Wham! Bam! Lessons in Colorado's High Country

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The boulder was headed directly at me. I barely had time to dive behind a rock outcropping as I heard the boulder sail by just above my head. After the dust settled, I waved my arms signaling to Jackie that I was okay. In the meantime, clouds were building fast. I barely got the dust off me when we heard a huge “CRACK!” and lightning struck the mountain behind us.

With that, the side of the mountain exploded, creating a shower of rock and dust where we had just stood only minutes before. We quickly ran for cover, dove into a shallow gully, and put on our rain gear. We then separated about 50 feet apart, so that if either of us were struck by lightning, the other could render first aid.

Lying in the tent that night, I realized how close we had come to disaster…twice. In fact, at the time of the lighting strike, two of my close friends happened to be on the summit. One of the guys actually felt a slight buzz of electricity surge through his body. Luckily, they made it back to camp unscathed after a “hair raising” descent. I was not so lucky. During the dive for cover to avoid the boulder, I had lacerated my forearm and had a huge painful contusion which took weeks to heal.

Vestal Peak is a great mountaineering destination. The moderate Wham Ridge is an ultra classic climb and definitely worth the effort of getting there. However, sometimes the beauty and aesthetics of a peak can lure one into a sense of complacency. It is easy to get caught up in the scenery and fun, forgetting that the mountain and the environment both demand respect. When hiking or climbing in the high country, remember to start early to avoid storms, be mindful of rock fall (wear a helmet), and never go alone. If the conditions are not right, the mountain will always be there to climb another day. We want you to be there another day too.

Thanks to Barry Raven and Kane Engelbert ( for the use of their photos.

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* Published by JPFreek Adventure Magazine – The leader in Jeep and adventure enthusiast publications.

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