buzzing on snake dike


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - May 6, 2008 - 12:28pm PT
climbed snake dike on sunday. when we got to the top of the route, we were getting ready to continue to the summit when someone noticed that (from a sitting position) if you put up a finger, it started buzzing. when we stood up, eye lashes, gor tex hoods starting buzzing. we debated the odds we would ACTUALLY get hit by lightning. none of us knew much about lightning strikes. so we decided to rap snake dike instead of going to the summit and descending the cables. (the next party is going to score a lot of biners and slings)

we all felt me made the right decision. but was curious to any lightning experts out there: what do you think the actual chances of lighting hitting us were if:

 we were buzzing
 the closest sign of lightning looked 5 miles away
 we only heard thunder probably 4 times over 3 hours

just wondering if it was something long like a 1 in 100000 chance or more like a 1 in a 100 chance or less.

Chalkless climber
the Gunks end of the country
May 6, 2008 - 12:32pm PT


Sound travels at 1100 feet per second. Time the interval between flash and thunder, divide by 5 and you get the distance in miles.

Fastest way down is probably best.

Wind on clothing?

Trad climber
primordial soup
May 6, 2008 - 12:34pm PT
that weather sh#t moves way too quick up there

one time at phobos it came to us from way behind tenaya peak in a matter of minutes, like 4 minutes tops

being on the cables descent would be about my last choice

we were driving back from bishop on sunday afternoon and could see that system stretching out way up and down the sierras

i would say it's not how much thunder and lightning there was, but how much there might have been

Las Vegas
May 6, 2008 - 12:40pm PT
Looks like you did the correct thing
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
May 6, 2008 - 12:44pm PT
Paging Werner Braun. Is WB in the Topo?

My guess from your description is that you were in 1/100 - 1/10 bracket. Fairly significant.

May 6, 2008 - 12:50pm PT
The one time I heard it I was just below a summit ridge. I decided to downclimb quickly instead of continuing and rapping down the other side. It was good thing too because within minutes the summit was getting zapped. Tough to say if I would have been close enough to get hit but I sure don't regret my decision.

The salty ocean blue and deep
May 6, 2008 - 12:53pm PT

I think you made a very wise decision. A friend of mine was hit by lightening and the buzzing wasn't even audible yet--just the hair standing on end. Next thing he knew--boom! On his back. Burnt fingertips, but alive.

And many of those lightning stikes at altitude stories I've read, where someone survives and someone seems it's never too early to get the hell outta Dodge if you have anything abnormal going on. (BTW...buzzing would be abnormal.:-))

Mountain climber
May 6, 2008 - 12:53pm PT
The first time I got to the top of Longs Peak in Colorado, my partner said he needed a quick break. There was a small thunder head about 5 miles away. We sat down and began to eat. Then a guy nearby said "Hey, my hair is standing up!" The way he said it indicated he had no clue (like it was something normal that happens due to the altitude).

I yelled that a lightning strike is immanent and we tore out of there. About 10 minutes later there was a lightning strike on the summit.

A few months later, I was on top of another 14er belaying my partner. Static electricity really started to build (things were buzzing). Once he got past the 5th class section, I had him stop and joined him about 80' below the summit. After a while, the static charges dissipated. We then went over the top and headed on down. There never was a lightning strike that day.

I probably would have done the same thing you did and rappelled on down. There was a chance that you could have been hit if you went up and over the top. It is really hard to quantify the odds, but they were high enough.

The other thing you could do is remove all metal from you, and squat on your pack with your feet together. Try to do this off a ridge line – the best spot is in a shallow depression. Lightning sometimes follows the surface of rock, so it is best to avoid cave entrances where you could become part of the path. The idea is to wait out the storm and then go down. Out here in Colorado, the storms are small enough that they blow over relatively quickly, so the wait in safety strategy is reasonable.
F10 Climber F11 Drinker

Trad climber
medicated and flat on my back
May 6, 2008 - 12:59pm PT
Personally having been ZAPPED twice, I take thunderstorms pretty seriously now. Actually anytime they are near I allmost crap my pants. Probably a smart move on your part.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
May 6, 2008 - 01:02pm PT
A few years ago I was in the Wind Rivers. One cloudy/sunny morning we set off to do Wolf's Head, south ridge. The clouds were coming and going, and seemed slowly to be getting thicker. There were two layers, moving in different directions - usually not a good sign.

There was no thunder or lightning or rain that we could hear or see. We got to the start of the actual ridge, the "tilted sidewalk" pitch. I had a very uneasy feeling, and suggested that we retreat off the ridge, have something to eat and drink (it was early), and see what happened. The skies exploded about a half hour later, literally the moment we got to the ground.

Trad climber
May 6, 2008 - 01:03pm PT
You were very lucky and made the right quick choice. The static is the negetave side of the charge building up.....

If you will it is calling the positive charge from the skies....

You were in the strike zone

If I'm incorrect please someone ???

