It's Electrifying! Electric Peak.
On Tuesday 7/16, two of my brothers and I attempted to summit Electric Peak in Yellowstone. Electric Peak is the highest mountain in the Gallatin Mountain Range, at 10,969 feet. It is also one of the more prominent peaks you see when driving in Paradise Valley and Yellowstone. Electric Peak really does live up to its name, as thunderstorms frequent the peak quite often. You can read more about how it got its name here. Note "You can't do it in a day- not unless you have a death wish". Apparently, my brothers and I have a death wish.
Electric Peak is in total about 20 miles, and gains over 3,700 feet in elevation. The photo below shows the peak from the start of the trailhead, near Glenn Creek in Yellowstone. After waking up at 6, packing peanut butter bagels (best hiking lunch), and fueling up on coffee, we were ready. After driving 2 hours to the trailhead, we started our hike around 9:30.
When we started the trail, it was a beautiful summer day. The first 2.1 miles are through the meadow you can see here (very flat). Then there are about 4 more miles of gentle incline in and out of forests (and an epic echo area). Miles 6-8 are steeper, but totally comfortable. 8-10 are quite challenging. There were a few parts where I was on all fours until the end of the trail. You can see the grade by looking at the peak in the photo below... woo! After the trail ends, you have to scramble to the very top. Then, you do it all over again on the way down. As the sign below reads, "Electric Peak... Far As F***". lol. It was true.
The first part of the day was absolutely great. Few bugs, awesome weather, great attitudes, and lots of breaks for chocolate and cliff bars. The wind was making some spooky sounds in the forest, but no biggie. We were sweaty and happy.
When we were around mile 8, the day started to change a bit. My new-ish boots I've been breaking in began to make my feet blister and bleed, and the incline was rapidly growing. Each step made me want to cut off my feet :) :) :). No worries, I still have my feet. But not every step while hiking is profound and fun, I've learned through the countless hikes I've been on. A few things that help me to continue placing one foot in front of another- counting steps (I count to 50 over and over and over and over and over and over again in my head in order to focus on anything other than my foot dying), and repeating quotes (John Muir's "climb the mountains and get their good tidings, natures peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees" is my go to). Another tip to motivate yourself on long hikes is to repeat an affirmation to yourself, such as "I am strong and capable" (which I repeat to myself on bike rides when I'm trying to keep up with my brother).
To make matters worse, a major storm was coming in. When we had about a mile left, the weather started to rapidly change and I was getting nervous, but of course wanted to summit since we had already gone so far.
However, my brain started catastrophizing, as it often does, as we were getting closer and closer to the peak. There was of course a 100% percent chance we were all going to die from lightning strikes. (A young man did die in 2013 on Electric Peak during a thunderstorm while he was trying to rapidly descend). When we reached the end of the trail, I sat and simply took in the view. It was rad. I could see the Tetons and The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I had a few minutes of bliss before it really went down hill.
Then the rain started. And the thunder. And the lightning. Apparently, Electric peak has a different portion various of elements in its rock that make it especially prone to lightning strikes, on top of already being the highest peak in the area. We were in the wide open on the prime strike territory! Again, we were 100% going to die.
We decided to leave the trail (big hiking no-no) and descend a different part of the mountain that was covered with more trees in order to find cover. After 15 minutes of hurriedly scrambling down the mountain, we hid under a massive pine tree with a little dig-out below that looked like it was used by a deer. As we sat, we could feel the thunder and lightning shake the ground below us and saw continuous flashes of light. It was freaky. After a while of sitting and feeling helpless and afraid, we decided it would probably be safer to just keep moving down the mountain and as far away from the lightning strikes as we could. So, we just kept going down the mountain even though we were soaked and freezing and terrified.
It was weird, but sitting there, what came to my mind was how a dog who has to wear a shock collar must feel. Maybe that's a little out there, but really! that's what I was thinking about. Sitting there I was nervous and clenching my body because it seemed like a ZAP could go through me at any second! But I digress...
Eventually, the storm broke (it seemed like a veryyyyyyy long storm), and we were able to find our way back the trail. We were bummed that we couldn't completely summit, but we saw other storms coming in and new we couldn't go back up. So, we made our way back with shoes sloshing with water and very low morales through continues rain and storms. All three of us were quite freezing/ wet/ upset/ sad/ so hungry. We did see a little black bear, though, which was something good.
The last two miles of meadow were the worst two miles of our life (we all agreed upon). We thought we would see my car after each and every turn, but no. Our feet and fingers were so numb by the time we got back.
A few things we learned:
- we are totally capable of 20 mile day hikes with intense elevation gain
- we are totally NOT capable of keeping morale up when we hike 20 miles to reach a peak and are within .2 miles of it, but can't get there