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High Altitude Storms

In the mountains, violent storms can move in at any time, especially during the summer, when mid-afternoon rain and thunderstorms are a fairly common occurrence. These storms create hazards to hikers in several ways. The wind and rain can result in a drop of body temperature which can ultimately lead to hypothermia, and even death. The rain can result in trails and rock faces becoming slick and hazardous. Some of these storms are accompanied by lightning that poses a hazard to hikers especially when exposed above treeline.

When people are on treeless ridgelines and summits, they are usually the highest objects around and that may attract a lightning strike. If you ever are in open terrain during an electrical storm, get low and fit into the local features. Don’t be the highest thing around that can attract a lightening strike. Sitting on your pack can give you some protection from ground currents created by nearby strikes. Metal hiking poles or ice axe are attractive of electrical charge put them down flat several tens of feet from where you sit down while riding the storm out.

A less commonly encountered hazard occurs when an unusually great amount of water rapidly falls within a drainage and creates a flash flood downstream. It may be barely raining at a particular location down stream when a flash flood tears through, created by a rain storm located miles away up in the mountains.

Unexpected storms can occur at any time, especially at higher altitudes. It’s not unheard of for people to hike up to a high-altitude and make a camp in fine weather, only to wake-up in the morning to find themselves in inches and even feet of snow.


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