Uttleystrails.com Wildlife Stories

Dangerous High Mountain Winds Story


What about Hikers getting caught in dangerous high mountain winds, Chinook winds in the higher mountain altitudes, and unexpected dangerous mountain storms. So What! Is there a problem?


Tip;   You can only go up high on the mountain so many times before you get hit by unexpected dangerous high mountain winds, so carry at least a twenty-five foot rope with a proper loop tied at one end.  As the wind and storm move in, the ground and air will become electrically charged, as your body will be, so the hair from your head to toes will be standing on end….Tingling.  You will forget that soon enough!  When you see and feel that wind come, tie the rope around a rock and don’t let go for any reason.


High wind velocities and buffeting creates a sensation of being pulled by something very, very strong, and you feel you are going to  float away at high velocity.  Stay behind the rock to avoid being hit by flying objects.  Even the high-speed raindrops will cause painful damage to your skin.  When the Mother of It All gets to you, the overwhelming roar of the wind and the sound and feel of the near-by lightning strikes will be ….scary.  About then you may be in a state wherein an attitude change is required, so, you are there, yup, can’t get out of it, nope, so hang onto your rope and enjoy it, for maybe one to four hours or so.  Most likely, no one you know has ever had such an experience.


So, when the wind plays out and you get back down to normal earth, you can tell your friends things you never before imagined, such as;


What a ground squirrel or a tree looks like, doing a hundred and fifteen miles per hour.  You can't actually see it coming or going at that velocity, with the wind trying to tear or suck your eyelids off.  But you could fly with the ground squirrel if you let go of your anchor rope;


What a mountain feels like when it’s awaiting an electrical strike, or when it’s struck by lightning, one or two hundred yards from you, and how your body feels when it’s a part of the electrical field throughout these events;


How the sound of wind can vibrate your skeleton as it tries to run away with your skull and feet, and belly and pack, and your buddies.

What cold really feels like, and how hard your teeth can chatter without breaking.


So, when it's over, there you are, back on normal earth, having had the best vacation of your life, and you’re going home loaded with new and unique conversational party material that will play for years.


Dangerous winds at higher mountain elevations and through the higher mountain passes are created by weather conditions that are predictable, or not predictable.  Chinook and most storm winds are predictable, and warnings are always announced on the radio.  Down in the valley floor, these winds at forty-five miles per hour may feel cool and invigorating, but Chinook winds, predicted storm front winds and unpredicted windstorm velocities may easily exceed one hundred and twenty miles per hour over the higher passes and mountain shoulders.


Unpredictable dangerous winds are, well, here’s an example, first the fun, then the terror:


 When my children were young, around 1992, we did the annual two week camping trip in Jasper National Park.  The Jasper Sky Tram was a “must do it now” thing, several times per trip.  The weather was perfect, gentle breeze, blue sky, so up we went.  The cable car leaves the valley floor at about the 3,500 foot elevation, and goes up to a very sturdy Chalet type building at about the 7,500 foot elevation.  There the tourists depart the cable car, walk 250 yards or more past the Chalet, to a kind of tourist “look around and play” area.  My kids were 3.5 and 5 years old, busily checking the wildflowers and marmots, when a sudden 25 deg. F. temperature drop hit us sooo fast.  A black cloud was squeezing through the west pass, perhaps 3 miles distant and 4,000 feet down.  I told the kids and the Dragon Lady that a really good storm with lots of wind and lightning was coming, and we could watch it from the Chalet, meaning the Sky Tram building in the picture.  As we hurried toward the building the Sky Tram staff where going out to herd the unsuspecting tourists to safety, while my little family group threw our gear on and around a table inside.  And so we sat, waiting for the show to arrive.


Photo below is the Jasper Sky Tram building up on Whistler's Mountain.  Photo was taken through the cable car window on the ride up.



dangerous winds sky tram



The building was a fortress, with it’s I-beam structure drilled and cemented deep into the mountain's stable rock.  The windows were made of Plexiglass or other material able to withstand a .308 round (as is necessary).  The buildings, doors and windows of all high mountain facilities, including high mountain ski chalets and cable-car structures, must of course be built to withstand such winds.  They must also withstand high-speed strikes by wind carried objects such as trees, rocks, air-born marmots or coyotes.


