An interesting description of electrical "waves"
- From "Wild Life on the Rockies" --Starts page 84 as I remember
WHILE on the sky-line as State Snow Observer, I had one adventure with the
elements that called for the longest special report that I have ever
written. Perhaps I cannot do better than quote this report transmitted to
Professor Carpenter, at Denver, on May 26, 1904.
NOTES ON THE POUDRE FLOOD
The day before the Poudre flood, I traveled for eight hours northwesterly
along the top of the Continental Divide, all the time being above
timber-line and from eleven thousand to twelve thousand feet above
The morning was cloudless and hot. The western sky was marvelously clear.
Eastward, a thin, dark haze overspread everything below ten thousand feet.
By 9.30 A. M. this haze had ascended higher than where I was. At nine
o'clock the snow on which I walked, though it had been frozen hard during
the night, was soggy and wet.
About 9.30 a calm that had prevailed all the morning gave way before an easy
intermittent warm breeze from the southeast.
At 10.10 the first cloud appeared in the north, just above Hague's Peak. It
was a heavy cumulus cloud, but I do not know from what direction it came. It
rose high in the air, drifted slowly toward the west, and then seemed to
dissolve. At any rate, it vanished. About 10.30 several heavy clouds rose
from behind Long's Peak, moving toward the northwest, rising higher into the
sky as they advanced.
The wind, at first in fitful dashes from the southeast, began to come more
steadily and swiftly after eleven o'clock, and was so warm that the snow
softened to a sloppy state. The air carried a tinge of haze, and conditions
were oppressive. It was labor to breathe. Never, except one deadly hot July
day in New York City, have I felt so overcome with heat and choking air.
Perspiration simply streamed from me. These oppressive conditions continued
for two hours,-
until about one o'clock. While they lasted, my eyes pained, ached, and
twitched. There was no glare, but only by keeping my eyes closed could I
stand the half-burning pain. Finally I came to some crags and lay down for a
time in the shade. I was up eleven thousand five hundred feet and the time
was 12.20. As I lay on the snow gazing upward, I became aware that there
were several flotillas of clouds of from seven to twenty each, and these
were moving toward every point of the compass. Each seemed on a different
stratum of air, and each moved through space a considerable distance above
or below the others. The clouds moving eastward were the highest. Most of
the lower clouds were those moving westward. The haze and sunlight gave
color to every cloud, and this color varied from smoky red to orange.
At two o'clock the haze came in from the east almost as dense as a fog-bank,
crossed the ridge before me, and spread out as dark and foreboding as the
smoke of Vesuvius. Behind me the haze rolled upward when it struck the
ridge, and I had clear glimpses whenever I looked to the southwest. This
heavy, muddy haze prevailed for a little more than half an hour, and as it
cleared, the clouds began to disappear, but a gauzy haze still continued in
the air. The feeling in the air was not agreeable, and for the first time in
my life I felt alarmed by the shifting, rioting clouds and the weird haze.
I arrived at timber-line south of Poudre Lakes about 4.30 P. M., and for
more than half an hour the sky, except in the east over the foothills, was
clear, and the sunlight struck a glare from the snow. With the cleared air
there came to me an easier feeling. The oppressiveness ceased. I descended a
short distance into the woods and relaxed on a fallen tree that lay above
I had been there but a little while, when - snap! buzz! buzz ! buzz! ziz!
ziz! and electricity began to pull my hair and hum around my ears. The
electricity passed off shortly, but in a little while it caught me again by
the hair for a brief time, and this time my right arm momentarily cramped
and my heart seemed to give several lurches. I arose and tramped on and
downward, but every little while I was in for shocking treatment. The
electrical waves came from the southwest and moved northeast. They were
separated by periods of from one to several minutes in length, and were
about two seconds in passing. During their presence they made it lively for
me, with hair-pulling, heart-palpitation, and muscular cramps. I tried
moving speedily with the wave, also standing still and lying down, hoping
that the wave would pass me by; but in each and every case it gave me the
same stirring treatment. Once I stood erect and rigid as the wave came on,
but it intensified suddenly the rigidity of every muscle to a seemingly
rupturing extent, and I did not try that plan again. The effect of each wave
on me seemed to be slightly weakened whenever I lay down and fully relaxed
I was on a northerly slope, in spruce timber, tramping over five feet of
snow. During these electrical waves, the points of dry twigs were tipped
with a smoky blue flame, and sometimes bands of this bluish flame encircled
green trees just below their lower limbs. I looked at the compass a few
times, and though the needle occasionally swayed a little, it was not
affected in any marked manner.
