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Reader Participation Day: Have You Had a "Close Call" in a National Park?



Most national parks are not inherently dangerous, but park visitors can expect to encounter serious hazards to life and limb at various places and times in our National Park System.  If you've narrowly escaped from a life threatening situation in a national park, tell us about it. Is there a takeaway lesson?


A thunder storm at Lassen Volcanic many years ago. It was my first trip in that part of the Cascades and we did not expect the weather to deteriorate as fast as it did. So we were surprised by the storm moving in from a western direction as we reached the summit of Lassen Peak. We left immediately but the storm catched up with us and we got into the very center. It became the worst thunderstorm I ever encountered in any mountains anywhere. It did not really help that I carried a pretty heavy metal tripod and we feared it would attract flashes.
As you can see from the fact that I can write about the experience, we got down from the mountain, by using commons sense and the appropriate techniques, such as duck with a very small footprint until the thunder roars and the flash discharges, then jump for a few seconds before you duck again and wait for the next flash. 

Definitely too close for comfort, MRC.  Glad you ducked that bullet.  Your tale reminds me of an experience I had myself at Lassen Volcanic. I guess it might be thought of as a close call.  I was tent-camping at the park's Lake Manzanita Campground in early September some years ago (2003?) when an unexpectedly powerful thunderstorm moved in at night. The trees near my tent were being heavily buffeted and the ground was awash, with some water even flowing in under the ground cover beneath my sleeping bag. When lightning began striking very close -- flash and boom nearly simultaneous -- I commenced wondering what might happen if a lightning bolt hit a nearby tree, or even the wet ground near my tent.  (I had a pretty good idea, not least because I used to teach meteorology.) As the wind gusted more violently, these thoughts gave way to concern about what might happen if one of the nearby trees fell on my tent. (You don't need to be a student of atmospheric physics and chemistry to figure that one out.) Fortunately, this little adventure turned out just fine.  I got a good night's sleep and was up early the next morning to get the fire going and make the coffee. As I recall, there was a pretty good coating of ice on the gear that was left outside. Mountain weather sure gets interesting in the fall. 

I was on my first backing packing trip ever in Glacier National Park. On our second day our hike took us into the backcountry to a non-desginated campsite. Along the way on we crossed a large patch of snow on Pitamakan Pass. The next day on the way back we had to cross the same patch of snow. I didn't think anything of it until the snow gave way and I found myself sliding down a slope toward a 1,000 ft dropoff into Pitamakan Lake. I'm still amazed that I remembered what our guide had told us to do if this happened. I was on my stomach already so I jammed my hiking poles into the snow to impede my progress and hopefully stop my slide. It worked! Meanwhile our guide moved swiftly, clambered down the slope along the edge of the snow patch, and reached me about the time I stopped near the lower end of the snow before I hit scree. He helped me back up the slope to the trail and we continued after I got my wits about me and I calmed down.

Many, actually.  But I was a ranger, so I guess that goes with the territory.

The coastal strip of Olympic National Park contains the longest, wildest (roadless) beach walks in the lower forty-eight states. While backpacking south from Jefferson Cove in the 90's, I arrived at a relatively small bedrock point a bit too late to round it easily on the incoming tide. Since there was no feasible overland trail, there seemed three choices: Wait hours in the rain for the next low tide at sunset; climb up about forty feet to a rock-climbing traverse that looked too hard with a big pack; or, most appealing to me, wade through the incoming small surf for about thirty yards until a sort of large crack or chimney promised progress up out of the intertidal zone onto a shelf.

While I was standing on a car-sized, barnacle-encrusted boulder trying to get the timing of the wave sets, a 'rogue' wave hit me from behind. I was instantly maytagging in the submerged boulders and sea foam for what seemed ages, but was probably only a couple minutes. The lull in the waves arrived and adrenaline-fueled, I was able to stagger to my feet and fly across the rocks and up that chimney. I think my large soft pack protected my back and head and allowed me to escape with just extensive cuts and bruises.

I went out to hike Sulphur Creek on my day off. We did have a slight chance of rain but I checked the radar and everything was clear. I was knew to the area and had no idea how fast storms could develop. We were just reaching the section of the creek where it narrows and there are steep cliff walls on either side when we heard a crack of thunder and the skies started getting dark. We pretty much ran the rest of the way and as soon as we were out of danger, the storm blew over. Reminded me to listen to the advise I give to visitors.

My son and I were free-climbing a small dome across from Tenaya Lake.  We made it up about 75% of the way when I could no longer get traction on my shoes.  While my son had no problem, I knew two things:  Stick together and lay down flat to get a grip.  I stopped the slide with some handholds and we both made it back down safely.  Had I continued to slide, there was a good dropoff just below me that surely would have hurt upon the sudden deceleration.  Although the used carabiner where I stopped should have been an indicator, I wanted to press on.  Next time I'll just have better shoes and powder for my hands.  I'm still disappointed that we didn't summit so we'll have to go back someday better prepared.

Since I'm a timid soul by nature, I don't get in life-threatening situations.  But my husband is another story.  Speaking of Lassen, he tells the tale of being ON TOP of Lassen Peak during a thunderstorm.  He says he remembers being terrified, he and his pals lying flat on the ground, their hair literally standing on end as lightening flashed around them.
The closest I've come is my recent fall on ice near Aurum Geyser In Yellowstone in February.  Broke my ankle in 3 places & had to be carried off the hill by NPS personnel.  Hubby said from his view it looked like I was going to slide right under the walkway fence & into the geyser.  Luckily, the rail was low enough (or my hips were wide enough LOL) to prevent that! 

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