Each year in Rocky Mountain National Park people are injured—sometimes killed—by lightning. These unfortunate circumstances can usually be prevented with a bit of restraint and common sense. Here are a few suggestions for being safe at high altitudes, where lightning is most common:
Trail Ridge Road is a popular, high altitude highway that puts visitors in the midst of active storm areas. Leave the car or van and walk out on the treeless tundra and you’re probably the tallest thing in the neighborhood. So one way to avoid lightning hazard is to avoid being on the tundra when there are thunderclouds in the area. Since most thunderstorm activity occurs after noon, it’s safer to start hikes to visit the summits early in the morning. It’s also good to make your treks up into the tundra from Trail Ridge Road early.
But what if we’re hiking on the tundra, a mile from the car, and the storm moves in without our notice? First, to state the obvious: Don’t get taken by surprise. Watch the horizon, the sky, for developing thunderclouds. But if despite all precautions, lightning approaches, here are a few tricks that might help. First, if possible, descend or get back to the vehicle. If it’s too late for that crouch down with your hands on your knees, keeping your head low. Get rid of all packs and metal items, placing them as far from you as possible. For more information, pick up a free copy of the park’s one-page bulletin on lightning safety. And remember: protect the plants - stay on trails.
The most important thing about enjoying a vacation in the mountains is to get home safely at the end of the day. Nothing that we do on vacation is so urgent that it cannot be done safely.