Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park: What To Do In A Lightning Storm

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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park: What To Do In A Lightning Storm
Lightning Storms can be deadly. There is no other way of putting it more lightly. And if you’re exposed on an open alpine slope, on a mountain pass, an alpine ridge or on a summit during a lightning storm, you are potentially in really, really big trouble. Below are some tips to help you survive a lightning storm while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park, and hiking in Grand Teton National Park.

If you’ve ever been caught on a mountain top or an alpine ridge during a lightning storm, you know just how terrifying this can be. You literally do not know if your life is going to end in the next second, and it’s the most helpless feeling on earth…. And after nearly 50 years of experience in these mountains, and after hiking over 1,300 miles each year in these parks, we’ve learned a thing or two about lightning… and below is what we’ve been taught and have learned through the years through several different sources… including NOAA and the National Weather Service.

If you hear thunder that means you are close enough to get struck.

Tip #1:
Don’t Get Caught In A Lightning Storm In The First Place
The best way to survive a lightning storm while hiking in Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park or Grand Teton National Park is to avoid the lightning storm all together. This means that if you see any HINT of thunderheads in the distance (usually to the west), or you hear distant thunder, and if you are in an exposed place such as an alpine ridge, an open alpine slope, a mountain pass or on a summit, you need to get well below the tree line as fast as you can, and more ideally get back to the trailhead and get in your car. Do not wait until the lightning storm is upon you, because then it’s too late… and you’d be surprised just how fast these storms can come up.

Another important thing to do is to carefully read the weather forecasts, and if there is anything more than a 10% chance of lightning in the afternoon, reconsider any high altitude, open exposure hiking or climbing later than 11 a.m. on that day. Our general rule of thumb is that we will not climb a peak or hike any open alpine traverses if there is over a 10% chance of precipitation or lightning storms predicted for that particular day unless we are confident we will be off this exposed location earlier than 11 a.m. It’s just not worth the risk in our opinion.

Tip #2:
Get Below The Tree Line Fast!
If you happen to be in an exposed situation while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park or hiking in Grand Teton National Park, such as getting caught on a mountain pass, an open alpine slope or ridge, or on a mountain summit, then you need to carefully but quickly get below the tree line. Concentrate very carefully on each step so you don’t sprain an ankle, and swiftly get to a lower elevation ASAP. You are an absolute “sitting duck” on an exposed ridge, pass or summit because you are higher than any of your surroundings. This greatly increases the chances of you getting hit by lightning, and you really need to get out of there fast.

Tip #3:
Do Not Stand Under The Tallest Tree or an Isolated Tree
Once you reach the tree line, get into an area of large numbers of trees equal in height (low standing trees are best). This decreases the chances of lightning “choosing” the exact tree you are under. Avoid choosing the largest tree in the area because it is actually a possible lightning rod because it’s higher than the surrounding trees. An isolated tree also acts as a lightning rod so avoid it.

Tip #4:
Do Not Wear Metal Jewelry
Anything metal tends to attract lightning (and conducts lightning), including a metal necklace or bracelet, or a metal watch. Leave these things in the car. As far as metal spectacles, well, that’s a different story, so I will refer you to Tip #1 again and avoid the whole situation so you don’t have to worry about it.

Tip #5:
Get Away From All Metal Objects
If you’re in the middle of a lightning storm but you’ve made it below tree line, then leave all metal objects at least 50 yards away from you… including your trekking poles, climbing gear, tent poles, etc. while you wait the storm out. If you made it to your tent, get out of it and away from it because the tent poles can attract lightning!

Tip #6:
Spread Out!
Hikers should stay at least 50 feet away from each other during a lightning storm. This is to make sure that if someone is struck by lightning, someone will be conscious to administer CPR.

Tip #7:
Get Off The Cell Phone
Your cell phone can attract lightning, so turn it off!

Tip #8:
If You Made It To Your Vehicle…
If you made it to your vehicle, get in and avoid touching any metal inside your car.

Tip #9:
Stay Away From Water
Water conducts and attracts electricity.

Tip #10:
Keep Feet Together
Once you have found shelter in a forest (preferably in trees of equal height), then remove your pack and stand with your feet together. If you have a foam sleeping pad or extra clothing, you may consider standing on this material.

1. Try to not be the tallest object in the area, so seek out an area of depression.

2. Get away from all metal objects and remove your pack!

3. Crouch down (to get low), on your feet, with your feet together. DO NOT LAY DOWN!

4. Do not seek shelter in a cave!
(Electricity can bounce, and some rocks can conduct electricity.)

5. Get at least 50 feet away from your climbing partner(s).
(This is to make sure if someone gets hit, someone will be conscious to administer CPR.)

6. If you have a foam sleeping pad or some additional clothing, stand on these articles while you
crouch down with your feet together.

7. Cover your ears to avoid hearing damage.

All of these things of course do not eliminate the chance of getting struck by lightning, but it’s at least doing something instead of nothing. For those of you who have been in this terrifying situation, you understand what we are trying to say. The bottom line is really this: While hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park or hiking in Grand Teton National Park, do everything you can to avoid being in a lightning storm so you never have to experience being on an open ridge or summit when these storms emerge.

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