Summer weather has the greatest potential for violence at higher elevations. Shock Top earned his name in that weather. Douglas should have as well. Josh fled shattering trees in the thunder and never looked back. Mr. Dallas sat under a trailhead sign and waited for it to all blow away.
Before the storm Mr. Dallas was hiking lead. He could hear the thunder bumping in the distance and knew it was only a matter of time before the clouds broke loose. However, and strangely so, there were not any clouds yet. He trudged along taking in the scenery. Periodically, he would gaze up through the tree canopy to try and get a glimpse of the sky.
It was useless. He could only make out small patches of blue through the trees. He could not view a large enough picture of the sky to get an idea of cloud movements, or wind directions. Yet, the thunder persisted. Mr. Dallas wondered if it was actually just distant jets thumping about at the sky.
The excrement collided with the fan and in a matter of minutes. Capricious nature was working over the mountaintops. Mr. Dallas tried and failed to mount his poncho over his pack in the sudden howling wind and driving rain. He continued his attempts until he was so drenched it didn’t matter any more. Demoralized, he pressed on as the storm escalated in fury. Fear rose to a thrill as the forrest swayed to and fro in the tempest.
A little further back were Douglas, Sims (pre Shock Top) and Josh. Hiking close enough to see each other up the trail. Douglas resigned himself to a general “F it” attitude and coped with rain by taking absolutely no measures to keep himself dry. He hiked in the rain as if it were a comfortable shower and smiled like it was getting him off. “We’re getting wet now boys,” he shouted down the trail to Josh and Sims through thick bands of wind and slanted downpour.
Before long they came across a bear box full of trail magic. Orange soda, honey buns, Oreos, and OCPs were devoured in the pouring rain. Spirits were raised along with blood sugars. The rain continued to fall, the wind continued to howl, and they continued to walk with thunder cracking closer and closer.
The trail came to a point where it crossed a road and then went up over a mile or two of grassy balds before another tree line. Beside the road was a trailhead sign with the typical maps and warning signs and a small gravel parking lot. Mr. Dallas was standing under the sign drinking an orange soda and praying he would not be fried by the sky when Sims, Douglas, and Josh strolled up.
“Wonderful weather these days huh boys?” Mr. Dallas shouted over the wind as they approached.
“Beautiful Mendez Garcias Benitos all day,” was Douglas’ response. He smeared the water out of his Mohawk as he talked. “You got some holy trail magic?” he asked as he stood in in the rain.
“Hell yeah I did, saved my life,” responded Mr. Dallas.
Sims and Josh crammed up under the sign and contemplated the lightning rapidly bolting the hills they needed to walk over. Mr. Dallas was holed up under the sign for the same reason.
Flash, boom! Everyone flinched. There was absolutely no time between flashes and thunders. They were coming in close. Close enough to feel.
When lightning is that close it either looks white or ultra violet. Flash, boom, sparks and cinders went flying out of a tree on the other side of the parking lot not even 200 yards away. The thunder was ear splitting.
In a quick drop they went from standing to sitting, as if that might help. The rain was coming down sideways and the trailhead sign provided little cover.
The storm blew off as quickly as it had arrived and the sun came out. Thunder continued to roll across the mountainside. Josh, Douglas, and Sims decided it was clear enough to press on over the bald. Mr. Dallas, who has a primal fear of lightning, decided to change his socks and wait it out a little longer.
While Mr. Dallas was swapping out his socks. The other three headed across the road and up over the balds. And then, freak storm round two surprised them all. While smack in the middle of the rolling fields another ferocious storm materialized out from the cooled mountain air.
Josh could feel his skin being charged by electrical fields. Chills ran through him. Sims’ fro was puffing out in high style as if it wasn’t even soaked. The hairs on Douglas’ arms stood up, he could taste the electricity in the air.
Zeus and Thor unleashed their white-hot daggers. The strokes dialed in, closer and closer, louder and louder, brighter and brighter. They ran for the tree line. But it’s not easy to run with a heavy pack on your back.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dallas was back under the trailhead sign in dry socks. He watched lightning spark up the mountainside to the left and right his friends. Elaborate strings of four, three, and five letter words bounced around in his head. He could see three bobbing hikers running for the trees, and then they vanished under the horizon of one of the hills just before the trees. Mr. Dallas thought he saw two of them drop their packs.
Josh made it to the trees first, and didn’t stop when he had. It proved that the trees really were not any safer. In a flash, his face was burned by flying embers from a tree that had been struck only feet in front of him. Another tree fell over in the wind across the trail and nearly smashed him. He ran like the wind. He was the wind. He could not be stopped.
Only moments behind were Douglas and Sims. The intensity of the storm had reserved itself for them. Between them and the trees was a long barbed wire fence. A set of wooden stairs went up and over the fence so that humans could cross but not livestock.
With Sims behind him, Douglas put one foot onto the steps. Bam! The hammer had fallen. Douglas and Sims whited out. It was as if they had been grabbed by their ankles and yanked out of their bodies before being thrown to the ground.
Mr. Dallas had seen bolts dropping right where he knew the trail was. He could do nothing. Running across an open field in an electrical storm was not an option he would consider. He waited, and hoped against all hope his pals had made it.
Sims and Douglas came to facing each other on the ground in a cloud of steam and melted plastic. The storm had passed, and the sun was out. Confusion set in. What the hell had just happened? Where am I? Why am I so hot and steamy? Where is my pack? They decided to go on a search for Mr. Dallas because that made sense to them at the time.
They greeted Mr. Dallas half way across the bald with bizarre enthusiasm saying, "We thought you were dead." Mr. Dallas was confused, his friends were in a stupor. Douglas and Shock Top stood in front of him wobbling with weird random twitches and steam rising off of their bodies. Shock Top appeared to be shrink wrapped in his synthetic shirt and his fro was wildly buoyant. Douglas was having trouble making sentences.
"Why aren't you wearing shoes?" he asked them pointing to their feet, "And where are your packs?" They stood there in a daze with their hearts palpitating in irregular rhythms. They were in shock. It was clear to Mr. Dallas that the BBQ had started without him.
Their shoes had been blown off. Shock Top later recalled feeling the charge blast up through his feet first. Short term memory became a serious issue in the coming days along with sore bodies and metallic tastes that lingered on their tongues. Each of their cameras were ruined. Douglas's and Shock Top's packs were relocated further up the hill on the side of the trail. Important items simply vanished.
There is a Kabar Marine fighting knife, the burner to a jetboil stove, trekking poles and a pair of split open boots somewhere on the side of that mountain. These were acceptable losses given the circumstances. They were "misplaced," by electricity rather than abandoned.
- Written by Joel Dallas, Photos by Joshua Niven