Trad climber
new york, NY
May 6, 2008 - 01:04pm PT

DEVINE electricity?
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, Ca
May 6, 2008 - 01:07pm PT
Chris - with all the crazy shít you've pulled with the basejumping/wingsuit antics, bet
you never dreamed you would ever be gripped doing something like Snake Dike - LOL.

Excellent decision - glad you got the hell outta there!

Gear is cheap, and it will certainly be appreciated by whoever snags it...


Trad climber
May 6, 2008 - 01:08pm PT
The Strange Energy thread has some good information.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
May 6, 2008 - 01:28pm PT
You did the right thing. A climatologist acquaintance of mine knows of instances where people have been struck by lightning from more than 5 miles away. When you hear that buzzing or
feel a shocking in your feet or your hair is standing on end
it's time to MOVE. Get down as fast as possible and make sure
you aren't the 'high point' anywhere, as you'll attract lightning like a tree or tower. I've had a few similar experiences high in the mountains, and I can't tell you how
fast we screamed down trails to get lower. . .

Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
May 6, 2008 - 01:32pm PT
You did the right thing, Chris. I've been zapped before, when the weather was significantly farther than 5 miles away. Lightning can arc over a crazy distance to hit things. Being zapped is NO fun, at all. With all of the things the doc at the hospital told me, I was pretty freaked about the possible results that can crop up in the following months.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
May 6, 2008 - 01:38pm PT
"The other thing you could do is remove all metal from you, and squat on your pack with your feet together. Try to do this off a ridge line – the best spot is in a shallow depression."

This is what I've heard too. However, if it's possible to get-ot-of-dodge quickly, like rapping, I'd say that's probably the best thing.

The squatting on an insulator thing is for when you're stuck.

Bay Area
May 6, 2008 - 02:00pm PT
One time we were climbing one of the long routes on the noth side of Tahqutiz and about half way up it started to drizzle. By the time we topped out it was raining pretty hard and we could see lightning several miles away near the summit of San Jacinto. That was the last thing I remember since a lightning bolt hit the snag I was sitting under while coiling the rope. My partner was knocked to the ground just a few feet from the edge of the face. When he came over to me, I didn't have a pulse. He did CPR (thanks Jim!) and brought me back, but I could barely move. We started down, but I had to stop every couple of minutes and sit down because I was so sore. It was really pouring and when we got to that sort of chimney downclimb thing, and I had to rap down it. It was like rapping through a waterfall! We finally made it down many hours later. The talus field was another epic.. Anyway, good decision, Chris!

Trad climber
new york, NY
May 6, 2008 - 02:36pm PT
HA! i didn't even pick up on the type-o.
i was just curious what you mean by divine electricity.

May 6, 2008 - 03:24pm PT
I vote that the correct decision was made.

It is uncanny how quickly the electrical storm can be on you:

There had been afternoon T-showers and you could just about time them, I thought. The Nose of El Cap with Eddie Mo: Of all places, "The Glowering Spot" EdM goes to clip the fixed pin at the belay when a sudden lightning strike hits the summit. The step voltage was on him in that instant. Thinking back, it was a comical/slapstick-looking incident. Ed yelling with the jolt. He was shaken-up, but O.K. A huge rush of water down the rock immediately ensued; we spent a good portion of the night in a river (4" thick).

Up in the Kern we had been working a route and the weather started to deteriorate. We did the right thing and bailed quickly, left a fixed line and started into the woods to the car. Again, some lightning and a deluge. There was so much water, the ground looked as if it was moving. Then it started hailing like a MF. It was so had to see we ducked under this overhanging boulder. Just as I remarked that our location wasn't ideal, WHAM! Our legs were jolted pretty good and the poor dog (who was suffering the hail the most, jumped straight into the air with a, "YELP!"

I was doing Fairview with a couple of cool nOObs. We had a real early start in order to avoid the afternoon boomers. Unfortunately, by 9-10am it was on. It was only a short time like twenty minutes that this storm brewed-up. I was at a ledge right below the summit anchored to a small tree with one of the guys and he was belaying the other. The sound was deafening. It was coming closer and closer. We all prepared for impact, minimizing contact with the rock (as#@&%es and elbows). Lightning must have struck within 100' of us. At the belay, we were literally blown off of the rock to the end of our tie-in (about four feet). For me it felt like Barry Bonds hit a homer off of the lone cheek that had contacted the rock. Below, that guy never felt much of anything. Us at the belay were stunned. I seemed to get it together first, asking the belayer if he was O.K. He stared into space for another ten seconds, then replied that he was. It then started hailing like a MF. We were engulfed in little white bouncing balls. Then, I noticed that both of my arms started to 'do their own thing.' I guess it was like how electro-therapy works when electrodes are attached to an appendage in order to exercise it. Except this was from the shock. My lower arms would contract and my hands would close on their own. It was a bit painful to straighten them out and after I did, they would contract back. It was pretty freaky. This lasted about five minutes. When the hail stopped, so did the storm. The sky almost looked as if nothing had occurred. Summiting on that was very difficult indeed, even when I new it was clear.

"And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt..."

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