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Palmdale climbers face bolts out of the blue
Daily News – Monday October 1, 2001
“It was as if a thousand arc welders suddenly surrounded us, … like fireworks gone crazy” 

– Lee Bergthold 

Photo Covered by International Copyright Laws

By Peggy Hager
Staff Writter

PALMDALE - Getting surrounded by a lightning storm wasn't what Antelope Valley College photography instructor Lee Bergthold and companion Marshall Landin were expecting when they began a seven-day mountaineering trip.

After spending a beautiful clear morning climbing the Sierra Nevada west of Independence, the Antelope Valley men were just beginning their final push over the 13,000 foot crest when the weather changed.

Bergthold, who has spent much of his life trekking through North American mountains and deserts, was concerned when the sky suddenly turned gray and the air grew still. The first lightning bolt struck just after he yelled at Landin to hurry toward a plateau, 100 yards ahead. Then wind, rain and hail whipped the upper plateau with no tents up and no natural shelter in sight. 

"It was as if a thousand arc welders suddenly surrounded us ... like fireworks gone crazy," said Bergthold. 

Landin said he still experiences flashbacks to the wild lightning storm almost three months ago on July 6.

Just last month, a 13 year-old camper was knocked unconscious and a hiker was killed at a state park 40 miles east of San Diego on Sept. 2. The next day, an Apple Valley teenager was killed and a 9 year-old was injured by a lightning strike in a field near their home. 

Landin said he was concentrating so intently on putting up his tent that he doesn't really remember much of the Sierra Nevada lightning storm. 

"I didn't even want to look up. I just wanted to get my tent up," said Landin, a warehouse worker. "At the time I was more (angry) that I was getting wet." 

Eventually the lightning passed, but the rain continued and fog moved in. During a lull in the storm, Bergthold made the decision to load up and move to a lower elevation rather than risk more lightning. 

"Even a belt buckle or piece of metal on our packs could've been a target," said Bergthold. 

Slowly and carefully, the two worked their way through the thick fog to the Rex Montis Mine, 1,000 feet below the plateau. 

"It started raining again on us, and that was really a technical descent because of the rain. The rocks were slippery. The dirt was muddy," Landin said. "It was a hard descent. Most of the time I was just asking myself, What am I doing up here?" 

The climbers spent nearly two days in a shelter at the mine before the weather cleared and they were able to complete their trip. Landin said that he never will forget the experience. 

"I was at a wedding, and a flash went off (from a camera). I caught the flash out of the corner of my eye, and for that split second I was back up on the mountain," he said. 

Despite the storm, Landin plans to go mountaineering again next summer. 

"I'd definitely go again. Sometimes you walk into a bad situation," said Landin.

Last Update
March 6, 2021

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