We drove down the old I-80 business loop on our way towhat we expected would be a fun vacation at Kings Peak. We had been planning thistrip all summer, but unexpected events kept postponing the hike. Nothing wasgoing to stop our ascent this time. It was great to be en route with my sisterWendy and her best friend Victoria. Joking and laughing, we were sure to have ablast and enjoy the last days of summer.
Finally, we parked at thetrailhead. Putting on our packs, we discussed the fun we would have fishing inthe pristine mountain lakes by day and trying to scare each other around thecrackling campfire by night. Starting on the trail in the alpine tundra, Inoticed the eclectic range of rocks along the path and the sunlight peekingthrough the trees. I could smell that clean country scent that's only around whenyou are far from crowded cities.
Before the trip, we had decided thisexcursion would last three days and cover about 30 miles. After hiking six hours,we finally saw the lake, the signal for us to stop for the night. We anxiouslytook off our packs and headed for a fishing hole. On our way I saw Kings Peak forthe first time. Our excitement grew as the three of us stared at the mountain,our goal.
That night we all slept well, filled with perfect goldenmarshmallows and knowing we were in the shadow of the tallest mountain in Utah'sUinta mountain range.
All of a sudden I heard something, but couldn'tfigure out what. Then I felt a slight nudge; it was my sister. She whispered,"It's six o'clock. Do you want to get up now or in an hour?" I knewfrom experience that the earlier we got up, the lower the chance of running intoafternoon storms, but the desire for that last little bit of sleep won out. Irolled over. An hour later her alarm went off again, and this time it wasimpossible not to wake up.
As soon as breakfast was over, we knew weneeded to make up for lost time. We soon passed the timber line, hiking as fastas we could, the doldrums of our hike over. We could see the path leading all theway up the sharp crests to the mountain's pinnacle.
The climb was hard andthe air thin, but at the last pass we knew we were only 45 minutes from the vistawe had spent weeks anticipating. From this vantage point we could see the sky tothe west, which before had been hidden from view. It was dark and full of clouds,and a hint of worry hit my adrenaline-filled senses. I had heard stories ofhikers stuck on stormy mountains, but we were just too close to abandon ourprize. The final ascent to the summit was a boulder dash with no trail, onlyrocks to climb over and snow fields to traverse.
Then I heard it - acrashing sound I identified without question as danger; it was the thunder thataccompanies deadly lightning. We silently debated whether to go on or turn back.None of us wanted to be the first to suggest the latter so, knowing the risks, wepressed on.
Ten minutes from the top, I turned around and screamed withterror, "Get down!" My sister's hair was standing on end. She droppedlike a shot bird. With enormous force, lightning hit the ledge above us. In totalfear, the three of us scrambled to a lower outcropping and hid underneath. In ourpanic we didn't at first realize the significance of where we sat, but in acorner was a little wreath and laminated note that read: To our dear friend,George, who was killed in this spot two years ago by lightning. God rest his souland bless his family.
We all returned to the safety of home unharmed, butthat experience has hovered in my mind ever since. I never before understood whymy mom always told me to drive safely or be careful. I guess I never thoughtanything could happen to me, but those juvenile thoughts faded as I consideredthe possible outcomes of our trip. I know now that the callow thoughts of youthfade through experience into the wise and even sometimes too-worried thoughts ofadulthood.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.