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I really wonder about the popularity of those Worst Case Scenario books even as I browse them.  They're clearly written for extreme situations.  The advice is serious (in a superficial way), not snarky.  Yet who plans to be in an extreme life-or-death situation?  Who, when finding oneself in an extreme life-or-death situation, would have the presence of mind to pull out and consult a little yellow handbook? And who, having the book handy, would also have whatever tools are deemed necessary to survive the worst case?

Below the flip is a true story, which requires no handbook or special tools of survival, of a worst case scenario while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We were camping with our boys, then aged three and nearly-one.  We planned to drive to a pretty little lake, hike, and drive back to the campground.  The lake was very pretty, but the path around it was flat.  

In my world, one either strolls or hikes.  Hiking involves hills, water, an elevated heart rate, and views; it's a good thing.  Strolling involves flat paths, a cup of designer coffee and a cel phone, a sense of leisure, and a mall; it is boring has its place, but that place is not Rocky Mountain National Park.  We finish our stroll -- and it was a stroll, not a hike -- around the pretty lake by 11 AM.  My then-husband thinks that's quite sufficient for the day, but I want to do more (perhaps that's a reason he became an ex-husband...but I digress).  I consult the park handout map, devise a ten mile trail across a couple of ridgetops that would take me back to camp, refill the water bottles, and set out.

I hike alone about three miles straight up.  So far, so good.  The pretty little lake is just a speck down below.  The trail is clearly marked, albeit little used on a beautiful sunny August day.  I sing John Denver, badly, just like every other tourist in Colorado.  Somewhere above the 10,000 foot mark, I pass the treeline (a point above which trees can't survive, although smaller alpine plants can.)  Then the clouds roll in.

I'm a California native, and our storms take days to arrive.  I'm not used to the Mountain West pattern of sudden afternoon thundershowers, and I'm only wearing typical summer t-shirt-and-shorts attire.  Pretty soon, I'm drenched, but I continue on.  A couple of bluejays squawk at me, as if to say "Foolish human!"  I ignore them.

Thunder booms, not terribly far away.  There's a couple of lightning strikes.  I can tell, by the split seconds between the flashes and the noise, that the lightning is very, very close.  I remember, quite fondly, a night spent in a wilderness above Pendleton, OR during a dry lightning storm, during which you could read a book by the near-constant glare.  I keep hiking.  I'm now the tallest thing on an exposed ridgeline.

Suddenly my entire field of vision goes blinding-white just as noise fills my ears.  A bizarre sensation, like an electric shock, but much, much larger, and excruciatingly painful, smites me -- yes, "smites" is the right word.  I'm knocked to the ground.  I'm knocked out.  When I come to, I'm sick to my stomach.  At first I can't move my limbs at all.  I stagger up like a drunken sailor, but still can't move my facial muscles.  A couple of hours later the feeling dials down to tongue-swollen-and-numb.  

I've been ground-shocked by lightning!  I haven't suffered a direct hit.  However, the lightning charge has traveled through the wet ground and up through me.  If I had to estimate, the bolt came down perhaps ten feet away.  A bolt of lightning can be 28,000 degrees fahrenheit, or five times hotter than the surface of the sun.  I consider my options.  I'm nearly halfway done with the hike, but if I were to return to the pretty lake, my husband would be gone and I'd be twenty road miles back to camp.  I decide to finish the remaining six miles of the hike.

Much thereafter is blurry.  A marmot scampers across the trail.  It's laughing at me.  Somehow I stagger back to camp.  My husband decides we should go to the ranger station and ask about first aid.  At the ranger station, I tell my story, whereupon I'm advised:

If you're not dead already, you'll be fine.

And that, dear reader, is your Worst Case Scenario tip of the day on how to survive being struck by lightning: Don't die!  No handbook required.  If you do consult the Worst Case Scenarios handbook or webpage, you'll learn how to avoid lightning (stay below the treeline, get flat, and get inside), and you'll learn how to give CPR to someone who's been struck by lightning, but you won't learn how to get struck by lightning and live. (For the detail-oriented, Wikipedia elaborates: "The most critical injuries are to the circulatory system, the lungs, and the central nervous system. Many victims suffer immediate cardiac arrest and will not survive without prompt emergency care, which is safe to administer because the victim will not retain any electrical charge after the lightning has struck. Others incur myocardial infarction and various cardiac arrhythmias, either of which can be rapidly fatal as well. Loss of consciousness is very common immediately after a strike. Amnesia and confusion of varying duration often result as well."  Thanks.  I wouldn't have known that without reading it here.)  

On the way back to California, we spend one night at a Vegas hotel.  The afternoon thundershowers roll in.  The lifeguards order everyone out of the pool.  I'm the first one out.  From here on, I take lightning seriously.  However, I keep hiking.  Expect more diaries in this series to celebrate the joys of being outdoors, in national parks and other places, and please use this as an open thread for your worst case (or even best case) scenarios.

