Colorado native escapes lightning on 14er, experts encourage summer hiking safety

DENVER — Claire Harris, a Colorado native, has hiked 27 of the state’s peaks above

DENVER — Claire Harris, a Colorado native, has hiked 27 of the state’s peaks above 14,000 feet — called 14ers — but she’s never encountered a storm at the summit until this past Friday.

“We almost got struck by lightning,” Harris said.

On June 2, Harris and her friend headed out to hike Mount Shavano with a clear forecast, making it to the summit at 10:30 a.m. before things went awry.

“I leaned back on the rock and immediately got shocked, and the couple next to us stepped on a rock and it sounded like an electric wire fell. It was a huge, huge noise,” she said.

Harris and her friend knew lightning was close by, so they ran a short distance down the mountain and hid among boulders.

“It happened really quick. I’m so grateful. I don’t think it hit me until after I was down that mountain,” Harris said.

Unpredictability is a key component of summer hiking in Colorado, according to experts.

“Storms don’t wear watches. They don’t keep track of time. Sometimes they can come in earlier and sometimes later,” said Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

Athearn said while it’s a general rule to be off the summit by noon, storms can roll in at a moment’s notice, so it’s important to know what to do during severe weather.

“You want to get yourself down low — you want to be lower than other things around you. The challenge is, if you’re up high on top of a mountain, there’s rocks, there’s tundra, but nothing big. So, you want to make yourself lower than other things so that you’re less approachable for lightning,” Athearn said.

Athearn said he encourages hikers to always check summit forecasts on the National Weather Service or Open Summit.

According to the latest data from the NWS, there have been 14 lightning deaths from 2008 to 2017 in Colorado.

READ MORE: Stories behind the summits: The history, origin behind the name of every Colorado 14er