One of the fun things about hiking is meeting interesting folks who have a great passion for the natural world. A few years ago while hiking in the northern Cascade Mountains near the Canadian Border, I met Lighting Bill, the Goat Peak Fire Lookout person.
The hike to the 7,000-foot summit was very pleasant, only 2 ½ miles in length with 1,400 feet of elevation gain. The trail ascended an open ridge top with wildflower-dotted alpine meadows. On the bad side of the ledger, storm clouds had moved in and drizzle began early. Less than one mile from the lookout, I began to hear some thunder. Immediately the threat of lightning began to concern me. Being out in the open with hiking poles is not particularly the safest place to be during a lightning storm. Thankfully, the boomers abated in a short while, at least for the time being.
The Peaks of the North Cascade Mountains
Soon I reached the lookout facility and a man walked out onto the deck. He introduced himself as Lightning Bill, welcomed me into the warm interior, put another log in the woodstove and had me lay out my wet coat, daypack, etc. to dry. He had many interesting stories about spotting cougars, bears, hang-gliders riding the thermals up to the lookout and waving to him, drug-running airplanes from Canada, an unmarked black helicopter, his two dogs and the hundreds of people who had visited the lookout site.
Soon after arriving it began to rain in earnest. Clouds covered Silver Star Mountain and the other high peaks in the North Cascades. Two small lightning-caused forest fires had been called in by Lightning Bill already that morning.
All of sudden Lightning Bill picks up his binoculars. In a startled tone he says “There are two hikers coming with opened umbrellas! In all my years I’ve never seen hikers up here with umbrellas. Who would have umbrellas above their head when lightning has been striking?” Like him, I was baffled.
As it turned out the couple seemed to have no concerns about lightning. I suggested to the hikers that holding an umbrella over your head in a lightning storm was analogous to holding a lightning rod, but to no avail. They soon left, and Lightning Bill and I had a good chuckle.