Originally posted to indigoblueskies on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:03 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Worst case scenario: diarist gets no tips (24+ / 0-)

    Please help avert that scenario!  

    Other fitness diaries:

    Fitness Mondays publishes Monday mornings.  This week, webranding had an excellent Beginner's Guide to Running.
    KSRose publishes a weekly diet and nutrition series; this week's subject was the very timely subject of omega-3s found when giving up meat and eating fish bison for Lent.
    DrBloodaxe publishes a Get Fit! Challenge Saturday mornings, which I always miss because, ironically, I'm out getting fit on my long runs.
    Check 'em all out!

    Healthy Minds in Healthy Bodies, now discussing fitness Tuesdays at 6 PM PST

    by indigoblueskies on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:05:21 PM PST

  •  I may be fat and out of shape (4+ / 0-)

    but I've never been struck directly or indirectly by lightning, so there's something to be said about being a fat, pasty white, indoor-dwelling, geek.

    Glad to see you lived to tell the tale!

    Now is the time to investigate, prosecute, and imprison the former Bush regime. -6.0 -5.33

    by Cali Techie on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:13:18 PM PST

  •  I have the same definition of hiking (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anotherdemocrat, indigoblueskies

    as you do.  I grew up around Seattle and spent a lot of time hiking the foothills of the Cascades.  I now live in Houston and don't understand how anyone can say they like to go "hiking" in Houston.  Walking around a city park is not hiking and an overpass is not a hill.  Glad to hear you survived.  Fortunately I've never had any close calls other then misjudging when the trail would be clear of snow.

    •  At least the Texas Hill Country doesn't bill (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt, anotherdemocrat, drchelo

      itself as the Texas Mountain Country.  Somewhere on I-90 in MA is a pass, elevation 1500', with a sign noting that it's the highest elevation on I-90 until Montana or so.  Just keep driving west for real mountains, travelers!

      Healthy Minds in Healthy Bodies, now discussing fitness Tuesdays at 6 PM PST

      by indigoblueskies on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:30:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ouch... (4+ / 0-)

    If you ever wonder why the parking lots for hikes in and around the high points of Rocky Mountain National Park fill up before sunrise, you now have your answer.

    Glad to hear you survived the experience, and thanks for relating the details as you remember them - quite vivid!  I hope I never have the fortune to be stuck up there when the clouds roll in.

    Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt

    by Phoenix Rising on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:19:31 PM PST

  •  glad you survived, but (5+ / 0-)

    you made a classic mistake

    "I kept hiking."

    Knowing when to throw in the towel is THE key point to grasp about climbing. The goal in climbing is not the's the car and your tasty beverage of choice waiting for you there.

    I'll never forget a story a Colorado climber told me in the climber's lodge at the base of Popocateptl in Mexico. They were doing a winter climb in Colorado and the weather was worsening. At one point the four of them stopped and the "leader" began to ask the others about options. The guy telling the story related how he told the group, "I think we should just push on through and keep going until someone get's seriously injured and then we have a rescue situation on our hands." There was a moment of silence and then all four started heading down as fast as they could. The moral being, never let your goals cloud reality. Death, sucks, no matter how nobel your goals may be.

    A climbing partner of mine put it more crudely. I had told him how some climber had told me if were to die on a mountain he would prefer it to be on an important peak and an important route. My friend said, "fuck that. I wanna die having sex." Similar point, if told in a different vein.

    We all make dumb mistakes. The only real error is to fail to learn from them. Hopefully, you have a much deeper respect for the weather. We never conquer mountains, they merely decide to allow us a moment in their graces.


    •  In this case, it was probably a good decision... (4+ / 0-)

      The diarist's route was - and I believe I know the trail in question - a through route, not a summit attempt.  Staying up above treeline in RMNP while drenched and in a T-shirt isn't usually wise, even in August.  The diarist hiked through to civilization rather than hiking the same distance back to their starting point - which also happens to be more remote than her destination.

      Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt

      by Phoenix Rising on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:30:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Beautiful quote... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      magurakurin, anotherdemocrat

      We never conquer mountains, they merely decide to allow us a moment in their graces.

      I was at about the halfway point on my hike, and felt that I was better off heading for more people, btw.  I'm not denying that I made stupid decisions, most of all not understanding the weather.

      Healthy Minds in Healthy Bodies, now discussing fitness Tuesdays at 6 PM PST

      by indigoblueskies on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:34:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hiked Rocky Mountain National Park (3+ / 0-)

    many times during the summer I lived in Estes Park.  We started very early in the morning and always wanted to be down below the treeline before the afternoon storms marched in like clockwork.  I have never seen weather change so quickly.

    Thanks for the scary story and info!

  •  hi! glad I found you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    (been off troll smiting happy to be here instead)

    Never been hiking. Walked up a few hills, frequently pushing my bike. Here is a pic from just before the "hill from hell" on the AIDS Ride route. I don't know what the elevation really is, but only the really fit people ride up this one. Most walk, and quite a few get a ride from a support vehicle.

