The general advice I have heard for surprise lightning storms when climbing is to retreat. Since retreating quickly is not without danger itself and often is not even all that quick (I personally have spent two hours plus retreating), I was wondering if there are any other well tested strategies. I was thinking leaving most metal gear behind on the route and just waiting out the storm on a ledge could work? Are there any reported incidents of climbers getting struck by lightning with that strategy? Are there other strategies that have worked for people?
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I am by no means an authority on lightning in any way. With that said, however, I have had my share of getting caught climbing in a thunderstorm, and have since tried to do some reading on the subject. The biggest hurdle to surmount here is that most lightning safety advice revolves around seeking shelter, which is often not a viable option midway up a multipitch route.
Here are some points worth considering:
The rough points, as I understand them, are as follows:
As stated above, I am no authority on the subject, and welcome any criticism, corrections, and addenda to this post
Illustration of the voltage difference your multiple points of contact with the ground offer the ground current (page 3 of the NOLS link):
It's risk management. The best way to handle a storm is to get down before it starts. Check the weather and be down by noon or whenever the weather normally gets genned up.
If you're in a thunderstorm and you're very high, it is probably more dangerous to rush a technical descent than to wait out the storm or continue climbing (up or down) normally. Don't overreact. Lightning normally strikes the top or bottom as opposed to a vertical cliff face.
If you are caught in a storm, think about how to stay warm and dry enough to continue up or down safely. It will probably be colder and you'll be wetter after the storm. Your hands don't function as well when they're cold, and when you're hypothermic your judgement isn't as keen.
The small lengths of metal gear you have is not likely to affect a bolt of lightning that has traveled hundreds or thousands of feet through the air to get to the ground. As long as your hair doesn't start sticking out, don't worry about it.