Thunder and Lightning, playing Russian Roulette with mother nature!

Thunder and Lightning, playing Russian Roulette with mother nature!

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 30, 2013
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer
Approaching storm on Kearsarge Lake
Big Pothole Lake
Camp and sunrise on Mt.Rixford
Kearsarge Pinnacles from the camp

Approaching electrical storm!Approaching electrical storm
From time to time we throw all caution and accountability out the window because we think if we don't go through with what we are about to do the whole world will come to an end. But, then again, if we don't forget about being prudent, we may never leave the comfort and safety of the couch in front of the flat screen. The weather forecast for the Eastern Sierra towns of Lone Pine and Independence in mid July of 2013 was simply "partly cloudy." Well, that is all well and good, only if I thought that the same forecast held true for the mountains of the Eastern Sierra some 6 to 10,000 feet higher than Owens Valley's towns.

Feeling that I had done all that I could do to get ready for the trip, my wife and I headed for the Sierras, a six hour drive from our town. After picking up a permit from the visitor center in Lone Pine, we headed for Independence completely forgetting to check the forecast for the mountains. Since we looked like we knew what we were doing, the ranger at the station didn't offer any hints about what to expect either. Late in the afternoon we were in the Onion Valley parking lot looking at the completely overcast sky. Soon after getting out of the car, the pitter patter of rain drops began. "Oh darn, we've come this far and now we have to hike in the rain?" my wife asked. "What do you think Marc, should we go for it?" "Well, I'm afraid if we don't go for it and the clouds lift up, we're going to regret not having gone for it," was my answer. Trusting my judgement, my wife uttered "ok, I'm game."

Kearsarge Pass left of center
Flower Lake before the downpour
Kearsarge Pass
Mount Bago on the last day
Mount Bago seen from the pass
Heart Lake
Big Pothole Lake
Onion Valley Parking lot

Sunrise on Kearsarge PinnaclesKearsarge Pinnacles sunrise on the walkout day!

The rain didn't really start, so with the backpacks on our shoulders we hit the trail. A few minutes up the trail we ran into a lady ranger hiking down with a huge backpack on her back. She told us that she had been up in the mountains for several days. But, she wanted our names to run against the permits in the ranger station. Yikes, they check permits here? Official business everywhere you go! We were thankful that the trail was gentle. Starting from 9000+ feet was a bit much for folks like us coming from sea level the same day. Another two miles, if it doesn't start raining, we figured, it should put us near one of the lakes. But, if it started really raining, all bets would be off. Luckily the hike went smoothly without rain.

We found a great spot not far from Flower Lake. After fetching water and eating dinner the clouds began to lift for a few minutes. I hurried to take a few photos in the dimming light. Soon after, we heard a huge rumble of thunder. Then, a bright flash of lightning followed by another thunder and another one. I have spent many rainy days in the mountains, but I hate electrical storms. There is really no good place to hide. We hurried into the tent as all hell broke loose. Wow, what a luck! We had no reason the leave the tent, so let it thunder and rain all it wants. And, rain it did, and hail it did, enough to stick. It poured for several hours as we stayed warm and comfy in our bags.

Topo of the trip s route
Sunrise on Kearsarge Pinnacles
Kearsarge Lakes seen from the pass
Approaching Kearsarge Pass from the east

View from the camp
View from the camp
Got up to a sunny but drenched forest in the morning. Well, we needed to dry the tent before anything else. I figured it must weigh a ton wet, and it was not going to go into my pack like that. But, we weren't in a hurry to go anywhere anyway. We had all day to go only four or six miles to the west side of the mountain. The immediate goal was to reach Kearsarge Pass, only three miles away. Up to this point the hike was pretty much in the forest. You really don't feel like you are in the mountains. But, from here on the forest thins out and gives you some spectacular mountain views. I was looking forward to that. I love being above tree line.