    Had my 5-10K training class tonight. Was really nice. He has us doing drills, then the walkers walk & the runners run. More drills, more walking. Next week, core stuff. I'm not doing the race folks are training for as it is the same weekend as my ride, but a free 12-week class is still a good thing.

  •  Several times now I've been on summits (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlynne, indigoblueskies

    and had my hair all sticking out because of the electricity.  Once my ice-axe was actually buzzing in my hand.  Caused me to bail down a snow chute which turned to ice. I slipped, fell, and there's no logical reason why I'm still alive actually.  It's interesting to know that you only have about ten more seconds to live.  It definitely focuses your attention.

    moderation in everything ... including moderation

    by C Barr on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 04:52:34 AM PST

  •  Layers. preferably with fleece. anytime (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Poom, indigoblueskies

    of year up there! I was cringing as I read your story. you are lucky! And you know, those worse case scenario books can help you be prepared. It only takes a second for things to go all haywire.

    "there's a bailout coming but it's not for me!" Neil Young

    by UTvoter on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 08:29:15 PM PST

  •  GAH! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    indigoblueskies, hikerbiker

    I can't rec this diary!

    Where's the justice.

    Maybe there's a god above, but all I ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who out-drew ya. -5.75, -5.03

    by Muskegon Critic on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 08:31:41 PM PST

  •  Another rule in the mountains: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlynne, indigoblueskies, hikerbiker

    Don't hike alone. Our friend disappeared on a solo day hike and was found face down in a remote creek a month later - a helicopter finally spotted him.

    •  I am sorry. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel, ybruti

      Healthy Minds in Healthy Bodies, now discussing fitness Tuesdays at 6 PM PST

      by indigoblueskies on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 09:22:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Most of us who hike have done (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        foolish things (just as many of us who comment on dKos have said things we regret), so I was going to refrain from lecturing you that the first and biggest mistake was hiking alone. But I will say that some of the stupidest things I've done hiking were done while hiking alone. (Exception: I've also embarrassed if not endangered myself attempting, as a clumsy six-footer, to follow a nimble little mountain goat of a hike leader into places I shouldn't have.)

        I'm glad it turned out OK, and I hope you now have a hiking partner who can keep up with you.

        "Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous." -- Molly Ivins

        by dumpster on Thu Feb 26, 2009 at 12:05:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  California vs. Colorado (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Poom, indigoblueskies

    I spent some time in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center. And went there from California. There are some differences between the two places.....

    First, most inhabited places in California are near sea level and have the moderation of the sea, as far as temperatures go. Most of Colorado seems to start at a mile up and go up from there. Sheer time spent at altitude adapts you to altitude, so if you'd just gone up there from flatland California to 10,000 feet, well, you were probably a bit ding-y.

    Secondly, Colorado may not have invented lightning, but they seem to have perfected it. It's no wonder Nikola Tesla did some of his best research in Colorado Springs. The place is a lightning-fiend's dream. I've seen a tree hit by lightning the day before, with a big carbon track down the side and then where a bunch of wood, amounting to as thick as a person's leg, SHOT into the side of a nearby building like arrows. Yeesh! And this was right on the Olympic Center grounds. I've seen lightning hit about 100 feet ahead of me on the road. I've been in a plan going from the Springs to Denver and it got hit by lightning, or at least one hell of a build-up-and-discharge, and that was a real wake up. A friend of mine there and his wife had their car hit by lightning, fried both the car's electrical system, and his wife's confidence around lightning, so that lightning even very far away intimidated her.

    And this often occurs in the afternoon, "frog stranglers" are what good old Mrs Sorensen, whom I rented a room from before moving onto the Olympic Center, called the afternoon storms. Heavy rain with large drops and hail, just the kind of formation that also creates plentiful lightning, a van de Graaff generator in the sky.

    It's things like this, that are why the "buddy system" were invented.

  •  Lost in the Grand Tetons (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Poom, indigoblueskies

    I wandered away from our tent camp one morning and never saw our camp again.  This was in August and there were no thunder storms during the 36 hours I was lost.  A forest worker from Driggs Idaho ran into me and told me that a couple of helicopters had been looking for me.  A friend had hiked out and reported me missing.  At the foresters log cabin home his wife made me some scrambled eggs and grape juice!!

    "Seek above all for a game worth playing- such is the advice of the oracle to modern man." - Robert S. de Ropp

    by FuddGate on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 09:18:17 PM PST

  •  being a pessimist sometimes pays off (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm one of those people who reads the worse case scenario-type stories (not a whole book at once, geez!)

    But, I have not forgotten the reader's digest story of the guys who survived plane crashes--they count the number of rows to the exits and memorize the numbers. That way when the lights are out, they can still get to the right row.

    I grew up in Colorado, and those thunderstorms above timberline are something else! When all your hair stands on end and you're hurrying to get down as fast as you can.

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