Thunder and Lightening – very, very frightening, some ways of staying alive.

2000 - Big Kev "the Giant" my own lightening conductor!

2000 – Big Kev “the Giant” my own lightening conductor!

Yesterday I was having a golf match with the Aford Seniors, it was at my local golf club Hopeman. The forecast was for a shower or two but it would be a great day out in good company. I was not expecting thunder or lightening at all.  After an hour the sky darkened and it got a bit colder and the clouds looked dark and heavy, then the peel of thunder came and the heavy rain and hail.  I had just said if I was in the mountains I would be very scared indeed and even golf course have had their fatalities. We got another big peel of thunder and then some lightening hit the course, then the weather was gone across the Moray Firth. It reminded me that thunder and lightening is even worse in the mountains and a reminder of an epic in Skye.


Skye May 2000 – The Dubhs Ridge – I was just back from the Falklands and was very happy to be in Skye with Kev ( “The Giant and Bob”) We had already come over the main Skye ridge at Sgurr Na Bannadich and descended to sea level again. We were on the classic Dubhs on the magic Island of Skye. This ridge has an exciting abseil and this is when the day started to go wrong.    I was at the bottom of the abseil holding the ropes when Bob got stuck on an overhanging rock. The air changed and I felt the hairs on my head singing, the sky darkened and then.

The Lightening was running along the ridge like a blue electric current.

The Lightening was running along the ridge like a blue electric current. This would have been the way off and the end of us if we had stayed on the ridge.

“A big peel of thunder rang out and the hairs on our heads started sticking up, towering cumulonimbus type of cloud were directly above us it was time to go!  If you have read where not to be when thunder and lightning are about, this is it. The lightning was flicking along the Skye ridge like you see on a film it was surreal. The narrow ridge radiates for 12 kilometers we were out on a limb and the ridge looked like an electric current was running along it.  Nature is so powerful and we mere mortals. We felt so small and vulnerable, the power of nature in such a place is awesome.  Keep calm and get off as quick as possible, now the descent from this hill is not recommended.  A descent in the late forties by W. H. Murray described it as one of the most serious mountaineering descents in Scotland! The An Grabh Coire is rarely visited and is a huge Corrie of wildness and worth a visit on its own. Not advised even for a man of the “Giants” ability. This is a real area of wilderness saved by people like W.H. Murray for future generations to enjoy, this is a really special place for those who love the wild.. It is also not a place to make a mistake, the phone does not work in this area and any help is along way off, add to that the seriousness of where we were. This was not the place to be.

The wild abseil on the Dubhs it was here that life got interesting!

The wild abseil on the Dubhs it was here that life got interesting!

The Giant wanted us to wait for the storm to pass on the ridge, which I vetoed as it was like being next to a lightening conductor!  He is that big I was brave and went off ahead to find the way off and to conduct “any lightening”. Bob said little, by now it was pouring with rain and rivers were running down the huge slabs making life worse. I had been in this wild Corrie before on past rescues it was a scary place to be especially at this time when everything was so wet, it took a lot of concentration to be very careful. The noise in the background of peels of thunder was surreal and we felt so vulnerable in this huge Corrie. It was that wet that foam was building up on the slabs and the Corrie was just one great waterfall. We managed it though and after one dodgy abseil and two hours later we were  down through the slabs and soon we were on the ground amongst the huge boulder field in the corrie. There are no paths here just massive boulders all slippery and wet.  The radio was dead as all the other troops had fled the hill at the first peal of thunder and we were on our own for miles away from anywhere.  Being old I remembered doing a similar walk out over twenty years before and it was hell.  How do we tell Bob that the only way back is round by Coruisk to Glenbrittle a walk to remember? That is another story!

The wild Corrie on another day!

The wild Corrie on another day! Huge slabs – interesting route finding when pouring with water!

That day one person was killed on the hills by lightning, nature takes no prisoners so be aware if lightening forecast do not be on a tight sharp ridge like the Dubhs in Skye!

Summary –Staying safe

  • Stay off ridges & summits, and away from single trees.
  • Walls can be protective but keep more than 1m away.
  • All metal objects (carabiners, crampons, ice-axe, ski poles, etc) should be stored safely.
  • Move quickly away from wire ropes & iron ladders.
  • Lightning currents can travel along wet ropes.
  • Crouch immediately if there is a sensation of hair “standing on end”.
  • Crackling noises or a visible glow indicate imminent lightning strike.
  • Airborne helicopters can be struck.Check weather forecast.
  • Seek shelter as soon as hear thunder. Don’t wait until you see the lightning.
  • Lightning can travel 10 miles in front of storm clouds. 10% strikes occur when blue sky is visible.
  • A storm can travel at 25 mph.
  • Most common time for injuries are before the storm or at the apparent end of the storm.
  • 30-30 rule
  • Danger of being struck is when flash to thunder time less than 30 seconds (approximately 10 km away).
  • Don’t climb for 30 minutes after last thunder & seeing last lightning.
  • Small, open huts, caves & overhangs (increase risk from side flashes).
  • Sheltering under small outcrop or overhang may increase risk of injury, as lightning that has hit a hill literally “drips” onto the person with the rain as it arcs over the ground.
  • Water or wet stream beds.
  • Near the tallest structure in the area e.g. single tree.
  • Tents not protective (metal tent poles act as lightning rods).
  • Stay away from high ground (ridges and summits).
  • Power lines
  • Ski lifts
  • Metal objects
  • Stay safe!
  • SKYE – We who have been go again, and again advise you to go, you will not be disappointed.


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Golf, Local area and events to see, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.