Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday photo

Electric Peak, Yellowstone National Park. September 1996.

Electric Peak is the highest peak in the Gallatin Range, at 10,969', and is arguably the single most prominent peak in Yellowstone, seeming to stand apart from its surroundings in a way that most of the other mountains don't. If you're anywhere in the northwest section of the Park, you're aware of Electric.

Why the name Electric Peak? Because the guys who named it reached the summit just as an electrical storm was moving in. And if you're not thinking, That's an awful place to be in an electrical storm, then you ought to know that the summit of a mountain is just an awful place to can be during an electrical storm; the only place I can think of that would be worse would be standing in a pond at the top of a mountain with your arms wrapped around a tall iron pole.

Henry Gannett, one of those explorers who named Electric Peak in 1871, described the occasion thusly:

I was above the others of the party, and, when about fifty below the summit, the electric current began to pass through my body. At first I felt nothing, but heard a crackling noise, similar to a rapid discharge of sparks from a friction machine. Immediately after, I began to feel a tingling or prickling sensation in my head and the ends of my fingers, which, as well as the noise, increased rapidly, until, when I reached the top, the noise, which had not changed its character, was deafening, and my hair stood completely on end, while the tingling, prickling sensation was absolutely painful. Taking off my hat partially relieved it. I started down again, and met the others twenty-five of thirty feet below the summit. They were affected similarly, but in a less degree.

His companion Alexander Brown didn't take the hint; climbing Electric Peak is even today a major excursion and he had worked too hard to deny himself the view from the summit, so he "attempted to go to the top, but had proceeded but a few feet when he received quite a severe shock, which felled him as if he had stumbled."

Oops. See the comment above, on where not to be during thunderstorms. Fortunately, Brown survived without permanent damage. So did Henry Gannett, who went on to an illustrious career as a cartographer of the West and was honored by having his name attached to the highest peak in Wyoming.

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