NON F I C I T O Nw i n n e r Caught in the Open A Problem With Lightning Our group heard the first sound of thunder about thirty minutes after we had finished lunch. It echoed through the valleys below and up onto the high mountain- tops where we were currently located on the Continental Divide trail. Up to now, it had been a perfect July day back- packing in Colorado’s Weminuche wilderness area, but we were counting on getting off of the high ridge line well before the afternoon thunderstorms set in. Because of the high altitude, it had been a tough go for our group of eight over the last three days. As we all lived in Phoenix, Arizona, we were not used to a trail that was bob- bing up and down on either side of 12,000 feet. Even as we had grown acclimated to the thinner air, the levation changes were killer. Today’s portion of the trip had even taken us over 13,000 feet for a short stretch. Dad led the way up the left side of the mountain following a series of switchbacks that were currently going up. I could tell by
his constant glancing
around that he did not
want the storms to start
yet because we were all
too exposed here above the tree line. The problem was we
all knew that there was no cover over the last two miles that
we had just traveled and there was no perceivable cover that
we could see if we continued forward. At present, however,
staying put with a massive summer monsoon heading our
way was not an option.
The daily weather patterns thus far on the trip had been
fairly consistent. Wake to a crystal clear morning, without
a cloud in the sky. As the morning progressed, scattered
clouds would begin to form giving the vistas an even more
dramatic effect. By two or three in the afternoon these
cloud patterns would have coalesced building towards their
crescendo, leaving us with a sudden and violent downpour,
usually with by flashing lightning and ear spitting accompaniment. Then, by four or five o’clock the storm would
halt as fast as it started and the skies would clear for the
evening’s star show.
Today, the storms arrived much earlier than their regular
While we climbed toward the crest of the summit, the
storms grew more ominous and seemed to be approaching from three sides at once. One of the younger boys in
our group took it upon himself to start counting out loud
whenever he saw a flash of lightning the old fashion way—
As we reached the crest line of the summit after my Dad,
we found only disappointment. Ahead of us for at least a
half of a mile lay two more sweeping grass-covered rises
with no cover whatsoever. No trees, no overhanging rock
formations; nothing except two wind-swept, grassy knolls
with a thin ribbon of a footpath crossing over their tops.
Even worse, we could not see what lay beyond the two tops
from our current position.
“Shit.” I heard my Dad say under his breath as we
At this point, the wind was getting pretty constant,
whipping our rainsuits and pushing on our backpacks like
sails whenever they caught the wind. The previously distant
cloud formations seem to be encircling us at a rapid speed.
The lightning flashes and their following thunder were definitely getting closer.
Dad pulled out his map and was trying to make sense of
it in light of the vista before us. “Well, we can’t go back and
BY BRUCE D. BROWN
Ahead of us for at least a half
of a mile lay two more
sweeping grass-covered rises
with no cover whatsoever. No
trees, no overhanging rock