True Tales: Struck by Lightning

Bad decisions and running scared got this reader struck by lightning--but he survived.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Survivor Stan Feil, 46, Visalia, California
Predicament Caught in an electrical storm on the exposed summit of a 14,000-foot peak, Colorado
Lesson learned “Follow your instincts about reducing risk exposure, even if other people disagree with you. Your life depends on good judgment.”

Escape Plan:
Reduce Lightning Risk

“An arc of electricity jumped out of the ground and flowed directly into my left hand. It looked like something you’d see in a sci-fi movie. I was about halfway between the summit of Colorado’s highest mountain (14,440-foot Mt. Elbert) and treeline when I was hit. By then I’d already been running full-bore down the mountain for almost 20 minutes.

“We’d waited longer than we should have at the summit, hoping that all 15 of the people in our group would make it to the top. Summit fever was high, as the peak would be the fifth Fourteener of the week for most of the Boy Scouts in the troop. I joined the group, which included my teenage son, just the day before this hike. There had been rain, but no high- country lightning all week. So when I men- tioned the building clouds, the boys and troop leaders weren’t overly concerned. I should have acted on my instincts to get off the summit right then. I was the only one who seemed worried about the storm until one of the boys, a 15-year-old with shoulder-length locks, pointed to his hair— literally standing on end because of the static in the air. Our ears began buzzing with electricity.

“The charge in the air was palpable and we should have dropped to the ground, but fear took over. We started running and I hoped that my legs and knees could handle the pounding pace. I yelled to the boys to spread out as they ran—not to group together—knowing that they’d reach treeline long before I would.

“Within minutes, it was pouring rain. Lightning and thunder boomed and flashed simultaneously. It was like a battlefield, with jagged bolts hitting the ground every 10 to 15 seconds like bombs. Boom! Boom! Boom!

“I was praying as I ran, and when I saw the bolt of electricity jump from the ground to my fingers, I thought I was a goner. My hand was hot and my arm was tingling from the shock, but surprisingly, I was oth- erwise uninjured. The pounding in my heart, lungs, and legs was from the running—not the direct hit I’d narrowly avoided. It’s the only time in my life that I really thought I might die. My entire life didn’t flash before my eyes, but I worried about my wife and family, and when it was over I felt lucky to be alive and humbled by nature.