Humphrey's Peak (5/24/2014)

12,500 peak with no escape during lightning storm
Humphrey's Lightning Hair



I didn't sleep entirely well the night before.  It was 25 degrees and smoky from the Slide fire near Oak Creek Canyon.  In fact, I had to wear my jacket to help keep warm that night camped at 9200 feet at the base of Mt. Humphreys. 


I awoke around 5 am and decided to start the 6.5 mile and 4 thousand foot elevation gain to the top of Humphrey's peak as soon as possible. I broke camp and packed my full backpack and was ready to go by 5:30 AM.   I opted to eat later along the trail rather than have an early breakfast.


The morning started out nice, albeit a bit cold as  I started hiking.  At about the 10k foot level it started snowing.  I was prepared, so it wasn't much a problem.  As it started snowing harder and soaking through my fleece, I put on a rain jacket and also affixed a backpack rain cover and kept hiking up the mountain.


Snowing on Humphrey's Peak (5/24/2014)


There were two people ahead of me that had left around 5:00 AM and 3 or 4 others behind.  I reached the saddle at 11,800 feet around 10 AM without in incident and continued on the exposed ridge to traverse to the summit.  From the saddle to the summit is about 2 miles of 12k plus elevation of exposed ridge.  It is by far the most dangerous part of the hike, with no shelter or escape routes. 

Humphrey's Peak Saddle (5/24/2014)


I still had not eaten yet, but since I had a full pack I thought I might cook some hot chocolate near the top.  It kept snowing and about 2 inches had accumulated on the trail, but the snow seemed harmless enough and the softw snow even provided better footing when the trail was icy.   Moving slowly due to the altitude, I reached one of the false summat's about 200 yards and 173 feet in elevation from the actual summit in about an hours time.


 Humphrey's Saddle

Humphrey's Saddle 5/24/2014



The Storm


On the ridge about 30 or 40 feet behind me there was another hiker I had passed and a female hiker about 200 yards behind him.   I looked at the summit, caught my breath, and prepared for the final ascent.  Then, suddenly, I started hearing strange crackling sounds like hundreds of people rattling Doritos bags. I looked down and my hiking poles were vibrating and making a humming sound.   I could see arks of ionized air sparking between my trekking poles that were rising like Jacobs ladder.

 Humphrey's Ridge

Humphrey's Ridge (5/24/2014)


Immediately I was aware of the danger I was in.   I whipped around and yelled to the hiker 40 feet behind me,  "we have to get off this mountain now! Right now!  Run!.”  The hiker looked confused, then suddenly he felt it also.   An immense buildup of energy in the air.   He yelled to his girlfriend, “Turn Around, go back down”.  My poles vibrated violently.  I wondered for a moment, what it would be like to be hit by lightning.  I really thought I was about to find out.  


"All Hell Broke



I began my descent, running, slipping, sliding as fast as I could down the icy trail.   Then I saw a flash, with an immediate crack behind me, I didn’t look back.   Energized with pure adrenalin, I passed the other hikers that were moving a bit slower.  As I overtook them, I advised to get down as fast as they could and to hike with a gap between each person.  Then 20 feet below, I quickly flipped around and took a picture of the girl with her hair standing straight up on end from the pre-lightning streamers.

 Humphrey's Lightning Hair

Humphrey's Peak during lightning storm (5/24/2014. 12.500 ft.)



It was 1.5 miles of exposed 12k foot ridge and was snowing heavily, we were in the ice cloud.   As I was careening down the mountain, all hell broke loose.   Again and again, I saw flashes through the blinding snow and the immediate crack of thunder.

Out of breath but still running, my thoughts raced, "I have to make it to the saddle and down in the tree line."   Again and again, my face would begin to feel warm even though it was 25 degrees and snowing.  I would hear the sparks on my poles and my jacket, and through the souls of my shoes sparks would crackle to the ground and feel the energy build up around me.   "Would this be it?"  I thought.   Then a flash, a momemnt of reflection and self-diagnosis “I’m OK, I’m still here, no damage, keep running, keep running”. For a brief moment after each bold of lightning, the tingling would subside and my trekking poles would stop vibrating as the energy was released in the flash of lightening.  As I continued down I hoped and pleaded that the silence would remain until I reached the saddle.   The atmosphere was quick to answer my and soon massive amounts of energy would again build up around me.  


“20 minutes, 10 to go at this speed”.  My thoughts organized and I thought about my predicament- the upper part of a thunderstorm is ice and friction on the ice is what makes static that is ultimately released as lightning.   That's why whenever a flash occurs he aura of static around me lessons but quickly builds up again – sometimes in seconds, others in minutes.


Again, my hiking poles started vibrating and the crackling of sparks and warm feeling on my face and I could feel sparks in my shoes to the snow covered ground.   This time it was worse than ever.  The feeling if impending doom was immense.  I reasoned with myself – “as long as I’m not in the primary path, it's ok the tentacles of lightning will just nick at me”.  I waited for the inevitable flash. 


Bzzzz, my poles vibrated and churned with static, sparks, my jacket became ionized and I could again feel sparks through my shoes.   I fled down towards the saddle at lightning speed, slipping once on an icy rock.   Intense warmness in face, Flash-Crack-Boom.   I look down, “everything intact!   OK, OK, I’m still here, no damage, keep running, I’m out of breath, push yourself, keep going, don’t slow down, don’t’ slow down…”.    


Around the corner, I made it to the saddle, it wasn't much better so I continued running down the exposed slope hoping to get to the tree line.  “Tree line gives me a chance, its only odds then – odds of me or some other poor tree.”  When I reached the treeline, there was still static in the air, but much less than the top of the ridge.


I could not see the other hikers I has passed, but could hear lightning over the saddle and ridge.     I Continued down until I reached an elevation within the treeline and slowed to a fast walk.  I was shaky and nauseated from running at such high altitude and from the adrenaline.  I wondered how the others had fared. (Later I did find one of the hikers and luckily everyone was able to make it out. )


Humphrey's Peak Lightning Storm, First thoughts after reaching treeline safety (5/24/2014)

I had just hiked (and ran) 12 miles without stopping and reached just 173 feet shy of the summit.  There is 2 times I can think of in my life that I felt this scared or in danger.   This makes number three.  Although I didn't make the summit, I was happy to be alive and in the safety of my metal enclosed car.

 Humphrey's Peak from Heart's Prarie (5/25/2014)

On a side note, many of the parents who have children with cancer talk about how scary it feels every day.  In some ways, their experience is not much different from an impending lightning strike, except they face it each and every day.  There is no way to know whether each hug will be the last one, whether an overnight infection will take their child. It feels completely scary and helpless.    It's also scary for the child- having to face and understand their own mortality at such a young age.  


I believe we can make a difference.  If you have not already made a pledge and would like to, please email me so I can add I to the list.  





Humphrey's Peak