buzzing on snake dike


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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.

Trad climber
May 6, 2008 - 02:48pm PT
OH. . .. DEEEEEEEVINE electricity. . . sorta sounds like something you'd hear on evangalistic TV. . . was spozed to be a funny. . . but what I meant by it was - we could actually feel electrical current running in the water. . . it was CREEPY. With bolts striking the summit, running down the dome, carrying exposed racks was pretty frightening.



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..."

Stuart Downs

Social climber
San Diego
May 6, 2008 - 05:09pm PT
Having designed many government avionic and ground systems for lightning protection I have the following comments about lightning:

 The average lightning stroke current I(t) is between 20,000 to 200,000 amperes
 It only takes .015 amp to kill someone under optimum circumstances (your wet or dry)
 Therefore, there is more than 1.33 x 10 ^6 to 1.333 x 10^7 times the current necessary to kill you in an average stroke or ~ 1,000,000 one million times more
 Lightning kills ~ 300 people per year in the US
 Lightning can either strike you either directly or indirectly, direct stroke or branch or feeder or through the ground with no strike to your body
 Sometimes there is a warning prior to a strike --- like your hair or furry stuff standing straight towards the sky --- danger your in a strong electric field !
 Never assume you cannot be struck because you are not at a high point
 Lightning current can start flowing without a flash
 Current can flow from the ground up or sky down
 Lightning can occur on a clear sky
 Lightning is not fully understood scientifically
 Lightning occurs when the air breaks down to to an extremely high electric field on the order of millions of volts per meter
Lightning killed my grandfathers brother and split his head open like a water melon when he was sitting under a hay wagon to get out of the rain
 Ball lightning is thought to be lightning plasma and is real
 The temp rise of lightning is greater than that of the surface of the sun
 Airplanes are designed to handle lightning strikes without affecting flight critical functions
 Lightning current is the charge flow of coulombs of charge (electrons) i(t)=dq/dt
 Lightning disrupts radio communications up to 100 MHz or so
 Time changing lightning currents create a changing coulomb electric field, which gives rise to Maxwell's E field and B field and hence a wave travels according to the wave equation
 In North Dakota when a severs lightning storm passed my mom's grandmother put them in bed and sprinkled Holy Water on my mom and her sister. My mom is scared ^%$#@! of lightning
 My brothers house ( a climber)was hit by lightning and the magnetic field as a result of high current flow pulled ferrous (iron) nails out of the wall
 Lightning brought Frankenstein to life
 Lightning was over head when Moses heard "God's" voice from between the Angels on the Arc of the Covenant, which was inside of a tent in Sinai. The area between the two angels glowed. Air will begin to glow with high electric fields (ionization) and there is such a thing as an electrostatic speaker. See Leviticus in the Torah
 Lightning starts forest fires
 This EE thinks lightning is amazing "stuff" --- I like lightning very much, but yes I am afraid of lightning

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 6, 2008 - 05:18pm PT
Smartest thing to do?

Start up the route with YOUR rope and your partner's rack,.... LOL

Social climber
May 6, 2008 - 05:30pm PT
Sounds like you made a good call.

Wonder if you would have seen a lightning corona if it was dark.

The only time I've heard the buzzing (loud, more of a rumbling), it was at night, and the ground was lit up with a bluish corona.

May 6, 2008 - 05:41pm PT
...yeah, I could use a Corona 'bout now...

Trad climber
Lee, NH
May 6, 2008 - 06:01pm PT
I've had that buzzing, hair-on-end experience a few times, once on the summit of Petite Grepon which just then seemed about the worst place on earth to be standing. We bailed fast, soon afterwards the lightning was flying.

You know those baseball-type caps with a metal adjuster clip in the back? I've owned a few, and tend to wear them backwards on climbs. Once in Utah I was near the top of a buttress when lightning hit the summit. Got shocked right in the forehead, a nasty surprise.
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, Ca
May 6, 2008 - 06:12pm PT
After reading some of these harrowing accounts, I could also use a Corona...

The salty ocean blue and deep
May 6, 2008 - 06:31pm PT
"Ball lightning is thought to be lightning plasma and is real..."

Heck yeah it's real!!! It struck the side of the road about 10 feet in front of the El Camino my stepdad was driving...rolled like a happy, firey beachball across the asphalt, and disappeared into the night.

Our hair was standing on end and everything was crackling around us. My stepdad's eyes were the size of chicken eggs--I actually thought it was cool and didn't realize just how close to fried eggs we might've been.

Chalkless climber
the Gunks end of the country
May 6, 2008 - 06:41pm PT
The closest that I know that I have been to a lightning strike is about 150 feet.

I know the distance because it blew a 6 foot long section (a couple of inches in diameter) of a tree 16 inches in diameter about 20 feet across the driveway. Chips from that explosion landed on the front porch (150 feet from the tree and about 20 feet uphill.

