i shouldn’t be alive…

Have you ever read an article about some mishap that happened to someone who was out in the wilderness and thought, “boy are they stupid!”?  It often seems like people lose all common sense when they go into the woods!  One of my favorite examples that I have read was that of a hunter who got lost in the Adirondacks and started walking looking for a way out.  He eventually came to the NYS Northway (the major 4 lane highway of the area), crossed it, and kept on going, still lost!!!  The movie The Blair Witch Project always bugged me for the same reason.  Instead of following the river out, they crossed over it and walked in circles.  Well, we had our own example of wilderness stupidity this past weekend.

Last week we spent the week volunteering at Word of Life camp with some friends in order to get the camp ready for its summer season.  We finished on Friday and on Saturday we decided to head “off campus” for a hike.  Our friends had never been to Lake Placid which is one of our favorite towns (you can read more about it here), so we decided on a short hike and then off to Lake Placid to show them the town.  I called it an Adirondack sampler; short hike with high peaks views, great town, stops at our favorite meadows, lakes, and restaurants, etc., all to show them the beauty of the area.  Our friends thought that the plan sounded great and we all set off after breakfast towards our first stop, the hike.

Almost immediately we hit severe thunderstorms while driving on the highway.  Thunder and lightning was all around us and may cars pulled over due to the driving rain and wind.  I checked my phone and found that the cells had just popped up but were small and moving away from where we were headed.  Sure enough, within a few minutes we drove out of the storms and into partly cloudy skies.  We spent the rest of the drive pointing out the beauty around us to our friends.  The road (Rt. 73) from the Northway to Lake Placid follows the Ausable River seen far below creating a beautiful gorge and waterfalls.  It passes by two lakes (Cascade and Chapel Pond) ringed with sheer cliffs popular among climbers and climbs deeper and deeper into the mountains, many of them the high peaks.  This road has spectacular scenery and we greatly enjoyed taking it all in.  We soon arrived at our hike, Owls Head and, when we got out of the cars, we realized that we had been so busy taking in the views that we had not noticed the weather had turned again.

Owls Head is a very short hike up a little bump of a mountain sticking up all by itself surrounded by the high peaks.  The top is pretty bald and allows for great views of the surrounding mountains.  The views are amazing  for very little effort which is why I often suggest it as a good option for a quick hike.  As we exited the cars, gathered cameras, and had a quick snack, we heard thunder in the distance and noticed the clouds flying by overhead were suddenly quite dark and ominous.  But, the storm seemed to be on the other side of the mountains… it is a short hike… we had come all this way… the majority of the hike is in trees sooo… lets do it!  We started off, thunder growling in the distance, and soon made it to the first overlook where we stopped for some pictures.  As we left the overlook it started to rain, just sprinkle a little, so we were not too concerned and continued to make our way up the mountain.

The kids ran ahead, laughing and talking and daring each other to jump from this rock and that tree.  I told the adults that I would race ahead with them and hurried to catch up.  We soon reached the final push to the top of the mountain which requires a climb either over or around boulders.  Once on top there was a lot of open rock, but still some small tress in the middle.  The kids and I took in the views and I pointed out the dark clouds and where it appeared to be pouring in the distance in a few different spots.  The bulk of the storm still seemed to be on the other side of a massive peak in the distance.  We watched the lightning striking all around that mountain.  It really was beautiful and I told all the kids to line up on the edge so I could take their picture.  They lined up and I raised the camera when, all of sudden, I noticed something that made me scream at them to run under the trees as quick as possible.

look! lightning strikes!

My voice obviously contained enough force and fear that they all immediately ran to join me where I was under the trees.  Just as I had been getting ready to take the picture, I suddenly saw the hair on their heads stand up on end!  The charge had built up enough in the kids and in the clouds that there was a very good chance that they were about to be struck by lightning!  They made it to the trees and the rest of the adults, hearing me yell with fear in my voice, came running to see what had happened.  We made a decision to get off the top of the mountain, but first we wanted to take a picture of everyone.  Again, wilderness stupidity prevailed!  So, we all lined up on the edge of the mountain overlooking the valley, mountains in the distance and the storm much closer now, as Jeff fiddled with my camera (very inferior to his Sony alpha but it’s all we had!) in attempts to get the timer to work.  He never did get the timer to work (cheap camera!) but as we were waiting he looked up and again saw the hair on our heads standing up even though our hair was now wet from the rain (look closely at the picture below and you can see it!). We quickly snapped a picture and we were off.  Lightening was all around us!

It took about five minutes of complete exposure on the top of the mountain before we were in the trees.  Pretty scary!  Jeff advised us to spread out so that way only one or two of us would take the direct lightning hit (hmmm…I guess good advice, but very morbid…) and our friend told a story of an interview he saw of a man who was hit by lightning on the head and survived (there was hope!).  I just prayed and thought that at least there would be proof on our camera that they could use on the nightly news when the anchor told the story of how a bunch of idiots got struck by lightening while pausing to take a picture on the mountain top!  We would be an example to all!

hair standing on end in a lightning storm

We made it to the tree line and a few minutes later it started absolutely pouring.  A little while later we reached the bottom and the men raced out in the storm to pull our cars up.  We jumped in soaking, but laughing because it had been a very exciting hike and we had survived!  This was our friends’ first Adirondack hike and I told them that sooner or later everyone has a weather adventure in the Adirondacks (we have many!), they were just lucky enough for that adventure to be on their first hike!  The sun came out later that day while we were in Lake Placid where we had a great time (they fell in love with the town as well!), but our favorite part of the day was definitely our adventure on Owl’s Head mountain!

Have you had any adventures due to your own wilderness stupidity or is it just us?

after the storm
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10 thoughts on “i shouldn’t be alive…

  1. Another great post. It was exciting to read and glad I knew that you all were safe. I am living vicariously through your family hikes

  2. In an aluminum boat in the middle of an Adirondack lake, with your family, during a lightening storm! Remember? I’m beginning to see a pattern…

  3. As I was reading your adventure on Owl Head’s mountain I couldn’t help but think of a saying we have around here: if you can’t be a good example, you can serve as a horrible warning.

  4. I HATED my last hike in Ojai!!! Honestly, it was all bad information. I didn’t get to see the price at the end which is a waterfall. I got confused with the source I learned the trail from. I also got lost a little bit and it was starting to get dark. I’m fortunate not to have stayed in the wilderness as I found my way back.

    Then to another hike of the same day, I also got misled when other people in the area told me that I already found what I’m looking for. It was unfortunately not.

    You guys are so brave to be continuing with that weather so imminent.

    If I do get in trouble for being adventurous, so be it! I wouldn’t call it stupidity, and I better NOT hear someone say it. BWAHAHAHAHA 😀

    1. I’ve definitely had hikes like that! Everything goes wrong. I’m always most upset when I don’t complete it, so I understand being mad about not seeing the waterfall.

  5. You’re not alone. Many people have done what you did. However, the mountains probably host more of those people in the struck-statistics. There is an excellent section on lightening in a classic book that I highly recommend as a reference:

    Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.

    Excellent investment, and relied upon by millions for good reason. You’ll want to read up on physical features to avoid that can serve as an arc for lightening as it passes through things. The direct strike from above is not the only concern. Once you’re versed, you’ll know just what to do.

    Love your blog, stay healthy and alive and thank you for sharing your findings and lessons learned. I prefer to learn than teach, but together we can all compare notes as fellow students!

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