The staff bolted the steel doors to avoid having wind pressure or vacuum break the standard door bolts.  The cable car stopped operations, No-one in, no-one out, we’re all here until it’s over.  There were no safety issues, but when the 120 mph wind hit with sound effects, most people were not aware of the building’s features, so apprehension oozed within the Tourist Department.  The girls and I watched the trees boogie in the wind and the lightning strikes and flashes, until the rain flooded the windows so heavily that visibility was lost.  This is not nice, but deep down, I hoped they could see a ground squirrel or coyote fly by, but it didn’t happen.  Would have been a lifelong memory for the kids, you have to give me that.  So then the kids learned to spin quarters on the table.  After that, nap time on the table.  “You’re here, right?" “Can’t get out of it, right?", lighten up and enjoy.


About two hours after the cold and ugly started, there was a violent pounding on the outside of the Chalet’s steel door.  Several of the staff hung on to each other, opened the door, and one 12 year old boy scrambled in, banged, bruised, greatly exhausted, not able to stand well, and one notch below the screaming point.  Our table was close to the door, and the noise woke my two little girls.  I’m guessing Staff gave him a warm and fuzzy syringe, enabling the boy to tell his story.  He and his Dad were hiking up the mountain and were almost at the Chalet when the hard wind hit them.  They tried to get to the chalet, but the father had a heart condition and couldn’t make it.  Concerned for the boy’s safety, the father convinced the boy to try to get to the chalet and request a rescue unit be sent for the father.  Staff called it in, knowing you don’t kill three, pretending to try to save one.  The syringe was still working, the boy melted and the staff disappeared him.


Then and today, I still cannot find a means to allow that boy to travel on the ground during a 120 mph wind without being blown away.  You have to figure God changed the rain that fell on and around the boy to Holy Water.


About ¾ of an hour after the boy melted, more banging on the chalet door, so the staff gripped each other, opened the door, and the boy’s father crawled one quarter of the way in and quit, that’s all he had left.  More Holy Water!  Staff pulled him into the building and bolted the door.  They put him on a stretcher, rigged him with oxygen, and tended him with care.  Once he seemed stable, staff reunited him with his boy.  Within seconds there wasn’t a dry eye in the building.


The wind subsided to a safe operating level for the cable car.  Total time for the cable car shutdown was 4.5 hours.  When operations resumed, the boy, with his Dad on the stretcher, were put alone with the operator, on the first car down.  I wasn't able to wish them the best, would have been interference.  Didn’t matter, they were both still wet with Holy Water.


It must be said the Jasper Sky Tram staff carried out their part nicely, doing what had to be done while creating the same excitement level as one does when washing dishes.

It was great to have my small children see all this and the Dangerous winds from a safe vantage point. We have mentioned it a time or two. I still chuckle when wishing they had seen the coyote fly. Then again, coyotes don't live that high up the mountain.


Again, should you get caught in such a wind, why die tired?   Use your rope, or your pants belt, or even your jacket tied around a tree or rock, but do not travel.  When the wind subsides, you might have the shakes, but you will more likely be alive with enough gas left to get down to the valley.


You might read or be taught much about the rules to follow in a lightning storm.  Good advice down in the valley!  If caught in dangerous high mountain winds as described above, just put the lightning thoughts and well meant instructions out of your mind, use your rope and prepare against the greater odds of being killed by being blown off the mountain.  


Roy Cleveland Sullivan was a United States park ranger in Virginia. Sullivan holds the world record for being struck by lightning on seven different occasions.  He survived them all,,, sort of..... A short account of Sullivan living his life with lightning and the troubles it caused him appears in Wickipedia.


In the early 1950's my young schoolmate friend was washing dishes when lightning struck the house, crawled through the pipes and put him to sleep for a while.  He was checked at the hospital and declared OK.  Back then something like that got you a "worthy mention" in the Barber Shop.  Glen's eyes always seemed brighter after that, but he did not glow in the dark.






As a matter of interest, Image # 5793 above, shows the cable car lift's operating equipment that pulls the cable cars and pasengers from the valley to the mountain top building.  The building at the other end of the cable down in the valley has the same type of equipment and works in unison with the mountain top equipment.  Note the equipment operator's head at the bottom right of the picture.


Uttleystrails.com, Dangerous Mountain Winds,  Dennis Uttley.