Run!!!: Surviving the Bolts on a Dive
Today was the day I realized I need to get better acclimated with hiking during severe thunderstorms. I think that it is going to be quiet hard for me climbing in Colorado during the monsoon. The big case and point was the trip put forward. It had been nearly a year since I have even heard thunder. In Seattle thunderstorms rarely come by and when they do they are usually not very strong. This spring and summer have been unusually cool and damp but for the most part there have not been any thunderstorms around. But unfortunately I have to catch a bad break and land into what might have been one of the only thunderstorms in western Washington the entire month of June.
It was another cool day in Seattle and my new hiking partner, Jordan and I were heading off for some larger mountain in the Crystal Mountain area. We had some unfinished business for our last adventure and we wanted to finish up what we start on this mountain. Unfortunately as we were heading up to Enumclaw all that we could see were mountains surrounded by rain and snow clouds. It looked like heading up in the high terrain was going to be miserable at best and risky at worse. By the time we hit Enumclaw we decided to make the decision not to go up into the high terrain on this day. It was too risky and clearly there would be little in return.
But both of us wanted to make something of the day so we decided to hike some smaller hills. I thought that this would be the safe yet fulfilling way to make the most of the day.
Hitting the storm
The walk up was rather uneventful. The showers stopped for a brief bit and the sun came out on occasion. Jordan and spent most of the walk up focusing on his future trip to Nepal and Mount Rainier while I was giving him pointers about what to do for the big mountain. Within 40 minutes we were on the summit and taking in the views of fellow summits, distant clouds and potential storms.
Staring At Our Fate!
There was one storm west of us off in the distance that started to look very ominous. The cloud was quiet dark and you could clearly see both rain and hail coming from the cloud. At one point I gave a look to Jordan and joked at the fact that the summit looked like a good place to view a tornado and that the cloud off in the distance looked like it could potentially drop one. Then I looked at the cloud and realized it was heading this direction. From what I could see it looked like we had substantial time before it hit us. There was also no thunder at the time. Still we both looked at the cloud and knew it was time to head on off the peak.
We hike back down at a moderate pace. I don't think any of us expected what we were about to get coming around the corner. Quickly the sky began to darken up, Jordan and were going a good pace but we pretty involved in a discussion about Rainier and ironically about weather. Then came the first very close loud bolt of lightning! It was the first bolt I have heard in 2011 and one I hope not that noise again.
Bolting From the Bolts
Realizing we were high on this slope and that we were good targets for a lightning bolt we knew it was time to bolt for the car. With the first bolt we started to take a quick jog down the jeep path. Then came the second large crash of lightning. This bolt was real close and we knew we were in trouble. I turned to look up the swirling cloud and I knew it was time to run for it. At this point I could the static in the air and the only thought that was coming in my mind was the thought of pray that I might be the next one hit.
The wind now was picking up from the storm and it was beginning to rain. My nerves were clearly on edge here. A part of me wonder if this is because of the fact that the Puget Sound area doesn't see a lot in the way of thunderstorms and I have become very soft to the weather. No time to be thinking though because getting to the car was the first thought on my mind.
While the first two bolts certainly woke me up to the fact that I knew we were in a bad situation it was the third close bolt that really caused us to run off the mountain. At this point both rain and some pea size hail was starting to hit us and when I looked up in the sky all I could see was a dark cloud parked right over us and a wall of precipitation about to hit us. Despite running out of breath partly from panic I knew only that I had to continue to car.
Finally I hit the car just when the precipitation really began to hit. Jordan followed shortly behind me. Though only getting in the car seconds after I did he was much more wet than I was due to the wall of rain hitting just before he hit the car. Once we got in the car Jordan and I made a quick decision to bail on the bigger Pinnacle Peak (Mount Pete) and head on back. What was supposed to be a quick and easy summit day became quiet an adventure on a summit that is only as of being lazy walk up.
Conclusion: There was no Round Two
Once in the car it was neat to look at the storms hitting both the peaks. Down in Enumclaw it was raining heavy but the weather was not nearly as threatening as it was on the mountain. Once past the town of Enumclaw the rain stopped and by the time we hit the Seattle metro area the sun was out yet again. I turned on the news only to realize it was only that area that got the stronger storm. A part of me was still thankful that the mountain wasn't higher. Now in what was only supposed to be a simple light hike turned out to be an eye opener.