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Lightning on Shavano
Trip Report

Lightning on Shavano

 

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 38.61890°N / 106.2389°W

Object Title: Lightning on Shavano

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 3, 2005

 

Page By: Nathan

Created/Edited: Jun 6, 2005 /

Object ID: 170119

Hits: 1740 

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My 2 partners and I decided to climb the Angel of Shavano while it was still possible. We set out a bit late from Denver (around 4:30), got to the Blank Gulch Trailhead around 7, and started hiking by 7:15. It was a bit overcast, but we had heard that it was supposed to clear up later in the morning, so we weren't concerned. We set off at a brisk pace, and reached the base of the Angel around 8:45.

After stopping for some food, we set off up the angel. My partners had mountaineering boots, while I had just regular hiking boots, and I slipped a lot more than they did, so I decided to crampon up. For some reason, I had loads of trouble putting them on, and it took probably 10 minutes to get everything right. Even then, I had a few problems, but eventually settled into a groove and made great progress up the angel.

It had gotten clear by the time we were out of the woods, but about halfway up the Angel, clouds started rolling in again. It was fairly overcast and a bit foggy by the time we got to the top (which took me a little under an hour). It had been cloudy all day, and so we elected to continue, especially since we were fairly close to the top by this point.

It started to snow/grapple a bit as we headed up the ridge. We were about 75 vertical feet short of the summit when we heard some thunder off in the distance. Had we been farther off, I would have turned around right there, but the summit was so close that we again elected to continue. One of my partners was a bit ahead of me, and the other a bit behind. Not turning around here, of course, was very dumb. Very very dumb.

When I was about 20 vertical feet from the summit, I heard a buzzing on my ice axe.

I immediately threw my pack down to the ground. I checked if the hairs on my arm or head were standing on end, and they weren't, so I decided to quickly sprint the last 20 feet to the summit, figuring that it would only take about a minute, which it did. This, too, was very very dumb. It shouldn't have mattered how close I was. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.

On top, I felt my hair stand on end, and so I just barely touched the summit and took off down the mountain. I could hear buzzing on the rocks all around.

I was quite scared as I was running, and it was difficult to run while slightly crouched and with the snow coming down ever harder. The grapple was probably dime sized at times, and the rocks had gotten slippery. I slid down some, and occasionally glissaded down small snowfields.

When I first got back to my pack, I started to repack my ice axe, which had fallen off, when I realized how dumb it was, so I just grabbed it in my hands, caught my breath for a second, and continued running. If I held it up too high in the air, it started buzzing.

Every so often, I would crouch down for a bit (which made the sound of the buzzing less loud... indicating that I was the primary cause) and lightning (cloud-to-cloud) would flash in the sky above me.

The partner who had been above me had summited before and was on his way down as I was sprinting, and the one behind had turned back, so I saw them crouched down a bit lower. I threw my pack down and joined them (though we spread out), and sort of waited for lightning to hit me.

I decided quickly that waiting to get hit was an awful feeling. The buzzing wasn't as bad here (probably around 13,700 feet, descended 500 feet in about 5 minutes), so I figured we were close to out of it. I yelled that after the next stroke of lightning, we would grab our packs and haul ass down the mountain, which we did.

We made it to the Angel of Shavano and glissaded down. It was a fabulous glissade, by the way, and was definitely the highlight of the trip. Overall, we descended a full 2200 feet (half of the route) in half an hour. Fear is a great motivator!

Once in the valley, the sky began a cycle of clearing for about 10 minutes, and then clouding back over and snowing and lightning again. We ate some food during the first clearing and then headed down. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

Overall, it was actually a pretty good trip, lightning be damned. The glissade was incredible, and the snow climb was pretty great too. I recommend everyone get out there before it melts.

Nonetheless, I am actually lucky to be alive, as I made some very poor decisions on this trip. I've posted this in hopes that others will learn from my rather obvious mistakes.

It's much easier to turn back when you either have someone to tell you to turn around, or you've had a bad experience. I can now say that I've had a bad experience, and will promptly turn around at the first sign of bad weather, regardless of my proximity to the summit. I hope that after reading this, you will be able to do the same.


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