Jeff Linroth has gone hiking in Colorado for 35 years. In this time he’s seen a few people and a few things. Nothing so “interesting” as getting an up-close and personal view of lightning at an altitude of 14,000 feet. How did this happen? It came about as a result of an error that has been happening for as long as humans have been hiking above treeline – summiting too late.
Hiking in the Colorado Rockies is a source of enjoyment for many. When Jeff Linroth goes hiking, high-altitude hikes that include reaching the summit of named mountains has always been the biggest draw. While all trips into mountainous terrain require planning and taking precautions, the higher one goes, the more things there are to consider. On the day he met lightning in its natural habitat (up high with no available cover or shelter), Jeff had taken many precautions. He had planned alternate routes of descent, including one that would enable very rapid loss of altitude. He made note of these routes on the ascent. He reviewed the weather forecast the night before. Jeff failed, however, to heed a couple of the most important and well-known rules of safe high-altitude hiking.
- Get on the trail early enough to reach the summit and depart by noon.
- Turn around and descend promptly if you see potentially threatening weather materializing.
How did this happen to a seasoned hiker who for decades has known the right things to do? Simply put, Jeff did not maintain all of the discipline required to safely enjoy a high-altitude hike.
The night before Jeff Linroth goes hiking he arrives at his lodging in time to go to sleep early. He didn’t do that this time. This was the beginning of the cascade of events that eventually led to him alternating between running from the summit and lying flat next to the few rocks he could find to use as shelter from a growing and potentially deadly storm. Opting to sleep a little later Jeff hit the trail rested, but well into the middle of the morning. He made good time, walking at a brisk pace and enjoyed the sunny and clear day. When he reached the exposed ridgeline leading to the 14,000-foot summit he could see clouds forming a few miles away. “I’m almost there”, he thought as he picked his way walking across the loose rock. With his back to the clouds he heard the first rumble – the telltale sign that a thunderstorm is growing. Shooting a quick glance over his shoulder Jeff was almost trotting toward the summit. Minutes later he arrived at the summit marker.
Normally reaching the summit produces a couple of very satisfying rewards for Jeff. Satisfying his growling stomach by eating the lunch he has hauled up in his backpack is usually the first order of business. This is followed by settling into a comfortable “chair” provided by a nearby rock formation to enjoy the view for a few minutes and perhaps take a few pictures or even shoot a video clip. On this day, however, reaching the summit was completely different.
Jeff turned around and felt a strong gust of wind on his cheek and saw that, in a matter of 10 minutes, a small storm had formed behind him. In an instant he realized that he had made at least one serious mistake. He had failed to immediately descend at the first sign of a storm forming. His heart beat increased as he quickly retraced his steps back along the ridge knowing he needed to get down the mountain – and fast! He was now moving toward the gathering storm. As the wind picked up he began to run…and to think of how he might avoid a direct confrontation with this storm. It was too late.
Within another minute Jeff could feel the hair on his head standing up and ice pellets hitting him. He ran to a small pile of rocks and laid flat. To his great relief, his hair also returned to its normal position. He got up and resumed running until again he felt the terrifying sensation of his hair standing up due to the heavily charged air around him. He was in the midst of a storm. He remembered the “escape route” he had mapped out and prayed that he could reach it before disaster struck him in the form of a lightning bolt. He reached the rock slide and turned left and slid down the chute of loose rock as fast as he dared…occasionally digging in with his feet to control his speed. Within minutes he was well below the ridgeline and out of the storm.
Needless to say, surviving this error in judgment has made Jeff redouble his efforts to maintain safety discipline when hiking and to encourage others to do the same.
- Jeff Linroth
11 replies on “Jeff Linroth Has Gone Hiking”
Lightning is not to be messed with.
Hair standing on end means YOU ARE CHARGED. A lightning strike is immanent. Getting to shelter is imperative, you may only have a few seconds
What a story!
We can learn from each others’ experiences.
Despite Dr. Frankenstein’s profession that lightning will ‘re-animate’, I’m pretty sure that lighting will ‘dis-animate’.
Indeed it has a propensity to de-animate. Though I was very animated in my descent!
Hello, Jeff. We’re starting to get very cold weather here. How are the temperatures in your neck of the woods?
Great to hear from you. The weather here is seasonably cool … but no lightning! 🙂
It’s surprising we don’t have more casualties from weather than we do, given the dangers
On the wrong side of 60 I did Long’s Peak!
Age is just a number
So is altitude
Really interesting article. I enjoy a good hike too and reading about hiking is almost the next best thing.