Zappity-do-da day atop Martis Peak | SierraSun.com
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Zappity-do-da day atop Martis Peak

SHERRY MAYS

Becoming a human lightning rod was not my idea of a leisurely day volunteering atop Martis Peak Saturday.

Shortly after 1 p.m., I excitedly took off for the Martis Peak Lookout. There was a big stormbrewing for my first day back since last year.

After last week’s storm, I knew lightning would follow the clouds and I would get to report some fires. Doc Holoday, the CDF firefighter who staffs the lookout during the week, and I have an ongoing contest to report the best fires. Doc would be eating his heart out when I made the calls that day.

Well, it didn’t really happen that way.

Shortly after I settled in at the lookout, the thunderheads began building up. At about 3 p.m., a large set of loomed from Donner Summit to Verdi Peak. The skies darkened and it started to rain over the reservoirs. Lightning struck the hillsides while I watched boaters continue cruising on Boca.

The storm hung to the north for what seemed at least one-half hour, then the winds kicked in and the clouds started moving quickly to the south, toward Martis Peak.

The moisture-soaked clouds were even with the peak, allowing me to witness the storm at eye level. The cloud hit the land below me and shot straight up toward the lookout.

And with the cloud, came lightning.

I’ve always been in awe of lightning – awesome, beautiful, unpredictable and scarily destructive. The pure white of electricity mixed with atmosphere, funneled into jagged bolts, leaves images burned into my mind.

My camera accompanied me to the peak that day, but unfortunately the lightning-bearing cloud never moved from the peak, leaving me literally in the mist for about two hours.

Visibility diminished. Tall pines disappeared into the fog, while thunder boomed from all directions. Then the rain came. Winds whipped in all directions past the historic square building and quarter-sized hail beat against the windows.

And I sat – sat on my stool with its black and gray ceramic insulators, reading Self’s September issue and waiting for the weather to pass.

Although I couldn’t see the bolts of lightning, I could feel them hitting all around the lookout. The thunder was loud and definite, and it was never-ending.

The CDF crew stationed in Northstar finally called on the radio.

“Martis Peak, how is it up there?” Capt. Rich Fuqua asked.

“I’m not moving from my stool,” I said. “It’s horrible up here. I have zero visibility and the lightning is close.”

“If you don’t feel comfortable, come on down,” he said.

“I would leave, but there is no way that I’m going to run trips of equipment back and forth outside. I’m safer in here,” I said.

Fuqua agreed, asked me if I was using the radio connected to the 12-volt battery, then signed off, leaving me to sit for another hour.

To keep fear at bay, I trusted the lookout’s lightning protection and commenced to doing exercises prescribed by my physical therapist for my recent back injury.

The wait wouldn’t have been that bad if my co-workers and I hadn’t talked about Stephen King’s short story, “The Mist.” In the story, a mist rolls in to a vacation town along the Maine coast, and in the mist are thousands of octopus-like killers that break windows and kill a bunch of people trapped in a shopping area. The story gave me the creeps story, and sitting in a cloud became just as creepy when I remembered our conversation.

Everytime lightning hit, I felt a tingly feeling in my hair. All I could hope for was that lightning wouldn’t directly hit our DC power sending acid flying or igniting arching bolts from my fire finder to my radio to the buckle on my belt. The visual was good – dying of a heart attack while watching the electricity ricochet through the lookout.

Well, the only lasting effects I felt from the day was the ribbing I got from the CDF and Donner Summit Fire Department crews that heard my weather reports on the radio. I need to thank them for all the abuse. I wonder what their weather reports would sound like in a similar situation.

Hair-raising events are common while recreating in this area, but hair-raising took on a whole new meaning for me Saturday.

Sherry Mays is the Sierra Sun’s Features and Community News Editor.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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