American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Lightning, Poor Position—Late Afternoon, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

LIGHTNING, POOR POSITION-LATE AFTERNOON

Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak

On July 12, Andy Haberkorn (28) was seconding his partner, Stanley Smigel, on a crux 5.10 pitch of the Casual Route on the Diamond of Longs Peak. As Haberkorn was about 40 feet above the Yellow Wall bivouac ledge, a bright flash of lightning was observed by Smigel in the vicinity of Haberkorn. Haberkorn had received a fatal lightning strike which entered his chest. Smigel was able to respond to his partner briefly, but Haberkorn had succumbed to his internal injuries.

Analysis

Lighting is common element of the Colorado Rockies high country. Haberkorn’s fatal strike occurred about 1500, a most dangerous time of day to be high on the face in midsummer. It was during a rather unsettled period, where lightning storms were more common than normal.

Planning your route so that you can be up and down prior to 1300 is prudent, even though the attempt might not necessarily be successful. There is a past history of a climber struck by lightning at this same spot. Usually lightning strikes the summit and outstanding points on ridges. Also, lightning usually strikes the leader or higher individual. Mr. Smigel must be commended for his efforts in tending to his partner, and in getting down the Diamond under the most difficult conditions. (Source: Jim Detterline and Mark Magnuson, NPS Rangers, RMNP)

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