After a couple hours of drying out and packing, we were back on the trail. I was surprised to see very few groups heading up. Leaving the Flower Lake camp we said hello to a young couple going in the same direction. We talked about the rain the night before. They were much faster than us, but they stopped to take photographs, so we passed each other a few times. The highlight of this section of the trail happens half way up the pass. Just above a rock buttress, it's possible to scramble down a few rocks and get a birds eye view of Heart Lake. Heart Lake really looks like a heart. Then, within another mile, you get another birds eye view of Big Pothole Lake. This lake looks like a meteor crater filled with water. With these digital cameras, I wonder how many photos of something interesting is enough-no answers yet!

As we started to hike up the long traversing part of the trail, we noticed that the clear blue sky was giving way to another approaching storm. I was praying that the clouds stay distant at least until we made it to the pass, and they did, for the most part. Like most passes I've seen, it was crowded with hikers from both directions, but mostly from the west side. It seemed that they had their share of storms the night before, and they were bailing out. Looking toward the south, the ominous dark clouds were much closer now.

The views up there were breathtaking, but feeling a few drops of rain on us, it wasn't safe to linger much longer at the pass. We hurried down the west side toward Kearsarge Lakes. Lucky again, except for a few drops the rain never materialized giving us time to reach our destination. Safe and dry several hundred feet below the pass, we set up camp near Kearsarge Lake. My wife is such a hardcore, she went for a swim while I cooked dinner. By the time we finished dinner the sky was completely cloudy, then the first lightning and a thunder that shook the earth. Another lightning followed by a deafening thunder turned into a prelude to things to come.

My wife was enjoying the sound of the thunders that seemed to last 15-20 seconds each echoing through the mountains. I was keeping appearances of not being afraid, but I was concerned about the constant lightnings that seemed to get closer and closer every minute. The hail started with a vengeance pounding our tent like thousands of bullets. After a healthy dose of lightning, thunder, hail and rain, the weather decided to give us a break. We got lucky again, we were safe and dry, and alive in our sleeping bags. It continued raining periodically through the night, but we woke up to a beautiful sunny sky in the morning.

Sunny morning on the last day!
Sunny morning on the last day!
Kearsarge Pinnacles on the walk out day

Hiking up to the pass and back down to the car was as enjoyable as it could get. Being saturday, we ran into countless parties heading up toward the pass. Many of the parties were getting back on the John Muir Trail after resupplying themselves by their friends in the parking lot. It was nice to see so many older folks like us taking on a task like that. May be some day, if we get that ambitious, we should try that. But, our trip was over. We had dodged the weather bullet time and again and we were planning our next Sierra trip. A trip, hopefully, sans many electrical storms.


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Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Apr 25, 2014 5:18 pm - Voted 10/10

On Your Toes

This is pristine "Nature keeps you on your toes" sometimes. We all know that feeling when heavy metal thunder rocks the area and you want that lightning not to get any closer! Glad it all went well.


Marcsoltan - Apr 25, 2014 6:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: On Your Toes

You put it perfectly. Yes, it's nature keeping you on your toes! Truth be told, if I knew this was going to turn into a trip with so many electrical storms, I would have bagged the whole idea right at the start. The mornings were great, but by mid day things would begin to change. Oh well, it's mother nature again!
Thanks Augie.


markhallam - Apr 26, 2014 2:06 am - Voted 10/10

Re: On Your Toes

Not long after you had your electrical experience rgg and I went through similar a few thousand miles to the east, when we took it upon ourselves to camp (well, snow-cave) on summit of Mont Blanc... Having planned this experience for well over a year we ignored the 'possibility of late afternoon thunderstorms' bit of the otherwise excellent forecast. The upshot was we got indirect hits from 2 lightning strikes - great to talk about afterwards, but not much fun at the time (see )
Anyway glad you and your wife were spectators rather than participants in your lightning storms!
Best wishes, Mark


Marcsoltan - Apr 26, 2014 11:19 am - Hasn't voted

Re: On Your Toes

Wow! two lightning strikes while biving on the summit of Mont Blanc! I bet that's an experience you will remember the rest of your life. Unfortunately, the link you sent didn't work for me, you know "the page you are looking for ......"
I remember some years ago a guy got killed by a lightning strike on the summit of Mount Whitney.
I sure am glad you and Rob walked away unscathed.

All the best,

Viewing: 1-4 of 4



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