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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Lightning in Paradise

Photo by Kevin

What started out as a simple day hike turned into something dramatically different and better. After waking up at 4:45, walking for a half hour to the Dragons program house, and taking a 1:15 minute bus ride up a bumpy and winding road, we started our hike. It was about 8:00 and we were were at 14,000 feet in elevation. The plan was to make it to the summit before 11:30, have lunch, before returning back to our van around 2. We slowly made our way up the mountain range, passing lakes, climbing ridges, and seeing incredibly beautiful scenery. We were going fairly slowly because the high altitude affected all of us to some degree. By 11:15, we had summited the mountain, which was close to 16,000 feet high, and it was stunning. We had a 360 degree view with mountains, valleys, cities, and a number of insanely beautiful landscapes. At one point a rainbow formed a complete and distinct circle around the sun. As we sat on the summit, we ate lunch and we were completely distracted by our stunning surroundings. Behind us, massive dark clouds began to sneak up on us. Before we new it, it was snowing and got much colder. This didn’t concern any of us though, we just thought it was awesome that it was snowing. The clouds quickly turned into storm clouds, with lighting striking and thunder booming. Being on the summit is not an optimal place to be during a lightning storm, so we quickly got our stuff together and scurried off the summit. The lightning strikes started getting closer and we had a new sense of urgency. Jeff told us to run across the ridge, get below the small cliff, and make our way down to lower ground. I was not waiting to be struck so I took the lead and quickly made my way across the exposed ridge and slid down behind the cover of the 15 foot cliff on my right. While the thunder and lighting was only getting closer and it seemed like we were headed into the middle of the storm, we kept on going. Soon a massive white cloud took away any forward visibility. We decided it was best to wait in lightning position for a few minutes before the cloud and storm cleared a little. We then took a route a little further to the left because we were approaching a cliff. Soon, after 30 minutes of an adrenaline rush and a crazy storm, we were safe and clear. We sat down with a great view of a lake with now snow covered mountains in the background and relaxed. We then made our way down to the van, not before four people hopped in the freezing cold lake, and went back at 2:30. The scenery was absolutely incredible and the summit was breathtaking, but the storm made everything better. While it was a little scary, we were able to stay safe with some improvisation. The hike would have been incredible by itself, but the storm made it a day I will never forget.