American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Lightning, Utah, Lone Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

LIGHTNING

Utah, Lone Peak

On July 26, Trent (28) and Alexis Pabst (23) were killed by a lightning strike on the summit of Lone Peak. Together with Trent’s younger brother Tyler (18), the couple had climbed The Open Book, a five-pitch 5.7 route that leads straight to the 11,253-foot summit. Tyler led the final pitch. After belaying Trent up, he went to scout out a spot to shelter from the approaching storm while Trent belayed Alexis. Tyler also had time to make an eerie entry in the summit log, in which he noted the oncoming storm clouds.

At the time of the strike, Alexis had just completed the climb and untied. She and Trent were together in a small alcove at the top of the route just below the summit, while Tyler was about ten feet away. Tyler was knocked down by the blast but uninjured. Panicked, he looked at the two unresponsive climbers without touching them, then raced out for help. Five hours later, he arrived at the Bell’s Canyon trailhead, having taken a longer and more difficult descent-route than he intended.

The two victims were evacuated by highline from the summit to a point lower on the summit ridge, then lowered to a meadow at about 10,800 feet, where they were loaded on board a helicopter and flown to Salt Lake City.

Analysis

The summit of Lone Peak is a room-sized pinnacle in the middle of a completely exposed ridge line. There aren’t any good spots to wait out a thunderstorm on the ridge, but anywhere would have been better than the summit itself. Once the three climbers had committed to starting the last pitch, they didn’t have much choice but to try to finish it and get off the peak before the storm arrived.

The Pabsts had suffered extensive burns and blast injuries and probably would not have survived. However, lightning strike victims who appear dead may in fact be in ventricular fibrillation or simply have stopped breathing. CPR can restore cardiac rhythm if it is started right away, and AR has frequently worked on victims who have just stopped breathing. An added note: With multiple lightning strike victims, triage should be the opposite of normal; that is, treat apparent fatalities first and deal with wounded victims later. (Source: Tom Moyer—Salt Lake County Sheriff’s SAR)

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