Two hikers were struck by lightning Thursday at the nearly 9,000-foot summit of Half Dome, and were confronted with the task of making it down after bouts with singed hair, charred clothing, and memory loss.
Perhaps the most challenging conquest in California hiking is reaching the summit of Yosemite National Park's Half Dome. The climax of the hike is effectively a straight-up vertical ascent of 400 feet, which hikers climb using cables that have been installed along the rocky slope. But even once you hit the top of the peak, the battle is only halfway over. Two hikers learned that the hard way Thursday, and the Chronicle has their harrowing tale of being struck by lightning on Half Dome, and their horrorshow test of endurance and resourcefulness to get to the bottom of the rock formation safely.
Hikers Jordan Dean and Josh Van Dyke recount that they reached the summit of Half Dome at about 12:30 p.m. last Thursday. They'd checked the weather before even attempting the hike, but saw a fast-moving storm approaching once they were on the summit. Two of their friends started their descent, but as rain and sleet conditions worsened, Dean and Van Dyke decided to wait it out at the top and hope for conditions to improve.
This may have been a wise call. Those that descended heard a woman scream, as she'd fallen down the north side of the mountain and hit a rock ledge. She would ultimately be rescued via helicopter. And meanwhile, one of the hikers' two friends also slipped and cut a knee, but both eventually made it down safely.
Meanwhile up at the top of the summit, Dean and Van Dyke took shelter in a rock cave as conditions worsened. And then lightning struck the cave.
“It felt like maybe a house voltage or like somebody punched me in the knee,” Dean told the Chronicle. The lightning struck through the rock to Dean’s knee, and to Van Dyke’s head. And then it happened again.
“The second time it struck was worse. It was way worse,” Dean added. “We saw the flashes, it was just like everywhere all at once.”
But they didn't even have it the worst. Another person in the cave with them was struck unconscious. “He hunched over, then his body went limp and he fell to the side,” Dean explained. “We were yelling for him to wake up and (one of my friends) was trying to shake him and then checked for a pulse.”
They were able to revive the fellow hiker, but Van Dyke and the other hiker temporarily had no memory of where they were or how they got there. Van Dyke’s hair was singed, and the lightning had left a hole in his sock, likely where the bolt exited his body.
“It was scary not knowing if lightning was going to strike again or how bad,” Dean said. “There was nowhere to go and nothing we could do about it. That was terrifying.”
The weather passed, and the remaining hikers at the summit were able to descend. They encountered another group of women hiking down the cables, and one of them fell too. There were thankfully emergency personnel still on hand from the previous fall, and ultimately, no fatalities occurred on that horrifying day.
But there have been fatalities on Half Dome before. Seven people have fallen to there deaths from those cables, most recently 29-year-old Danielle Burnett of Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 2019. And in 1985, seven hikers were struck by lightning on the summit, two of whom died.
Image: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons