Mary Chandler, 29, and three friends got caught in a lightning storm on a Colorado Fourteener in 2015.
WHERE’S WILL? I woke up on the side of Mt. Bierstadt, soaked, shaking, and buzzing with electricity. I could smell burning hair, and my hiking partners—including my fiancé Will—were gone.
It was a beautiful June morning, and I’d wanted to make the most of it. Will and our friends Jonathan and Matt decided to grab our dogs and climb Bierstadt, an easy Fourteener near Denver, and set off around 7 a.m. I always wonder what would have happened if we’d left just 30 minutes earlier.
We reached the summit under partly cloudy skies, took some photos, and started down. Then a dark cloud rolled in. It started hailing. Suddenly, a flash of white light swallowed everything.
Next thing I knew, a stranger was wrapping my head in his T-shirt. I was confused and panicked, and my heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to rocket out of my chest. My forehead was damp with blood. Did I fall? I scanned the scene for Will. He was OK, sitting and surrounded by other hikers, as I was. He must have fallen, too, I thought hazily.
Then I heard Jonathan screaming. He was badly injured, and his dog, Rambo, was dead. Thunder clapped in the distance. Only then did it occur to me: We were struck by lightning.
Storms kept the helicopters away, so we hiked down. Matt, Will, and I walked on our own, but a group of hikers had to help Jonathan, who’d taken the brunt of the strike and had a bad head wound.
We all suffered spotty vision and migraines for months after the strike. Now those symptoms have faded, but the lesson never will: Everything can change in an instant.