyot’s summit today.I was at the bottom before my friends had made it to the top. (I’m a lightning magnet, so it was an easy decision to ditch them rather than allow myself to get sizzled.)Unfortunately, it wasn’t any safer a thousand feet lower. Sue skied down to me and started screaming, “Ellen! Your hair! It’s standing straight up. We gotta get out of here now!!!” And she took off.Great, just great. This was the second time that this has happened. Just when I need a friend to coach me through my greatest fear, she runs away. I’m sure I look hideous, and I certainly don’t have the face for that hairstyle, but does she have to abandon me?
My husband Jeffrey did the same thing to me in Canyonlands National Park. I was waiting for him on an overlook of the exotic Maze, the dark clouds intensifying all those shades of red, and I was filled with love toward all. When he caught up to me and saw my electric afro, he didn’t even hesitate; he simply turned his back on me, yelled something incomprehensible and sprinted away.Last week a friend was hiking Imperial Bowl at Breckenridge and had her skis in a sling across her back. As another spring squall immersed Peak 8, she suddenly felt a searing pain on her spine, right where her bindings rested. She threw her skis off, jumping around in agony. For the next few days she tingled, but not in a good way.Another time we were about to ski from Peak 10’s summit, but a storm had eliminated all visibility, so we had to wait for a lapse in the weather. We kept hearing this strange buzzing noise. It was our ski poles singing a little zap ditty to us.One of my scariest lightning moments, though, was as a mountain bike guide out of Moab at the halfway point of the infamous White Rim Trail, camping at the worst place possible if a storm were to hit. Some of you are familiar with Murphy’s Hogback, the campground right on the narrow summit of a scenic butte. It’s kind of like camping on top of a skyscraper.At 2 a.m. the lightning storm hit. Red flashes illuminated the boulders and sagebrush, and when you see red, you’re in trouble. The cracking noise came at the same time it slammed down on top of us, shaking the ground.
I really thought this was it for me. Kim, the lead guide, yelled at everyone to get out of their tents and lie flat on the mud, even though none of us wanted to leave our shelter for the pounding rain. Instead we ripped out our tent poles, and used the body of the tent like a blanket. The storm lasted for quite a while, and at the time it seemed to be on a mission to kill one of us. One of my male clients, sharing the soaked, collapsed tent, clutched my arm, and I could feel him shaking. I’m still to this day amazed that none of us got hit that night. My last story is also set near Moab, but in the La Sals, the mountain range above town. We were with Brian Litz who was writing a story for Ski Magazine on biking, skiing and boating all in one day. For three days, we had waited for the weather to clear, but we couldn’t wait any longer. It looked ominous, but our egos got the best of us.Brian had to get some pictures of us skiing, so he stood below the narrow ridge, camera ready, while Jeffrey and I stood on top, totally exposed. Suddenly the first bolt hit, just a hundred feet away. Brian, less exposed and less concerned, actually yelled up to us to just wait a bit longer for some better light. Another flash behind us.
Screw being in Ski Magazine, we jumped off the ridge. Jeffrey and Brian did manage to boat and bike that day, but our ski photos were a bit dismal.I’m sure I’ll have more of these stories, because climbing peaks in the spring is my absolute favorite. But do me a favor, friends, if you do come across me with my Don King ‘do, just tell me to put on a hat. And stay with me, I’ve heard a little electrical buzz is good for your sex life.Longtime Breckenridge resident Ellen Hollinshead writes a biweekly column on the outdoors. Since she wrote these close-call tales about lightning, she has been knocking on wood nonstop for four days.
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