A mountain with snow on it's side.

Lightning Dance on Whitney Peak- Mt. Of Holy Cross Wilderness


Sometimes Mother Nature can be as gentle as a lamb or as ferocious as a tiger.  One July morning in 1980, while backpacking with my boyfriend, Mark, in the Colorado Mountains, we experienced the tiger and the lamb all in the same day.

This is a story about resilience, staying calm and acting quickly. Sometimes, there are split decisions to be made and other times it is best to wait. 

Getting There

The 14,000 foot Mount of the Holy Cross peak in the Sawatch Range sits is a gorgeous piece of country filled with many twittering birds, squirrels chattering, as well as the unpolluted scent of pine trees. I was living in Denver at the time and we wanted some fresh air. Denver has it good qualities, but clean air quality isn’t one of them. Getting into the mountains is literally getting a breath of fresh air. 

A woman holding an object in her hand.
Brave folks for the jeep trail to Holy Cross City

We started hiking a muddy jeep trail that stops at the Holy Cross City, now a ghost town. If you decide to drive in- Beware- this is for experienced jeep enthusiasts only!  

Yellow daises, purple iris, lupine and red penstemon played hide and seek among the rusted pipes and tailings. I always wonder how successful this town actually became before succumbing to the harsh elements of this elevation.

Seven Sisters Lake

Further along the trail is Seven Sisters’ lake that sits near the base of the 13,000 ft. Whitney Peak. We settled here for an evening under a mountain of boulders with Whitney Peak towering high above us. 

A woman holding an object in her hand.
Mount of the Holy Cross

The next morning we bushwhacked up and over the ridge to find our view of the Mt. of Holy Cross better. Then found the trail leading right towards it. This trail is well used, lots of people come up here to feel the energy of this special place. And there it was. Looking up into the clear, blue sky, you can see the ice crystals still hugging the crevices of the infamous cross.   To me, it signifies protection and peace. Little did we know that we would be drawing on those virtues.

A Sudden Storm!

After a leisurely lunch, we continued back down the trail this time in the direction of our campsite.  Just as we were about the hit the top of the trail, a large, black, ominous cloud appears on the horizon, racing right toward us!

We look at each other, surprised at this new development. 

What should we do now? I asked. 

There isn’t time to get off the mountain safely.

Mark replies. Put on your rain gear and squat in these boulder depressions.  Quickly, we pull our jackets out of our day packs.  Then hunker down in among the boulders to prepare for the worst.  Lightning flashed all around us, sparking the boulders.  I was sure glad I was with Mark.  He knew just what to do. 

He yells out, Don’t touch the rocks with your hands, just sit on the soles of your shoes.  Then tucks his head close to his chest.

The rubber soles on our boots was our only contact with Mother Earth.  I hugged my pack like a teddy bear and prayed. I hesitantly open one eye and watch the lightning  dance ferociously close to us.  Hail the size of marbles stung and bounced off our backs while thunder clapped its praises loudly overhead.   I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. 

 Then as suddenly as it began, the hail turned into a light rain and the thunder and lightning stop.  Instantly, we both stood up and walk over to the edge to look below. The route to the bottom was bulging with large, wet boulders and loose gravel. 

What do you think?”  Mark asked. 

Do we have a choice?”  We can’t risk getting caught up here if another storm blows through.  Let’s go for it I reply. 

Safety at Last!

A woman holding an object in her hand.
Lightning Dance on Whitney Peak

We scrambled over the edge and grabbed whatever we could find to climb safely down.  Only once did a small avalanche of pebbles break loose under Mark’s feet.  I slid down most of the way on my bottom.  A few minutes later we descended Whitney Peak safely.  I glanced up and was surprised at the steepness of what we had just climbed down.  A second later, another bolt of lightning flashes close by, prompting us to move again.   The rain came back in buckets.   We slithered over to a small clump of bushes for shelter in search of our tent.  Finally, we saw it, still standing, waiting for us. We stumble across the wet, slippery knoll to our Gortex home in the Rockies.   Once inside, we strip off our wet, soggy clothes and snuggle gratefully together into warm, dry sleeping bags.

 All summer, we both were a little shaky from this experience but Mark more so, because his job was climbing phone towers to repair them.

Perhaps the most important lesson was that we didn’t lose our heads and kept a positive attitude which enabled us to survive a potentially dangerous situation and come out winners.

There is no doubt that Mother Nature is to be respected.  We can learn a lot from Gaia!

Do you have a particular adventure you would like to share that symbolizes more for you than the trip itself? I’d love to hear about it!  Drop me a line here. 


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