I think just having the lumber hit would have been bad news. Presumably (guess) this was caused by extremely rapid vaporization of sap which causes about 1000 fold expansion in volume - once the pressure has been released.

The glass-break circuit on burglar alarm was destroyed by the pulse.

The house sat on a high point of a ridge at 400 ASL. Many grounded lightning rods. That was a wise investment, I think.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 6, 2008 - 06:42pm PT
And I thought Ball Lightning was merely a nickname given Ammon by a one time paramour.

the Moon and Antarctica
May 6, 2008 - 06:56pm PT
"Arc of the Covenant" that's a good one. Makes perfect sense. Say you're some guy 6,000 years ago or whatever, and you survive a lightning strike. You know absolutely nothing about electric current, flowing ions, etc. and then all of a sudden BLAMMO. Deee-vine activity, that's the ticket. There is a God and he lives in those clouds up there and he is an angry god. Clearly.

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
May 6, 2008 - 07:13pm PT
I heard this big sound and thought, "whoa that was one massive rock fall, it must be pieces of upper brother tearing off again" I was going to yell up to my partner when I heard another loud booming sound and thought two rock falls in the valley one right after another? hmm something strange there and then it hit me, there must be a thunder storm coming! I told my partner to look behind him up the valley and hurry up and climb faster. We were on the last aid pitch on Leaning Tower west face on Sunday, when I got to the bivy ledge a conference of minds was had,

should we stay or should we go?
If we stay there could be trouble, if we go down the rappels in the dark with a pig it could be double.

We decided to have a look at the top so I did the little bit of fourth class to the top and was hoping to see some trees to take cover under. When I popped my head through the little slot at the top, the end of the climb I could not have been more disappointed to discover that we were in fact on a the top of the tower ridge and the rappels started right there. So we decided to sleep right there on that glorious ledge, we took all the gear and put it on a rope down the back side of the tower and settled in for dinner and hopefully a quite night.

Well the rain was little to none, just a few drops to make us glad we had bivy sacks and the wind was light over night. We woke up on the top of Leaning Tower looking down the valley to bluebird California skies, I guess our call was right this time.

Chris, glad you guys got off safely when you did.

Cheers to spring climbing and unstable weather patterns.


Trad climber
Sunnyvale, CA
May 6, 2008 - 08:26pm PT
Stuart Downs: The average lightning stroke current I(t) is between 20,000 to 200,000 amperes... It only takes .015 amp to kill someone under optimum circumstances... Therefore, there is more than 1.33 x 10 ^6 to 1.333 x 10^7 times the current necessary to kill you in an average stroke...

This is not a linear phenomenon as you're extrapolating here, Stu. A current of ~15 mA causes the heart to begin twitching in such a fashion that it cannot circulate blood properly.

Currents above 30 mA, however, simply cause the heart to clamp down. Barring severe injury, the heart can resume pumping after such a shock. This is why people have survived lightning strikes.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
May 6, 2008 - 08:39pm PT
Sam, all thinks considered, I think you guys made a similarly right-call like Chis did.

Every time I get on Marmot Dome in Tuolumne I have to bail from incoming storms. It's some weird mojo going on with me and that dome. Of course, I've been with the same dude every time, it could be his mojo!

The first time we bailed, right at the base we look over at Lembert and, Kaboom!, huge strike right on top where the walk-off starts.

I wasn't really disappointed about bailing at that sight.

Trad climber
Fort Sam
May 6, 2008 - 09:09pm PT
frequently I am buzzing after multiple coronas.

I was up Horse Creek canyon looking up at the Matterhorn when a storm came in fast. No buzzing but really bad feeling as I watched strikes on the talus where I wanted to go. I bailed on that mission.
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, Ca
May 6, 2008 - 09:15pm PT
This thread could really use an Ouch! cartoon about now...
The user formerly known as stzzo

Armchair climber
Sneaking up behind you
May 6, 2008 - 09:21pm PT

We were wondering how you fared. Glad to hear that all was well and that you made it back.

Trad climber
Somewhere, CA
May 6, 2008 - 09:34pm PT
I think that someone earlier is right, the charge on the ground is not due to friction by wind/clouds/ions (what causes lightning). The ground charge is caused by capacitance. The charge on the ground is a result of the massive nearby potential that built up in the clouds. Basically the clouds and the ground make a giant capacitor. And you are part of one of the plates. Unlike with any lightning storm you see, the charge build up on the ground can be clearly measured (buzzing, hair standing up). If you can hear a buzz, you're likely to experience an exchange of electrons.

There was a picture in my high school physics text (in the Capacitance chapter) of a person posing on an observation deck at the grand canyon(?). Their hair was standing up due to static charge build up. The caption noted that 5 minutes after the pictures was snapped, lightning killed 4 people standing on the observation deck. The discussion that day in class was along the lines that being able to see a static charge build up is quite rare, and if you can see it, your life is in danger.

(Edit) Forgot to put the odds (given those conditions described originally): 10:1 of being hit. 20:1 of being killed.
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