Backpacker|Fall 2020
Minko Nikolov, 32, suffered a near-fatal lightning strike while scouting a bouldering objective in Rocky Mountain National Park in August 2019.
Corey Buhay

I’VE BEEN SHOT, I thought. I lay on my back, and a light rain mingled with the blood trickling from my mouth and ears. Someone must have shot me—why else would I be incapacitated in the middle of the woods? I didn’t yet realize that what had actually happened was just as scary.

When I moved to Colorado, I fell in love with the snow-flecked peaks and granite boulders of Rocky Mountain National Park, and spent as much time there as I could, hiking and climbing almost every weekend.

One Saturday in August, I packed my bag to hike up to Lower Chaos Canyon in search of boulders to climb. I threw in a thermal shirt, a rain shell, some food, a headlamp, and water. One last look at the forecast revealed only a 20 percent chance of rain. Perfect.

But by the time I got to the parking lot around 1:30 p.m., dark clouds of a clockwork thunderstorm were cluttering the sky. I sat in my car, watching rain and hail rattle off the hood. Colorado storms never stick around for long; 15 minutes later, the sky brightened. I grabbed my pack and started walking.

As I hiked, patches of blue sky widened above me. About halfway up the trail, around 2:30 p.m., I passed two climbing rangers. We stopped to chat, and one of them warned me that there was another cloudburst on the radar, about an hour away.


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Fall 2020