Struck Down

Mary Chan­dler, 29, and three friends got caught in a light­ning storm on a Colorado Four­teener in 2015.

Backpacker - - The Survival Issue - As told to Mor­gan McFall-Johnsen

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.

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