Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

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hanmart
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Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by hanmart » Jun 29 2016 7:06 pm

Hello! I was hoping to get some wisdom from experienced backpackers here. At what point do you call off a backpacking trip if you see that thunderstorms are in the forecast? All the lightning safety guides out there say the best thing to do is to not venture out if there is any chance of lightning. I'm asking because I've had a Baldy trip on the calendar for a long time and now it's looking like thunderstorms are in the forecast. I've read up on all the methods of minimizing risk when in the backcountry during a lightning storm but the advice that is repeated over and over is to not be there in the first place. :(

What would you all do?

Thanks in advance for the responses!!

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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by toddak » Jun 29 2016 7:28 pm

hanmart wrote:All the lightning safety guides out there say the best thing to do is to not venture out if there is any chance of lightning.
"Any" chance? If you follow this advice then you probably won't be hiking Baldy anytime from June thru September. So evaluate the relative chance of thunderstorms, the terrain, the time of day, etc, minimize the risks as much as possible, and then go backpacking. The chances of getting hit are statistically small, and life isn't risk-free. :M2C:

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hanmart
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by hanmart » Jun 29 2016 8:30 pm

Thanks! That's exactly what I was thinking.

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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by nonot » Jun 29 2016 11:19 pm

Hmmm, stay off ridges and peaks during active thunderstorms, and pay attention to the weather whenever you will be on an exposed area. If the storm is moving in and you see your hair or your partners hair stand up, seek a low lying area closest to where you are, and ditch your hiking poles.

There is still some risk, a HAZ member got zapped about a year ago on a backpack trip. He survived but at least one other person was killed.

Regarding your question: I've never cancelled backpack trips just due to prediction of thunderstorms. However I have hunkered down to wait them out, and changed itineraries due to storms, to keep to low lying areas rather than be up on ridges or peaks when the weather turns bad.
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by azbackpackr » Jun 30 2016 4:39 am

I've backpacked Baldy during monsoon. Makes it easier to bag the peak early in the morning, since you are already partway in. Then back to base camp which is way down low. Bring a tarp to hang out underneath, and some warm clothes. It can get down into the 40s, or at least, it can feel very chilly due to dampness.
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by ljcygnet » Jun 30 2016 6:52 am

I live a few miles from the Rim. If I didn't go outside when thunder was possible, I'd be housebound. :scared: We get lightning year round -- including in the middle of snow storms and during random gentle rain showers. It's just part of life up here. Baldy is about the same way -- you can get thunder and lightning any time. More common during the monsoon, but any storms would be suspect. One puffy cloud in the sky can turn into a thunderstorm in the blink of an eye.

You just use common sense.

Don't take shelter under the tallest tree.

Stay off ridges. Don't stand on the highest peak around when clouds are gathering.

Stay away from the edge of cienagas (for some reason trees on the edges of meadows are extra prone to being hit -- you can often see the scars on ponderosas if you look close.)

Don't stand near barb wire fencing, which can conduct electricity long distances as well as attract it. I've seen fences hit MANY times.

Watch and listen to the weather; head for lower ground if thunder starts getting close or if clouds start bunching up and turning dark directly overhead. If it starts out a hot and humid day and you can feel the energy in the air first thing in the morning, be especially wary of gathering clouds and get off ridges BEFORE the storm lets loose.



Be mindful of the terrain in relation to travel times. If it feels like a stormy day, plan to cross ridge lines or summit peaks as early as possible.

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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by SuperstitionGuy » Jun 30 2016 7:54 am

I always had a plan B depending upon weather plus a few other things. Wind, temperature, storm fronts, annoying relatives that quickly changed my plan to hike instead of staying home and having them bore me. You know, common sense items for the peace of mind and comfort that an evening campfire provides in the middle of nowhere. LOL
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by Tough_Boots » Jun 30 2016 8:36 am

A plan B is a good idea. I was stuck out backpacking in that same storm that killed the girl up on the rim last summer. It was terrifying and lightning was hitting close and frequently for a long time. What's the point in going through that if there's other options? Risking your life? This is recreational hiking and backpacking-- not climbing Everest.
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by flagscott » Jun 30 2016 9:04 am

Tough_Boots wrote:A plan B is a good idea. I was stuck out backpacking in that same storm that killed the girl up on the rim last summer. It was terrifying and lightning was hitting close and frequently for a long time. What's the point in going through that if there's other options? Risking your life? This is recreational hiking and backpacking-- not climbing Everest.
Closely related to having a plan B is having a bailout option if you get caught in bad weather unexpectedly. This is a good reason to make sure you have a good map for wherever you are hiking so that you can have options if you need to get to cover fast. I think that the USGS topo quads are best for this because they show tree cover, which can be a lifesaver in a lightning storm.

I have mostly given up on buying or printing maps, but we use Gaia GPS and always make sure to download the tiles for the much larger area around where we'll be hiking (sorry, Joe, we tried Route Scout a while back but found it a little clunky to use compared to Gaia). Having a map of the larger area can help in a variety of situations besides lightning storms where you might have to head back to civilization in a hurry--injury, illness, equipment failure, etc. I generally make sure I have maps extending to a reasonably well-traveled road in every direction from where I'm hiking.
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by hanmart » Jun 30 2016 9:16 am

nonot wrote:There is still some risk, a HAZ member got zapped about a year ago on a backpack trip. He survived but at least one other person was killed.
Yes, reading about those terrible events is what gave me pause. :(
Plus, even if you take all the precautions, it doesn't sound much fun waiting out the storm in the crouched lightning safety position. ;)

I was looking at plan B options but didn't want to give up on Baldy. I think I'll scope it out and worst case night 1 will have to be at a lower elevation in a nearby area. Friday seems like it will be the worst of it. Thanks again for all the tips!

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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by Sredfield » Jun 30 2016 11:49 am

Early in my hiking life we were coming off Wrightson on the Super Trail when a storm moved in all around us. The air crackled and the thunder boomed! Dangerous as all pumpkin but pumpkin it was exciting! Hearing that much power moving round right overhead was a thrill I often recall.
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by Al_HikesAZ » Jun 30 2016 3:53 pm

SuperstitionGuy wrote:I always had a plan B . . .
Reminds me of one of my favorite backpacking jokes:
Me: This looks like a great time for Plan B
Friend: We have a Plan B?
Me: No but if we did this would be a great time for it.
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Re: Call off a backpacking trip if thunderstorms are forecast?

Post by nonot » Jun 30 2016 8:30 pm

@hanmart
As we enter the "monsoon season" there will be predictions of thunderstorms every day for about the next 3 months. For the most part the storms will hit between 1-4PM if they hit at all, though occassionally you'll get a late one that fires up when the sun is going down and it will last half the night. Plan to hit any peaks or ridges before noon and you should (but are not 100% guaranteed) to have your trip go off OK. Make sure your tent is patched up and ready to weather some rain, and enjoy summer backpacking in Arizona.
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