The ground started to shake, harder than it had with the first two lightning strikes, and even in the scenario that was unfolding, the deep rumbles was unusual. That was when the slow tingling began.
In nearly all writings about what to do during a storm, the writer notes that tingles signify lightning approaching, leaving the person with almost no other options for escape.
The eight people in the front group started to run as fast as they could, as the lightning struck again. Each step during this particular lightning strike and shaking that followed made the eight almost lose their step with the intensity of the hit.
“I just got hit!” many voices shouted at once. No one dared to turn around to see who was hit, as the rain poured harder and sleet began to fall.
Later, they discovered that six of the eight members got hit with fragments of the lightning. The guys felt the lightning strike on their foreheads and tops of their arms, while the girls felt the strikes on the tips of their hands and arms.
The rain/sleet made it to the lower group at the same time that the front group did.
Right before Carl signaled for the group to turn around, Madison had sat down to take a break. Even when the rain and sleet made it to Madison and her group she stayed sitting because she could not fathom making it to high camp at all, let alone in a storm.
“At first, I was mad that we weren’t going to turn around when I felt bad, and then I was mad that we weren’t going to make it to summit,” Madison said, about her feelings when she was sitting down during the storm.
At this point, chaos ensued. Lightning went from few to many, the rain and sleet mixture turned to only heavy sleet, and the temperature dropped rapidly.
“Madison, you have to get up!” Ashtyn, who had been in the first group, shouted as she tried to pick Madison up by her arm.
Madison began running with the others, but she fell, as did many others. Most members had taken their outer layer off when the sun rose, leaving nearly every member with only shorts and t-shirt on in the freezing temperatures.
In a panic, the members ran while trying to get their outer layer from their packs without stopping. Some were successful, while others dropped theirs and had no time to stop and go back to get them. With frozen feeling legs and sleet falling faster, each team member ran and tried to escape the lightning, that sounded closer and on each side.
The youth minister and leader on the trip, Jim ran to each person telling them what to do, “Get to tree line!,” “Take Shae!,” “Get up!,” “Don’t stop!,” and on and on.
Team members paired up and attempted to hold onto each other without leaving the other person behind. Tree line was not any closer, but the sleet was slowing. Most members felt like their legs were frozen and lagging behind them, despite the lightning ending, as the rain fell harder.
Not knowing if the storm would pick up where it left off, or continue to slow, the team ran as far and fast as they could, almost approaching the snow bank where they had stopped to eat breakfast on their way up to summit.
The rain started to slow to a light mist.
Up ahead, three guys from the front group were beside the snowbank when it happened.
Payton went sideways and rolled all the way down to the base of the bank.
“Payton, no! Payton!” Jonah, his best friend, yelled as he ran much faster now toward the bottom of the snowbank.
Jonah made it to Payton as he stopped rolling. In abnormal words, Payton told Jonah that the top of his hiking boot had come apart and made him go forward instead of to the left when he was running.
Those that were closest behind Payton ran and caught up to the guys to figure out what had happened and decide what to do next. Payton had hit his head with each roll and seemed like he had a concussion based off his slurred words and unsteady posture.
The rain stopped and the team members were finally able to look around and see who was there and who was not. Most of the group leaders and Madison were nowhere to be seen.
The group who had once been closest to summit was now closest to high camp, but without their leaders. They only remembered “Don’t stop.” So, they continued to move forward, never stopping for a break, unlike the hike to high camp.
Jonah stayed with Payton to wait for one of the group leaders to get to where they were to decide what needed to be done about Payton, while the rest of the group stuck close together and moved forward.
The group kept up a fast pace and some even continued to run forward, in fear that the storm would return, as the dark clouds continued to hang low.
On their way back to high camp, the team talked about what they experienced during the storm, while it was so fresh on their minds. Most said that they felt like they could not see and used their partner as guidance, six said that they had felt electricity shock them while they ran, some said that they were thinking about their families and friends, all said that they prayed constantly.
When they had made it to flat ground, nearing tree line, Seth, one of the leaders, ran past the group. The team members began to assume the worst, but Seth said, “Ron gave us the keys to his truck and we get to drive it back and forth to high camp!”
Ron had appeared out of nowhere and offered duct tape for Payton’s shoes, walking sticks and yogurt to Madison, and his truck for as many trips as it took to get everyone back safely.
Instead of hiking down more, in their disheveled state, the team got to take the 10-minute drive to high camp.
Instructions from the leader who was still higher up on the mountain were: get changed, get warm, and take a break.
When the team returned to high camp they began to do just that, until Carl made it to camp and said, “Pack up your stuff, we are leaving! Payton probably has a concussion and we have to get him to a hospital. We are hiking down right now.”
In a frazzled state, the team said that they were experiencing joy to be getting off the mountain, exhaustion, pain from falling and wearing shoes that got soaked in the rain, and an array of others.
The hike down from high camp after what the team experienced earlier that day was no easy feat. The team pushed through, while also feeling weighed down, not just by their 50- pound packs and wet shoes, but by the emotional significance that the day had added.
That night, after making some calm, but urgent phone calls to their families back in Memphis, the team talked through the entire day, over pizza.
Ron drove Payton from high camp to the hospital, where it turned out that Payton did have a concussion. Madison, who had been behind the team during the storm told her story of Ron saving her at just the moment when she was going to give up. Shae told the story of the pain in her legs and her feet when she was running. Jonah told the story of seeing his best friend rolling down a hill. Everyone talked about what they thought was going to happen to them when they were caught in a lightning storm, the kind that all mountain climbing guides says a group cannot survive.
The story of the mountain has gone almost completely untold. Partly because the trip was the last of the events held during summer 2014 for Sycamore View, but mostly because the trip was something that the team held onto. However, the storm cannot go untold. As treks to Colorado go, the trip was unique and its impact was long-lasting. The team was different when they left Uncompaghre Peak, and although they did not make it to summit, they got something more out of it. They made it through a lightning storm close to the summit of the mountain, a stranger became their unexpected older friend, and most importantly, they have learned what it is like to continue and interact with others after being caught in a real and emotional storm.
Time still changes relationships and memories fade, and though the story of the mountain is no longer untold, there will always be some parts that will be kept close to those 18 team members.