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When Lightning Strikes

by Captain Jim Barr on 07/27/12

Every year in the heat of the summer when we face frequent afternoon thunderstorms that often include lightning, I think about an event that occurred in 1976 when a good friend and I were in Baxter State Park, rock climbing on Mt. Katahdin during the Labor Day weekend. During part of that weekend there were storms bringing rain, wind, thunder and some lightning. On Labor Day we decided not to climb but to stay low- off the higher elevations due to the thunder. Others forged ahead and attempted to cross over the Knife Edge, Katahdin's summit ridge. Five people were struck by lightning on that dangerous and exposed ridge that afternoon, three were knocked unconscious and had head wounds. My friend and I led a search and rescue effort in the dark to locate and consolidate these people and administer whatever medical care we could provide until formal search and rescue personnel from the Maine Fish and Wildlife and Forest Service Rangers could assist. They all survived and they were very lucky to do so.

Now I flash forward 36 years and I hear and see anglers and boaters who pay little attention to thunder and lightning, who feel they can skirt the storm or that the lightning is too far away to be dangerous. There was a Master Maine Guide who used to work at LLBean in the mid-70's. This was when Bean's had crooked wooden floors and was a genuine Outfitter that didn't sell all sorts of cutesy clothing and have pictures of yuppies in what was then a very spartan catalog. (This also was way before websites). Whenever we made our way north to Millinocket and Baxter, we used to detour off the highway and stop in at Bean's for supplies etc. More often than not because of our late departure from our respective jobs on a Friday afternoon, it wouldn't be till very late that we would pull into Freeport to make the obligatory stop at Bean's.There was an old gentlemen who worked in the camping department who I used to look for to say hello, he had to have been in his late 70's. When I would find him oftentimes he would be asleep with the countertop serving as his pillow. I'd have to wake him up for assistance. On that Labor Day weekend I told him we were on our way to Katahdin to put in some new routes on the walls below the summit and above Chimney Pond. He pointed his old and crooked finger at me and gave me some invaluable advice- "lookey hear, when you see the barometer drop and you hear thunder, you are close enough to get hit by lightnin- you get your ass off that mountain." As we completed our visit to Bean's that night, we circled back to say goodbye, but decided to let him continue his beauty sleep. A precious man, with life saving advice.

As an FYI... this YouTube video was taken recently and shows some pretty good footage of the Knife Edge. I actually traversed the Knife Edge in January of 1976 with three friends. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uG_xtu-HDA&feature=player_detailpage

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