Something woke me up. I lay for a moment with eyes closed, sensing. There was a stillness, which was odd seeing that I was camped on a mountain top, and the smell of rain in the air. Suddenly opening my eyes I saw that the sky was clouded over. I lay for another moment reluctantly picturing myself getting up and putting the rain fly on the tent when I saw the flicker of lightning in the eastern sky. I sat up looking…there was another flash…and another.
Quickly exiting the tent I stood scanning the sky. There was lightning to the east…then to the south, then again, to the west…the dark tumultuous sky was alive with flashes, the peaks briefly illuminated and then again black shapes…I looked on in wonder…and then it stated raining.
I quickly awoke my two companions and let them know that they needed to get up, get dressed and get out of the tent and give me a hand. At first they were both saying, “why don’t you just put on the rain fly and get back in, go back to sleep…” and I replied that if they stayed in the tent that they would miss the lightning show…that provided sufficient motivation and they were soon out of the tent, looking at the skies. The lightning was getting more intense, more frequent…we could see the glow of a fire to the west, over towards Ross Lake and the National Park boundary.
My plan was simple: get the rain fly on the tent, throw all our stuff in it, don our rain gear and then lie on the grass and watch the show. But my two friends had other ideas. One strongly advised that we immediately depart and head down the mountain to find shelter from the lightning. My other friend insisted on a more simple approach: do nothing and simply enjoy the storm. I started with the rain fly and loading the tent and soon they came to assist me.
Some one came up with the idea of planting our trekking poles in the ground, well away from the tent, to act as lightning rods (!). And so, now somewhat content with our preparations, we all watched.
The rain started to come down now. The wind picked up, strong gusts blowing across the summit. The flashes became more insistent, more frequent. With each flash the ridges between us suddenly appeared out of darkness, and then…gone back to my imagination, leaving lasting imprints of what had just been illuminated. From our vantage point we could see what looked like 6 or so fires burning…
On three sides of us there were regular flashes, every few seconds, another, and then another. The wind and rain continued unabated. In fact they increased along with the regularity of the lightning, each building to a crescendo. The lightning now seemed to take on a reddish hue, then green or blue (was it just my imagination?)
Transfixed by the sheer beauty, we had front row seats for natures own fireworks show, the best we had ever seen. Just as I was starting to edge towards getting the hell out of there the tempest began to lessen, the wind shifted. The lightning to the west, which seemed to head towards us, stopped.
And that was it! The storm cell had passed us by. The lightning to the east faded out and in its place we could now see the faint hint of the sun.
The date was 08/08/08. This was the opening night of the Olympics in Bejing, and we mused that the fireworks we had just seen surpassed theirs, hands down. It was also the scheduled date for the start up of the Large Hadron Collider and we considered that the lightning storm was a direct result of the resultant black holes now devouring earth. These points we avidly debated, but all agreed that the peak was rightly named: Devils Dome.
As the excitement died down my friends retired to sleep and I ventured forth to catch some of the morning light.
The Pasayten Wilderness is one of my favorite places in Washington, a land of mountains and rivers, steep valleys and meadows, wildflowers and zen like peace. This experience, on day 6 of our twelve day trek which started at the Canyon Creek Trail head on the North Cascades Highway.