I was hiking with a friend through the Uinta Mountains in Utah, cruising the Highline trail, heading toward Porcupine Pass. Graying clouds were building to the west with the hint of a thunderstorm, but we ignored the threat--our itinerary did not accommodate delays. Porcupine topped off at 11,600ft, exposing us to the building clouds, gusty winds, deep low rumbles of thunder, and occasional spits of rain. We moved quickly up and over the gap in the ridgeline.
West of the pass is one of the broad high and beautiful Uinta alpine meadows; two miles of grass and flowers before we would walk into the krumholtz. The storm was clearly upon us. It beat us with hail, staggered us with strong gusts, and startled us with the flash and bang of electrical activity. We had a brief conversation about stopping and assuming a lightning position. Our decision was to seek the shelter of the trees. We hurried along the trail, feeling incredibly vulnerable.
The flash was startling and disorienting. Wind slapped my face. I was next aware of my friend asking if I was hurt. I had mud in my hair, on my face, in my mouth, and under my glasses. I stood up and shook off the embarrassment. My companion wasn't interested in a detailed patient assessment; safety was belatedly a priority. He hustled me toward the treeline, laughing at my mud-plastered appearance.