Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lightning

I recently read the book Shattered Air by Bob Madgic, an account of a lightning strike on Half Dome that killed 2 hikers and seriously injured 2 others. The book discusses the injuries, the rescue operation, the recovery of the badly injured hikers, and history of the hikers before the hike. I found the book interesting and thought provoking. After reading the book I want more than ever to explore Yosemite and see Half Dome and the surrounding area. Yosemite is another of a long list of places I want to see and hike.

I also started thinking about lightning dangers when I hike. Most of my hiking is done in Washington State which has a low incidence of lightning strikes, only 2 deaths between 1995 and 2005. Yellowstone park has had some lightning deaths but none recently. Other states I hike in commonly also have relatively few deaths. I'm used to reading that lightning kills more people than bears or cougars in North America but then there are probably more people exposed to lightning than bears or cougars.

I've retreated from storms on exposed ridges or mountains several times. After reading the book and doing some more reading, I doubt I've been as careful as I thought I was. I had little idea lightning could strike from 10 miles away
http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm.
I remember several times watching lightning get within 5 or so miles before I left the area and might not shelter even then, just try not to be the highest item in the vicinity. I've actually been more nervous about wind blowing over trees or knocking branches on me. Even more, I've worried about lightning causing forest fires, a very real danger in the northwestern US.

I'm not going to become extra anxious about lightning now although I will think more about safety in the future especially when I get down to Utah locations which are more open. I still enjoy watching lightning storms especially from a sheltered spot but I doubt I will go into any caves or rock shelters during a storm.

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