Little River State Park, VT: You wake up early, antsy to climb Camel’s Hump Mountain and summit to the 360* view. Hours later, legs heavy with the repeated squat-like steps up the mountain’s side, you hear the “Sound of the drums, Beating in my heart, The thunder of guns, Tore me apart”. And suddenly realize, “You've been, Thunderstruck”!
Every year, thousands of hikers are struck by lightening. Yes. Thousands. This week, we decided to discuss different tactics we can do if we find ourselves in a lightning storm. Please, keep in mind, these are not sure-fire ways to avoid the dangers of a lightning storm, only precautions that may minimize the threat.
“I was caught; In the middle of a railroad track; I looked round; And I knew there was no turning back”
Let us learn from the above lyrics by making a pact to never find ourselves caught, looking around, and finding there is no turning back. Best way to ensure that happens? Plan ahead and prepare by avoiding thunderstorms. In mountainous areas, large storms tend to cumulate in mid-afternoon; knowing this, we can plan our trip accordingly by either hitting the high-peak trails early, summiting/descending before the storm hits or by heading out post-storm. If post-storm, be aware of slippery terrain and remember to avoid walking around any puddles that may have formed on the trail (stepping to either side can widen the trail, harm surrounding vegetation, or send us into flight due to the slippery terrain).
“Broke all the rules; Played all the fools; Yeah yeah they, they, they blew our minds; And I was shaking at the knees”
Okay, so maybe the weather report was wrong (or perhaps we broke all the rules, figuring the storm would not be that intense) and while on top of the summit that blew our minds, we heard the first boom. Saw the first strike. And felt the earth shaking at the knees. What now? Well, there are a few things to consider:
1. The basic goal of a lightning bolt is to discharge its energy into the ground. The basic goal of a human is to not be its connection to said ground. With that in mind…
2. Consider the distance and usefulness of the nearest shelter. An ideal shelter is not a tent, shed, or out-house. Rather, it is a 4-walled structure with electricity and plumbing—both which serve as a connection to the ground through which the lightning can discharge its energy. If, say, there was no nearby shelter, doing the jig down to the car before the storm hits is another option to consider; however, when it is safe to exit the vehicle, be sure to jump with both feet to ensure we do not create a connection between the vehicle and the ground through which the lightning’s energy can travel.
3. Get below tree line, avoid tall objects, and nestle low into a dry ravine or depression in the earth. When doing so, do not lay flat; if lightning strikes nearby, energy can travel through the ground and be harmful to our bodies. The lower we can get to the earth and the less contact we have with the ground, the better.
Knowing the above could help us while in unpredictable elements; but the only way to ensure our safety is to plan ahead and prepare: knowing when storm might strike, getting acquainted with the area, pinpointing safety shelters, planning emergency exit routes, and always telling our plans to a family member or friend.
Just recently, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer East Central Team was caught in a Vermont thunderstorm which roared through the Little River State Park. Luckily, after checking the weather, the two decided against hiking one of the famous high peaks in the area; however, there was no chance of avoiding the storm’s tantrum after a large tree fell across the only exit of the park. With the above knowledge in mind, the two took refuge in parks’ restrooms until the lighting subsided. This sequence of planning ahead and preparing potentially saved them from an epic.
“It's alright, we're doin' fine; It's alright, we're doin' fine, fine, fine; Thunderstruck, yeah, yeah, yeah”
So be careful! Avoid the thunderstorms. And keep exploring.
"You've been Thunderstruck”
Katelyn Stutterheim and Blake Jackson
Leave No Trace’s Katelyn Stutterheim and Blake Jackson are part of the 2015 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Coleman, Hi-Cone, The North Face, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.