I don’t normally post about the same thing twice, but in this case, we’ve had such a shocking turn of events this past weekend at Rocky Mountain National Park, I feel compelled. As you know, from my earlier post, we had a lightning strike on Friday that struck a group of hikers on the Ute Trail off Trail Ridge Road. That was alarming enough, because a woman died, and that was the first fatality the park has had from a lightning strike since 2000. But a group of us rangers were sitting in the park library yesterday afternoon, and had the park radio on, and while listening to the radio traffic, realized there had been another lightning strike at Rainbow Curve. One man died of his injuries, and four others were injured, including someone who was sitting on a rock wall at the time, and was blown off the wall by the force of the strike, and rescuers didn’t find him until 20 minutes later.
It’s really been a strange weekend for park staff, and has spawned some interesting conversations with visitors. The thing about these two lightning strikes that makes them different, is that they happened at trails and overlooks right off Trail Ridge Road, where millions of our visitors spend time. Previous lightning strikes have mainly occurred on high mountain peaks to mountaineers and climbers. It’s really brought a sense of reality to the dangers ordinary people can face during summer in the Rocky Mountains.
Despite everything that has transpired during the last 72 hours, we still find that many visitors were going out on trails and open areas during our storms on Saturday. I think the hardest thing for park staff is as rangers, we innately want to help visitors, but we also need to keep ourselves safe. I had an interesting talk with someone today who asked about helping people during a lightning strike, and my advice to them was to stay in their car, and call 911. But one shouldn’t risk their own safety during a lightning storm to assist someone’s who been struck, until the storm is cleared. It’s a hard thing, but it is the right thing.
Here’s hoping that the rest of the summer is a safer one for visitors and residents of the high country.