The effect of the electrical waves on me became less as I descended, but
whether from my getting below the electrical stratum, or from a cessation of
the current, I cannot say.
But I did not descend much below eleven thousand feet, and at the lowest
point I crossed the South Poudre, at the outlet of Poudre Lakes. In crossing
I broke through the ice and received a wetting, with the exception of my
right side above the hip. Once across, I walked about two hundred yards
through an opening, then again entered the woods, on the southeasterly slope
of Specimen Mountain. I had climbed only a short distance up this slope when
another electrical wave struck me. The effect of this was similar to that of
the preceding ones. There was, however, a marked difference in the intensity
with which the electricity affected the wet and the dry portions of my body.
The effect on my right side and shoulder, which had escaped wetting when I
broke through the ice, was noticeably stronger than on the rest of my body.
Climbing soon dried my clothes sufficiently to make this difference no
longer noticeable. The waves became more frequent than at first, but not so
strong. I made a clumsy climb of about five hundred feet, my muscles being
"muscle-bound" all the time with rigidity from electricity. But this climb
brought me almost to timber-line on Specimen Mountain, and also under the
shadow of the south peak of it. At this place the electrical effects almost
ceased. Nor did I again seriously feel the current until I found myself out
in the sunlight which came between the two peaks of Specimen. While I
continued in the sunlight I felt the electrical wave, but, strange to say,
when I again entered the shadow I almost wholly escaped it.
When I started on the last slope toward the top of North Specimen, I came
out into the sunlight again, and I also passed into an electrical sea. The
slope was free from snow, and as the electrical waves swept in close
succession, about thirty seconds apart, they snapped, hummed, and buzzed in
such a manner that their advance and retreat could be plainly heard. In
passing by me, the noise was more of a crackling and humming nature, while a
million faint sparks flashed from the stones (porphyry and rhyolite) as the
wave passed over. But the effect on me became constant. Every muscle was
almost immovable. I could climb only a few steps without weakening to the
stopping-point. I breathed only by gasps, and my heart became violent and
feeble by turns. I felt as if cinched in a steel corset. After I had spent
ten long minutes and was only half-way up a slope, the entire length of
which I had more than once climbed in a few minutes and in fine shape, I
turned to retreat, but as there was no cessation of the electrical colic, I
faced about and started up again. I reached the top a few minutes before
6.30 p. M., and shortly afterward the sun disappeared behind clouds and
I regret that I failed to notice whether the electrical effects ceased with
the setting of the sun, but it was not long after the disappearance of the
sun before I was at ease, enjoying the magnificent mountain-range of clouds
that had formed above the foothills and stood up glorious in the sunlight.
Shortly before five o'clock the clouds had begun to pile up in the east,
and their gigantic forms, flowing outlines, and glorious lighting were the
only things that caused the electrical effects to be forgotten even
momentarily. The clouds formed into a long, solid, rounded range that rose
to great height and was miles in length. The southern end of this range was
in the haze, and I could not make out its outline further south than a
point about opposite Loveland, Colorado, nor could I see the northern end
beyond a few miles north of Cheyenne, where it was cut off by a dozen strata
of low clouds that moved steadily at a right angle to the east. Sixty miles
of length was visible. Its height, like that of the real mountains which it
paralleled, diminished toward the north. The place of greatest altitude was
about twenty-five miles distant from me. From my location, the clouds
presented a long and smoothly terraced slope, the top of which was at least
five thousand feet and may have been fifteen thousand feet above me. The
clouds seemed compact; at times they surged upwards; then they would settle
with a long, undulating swell, as if some unseen power were trying to force
them further, up the mountains, while they were afraid to try it. Finally a
series of low, conical peaks rose on the summit of the cloud-range, and the
peaks and the upper cloud-slope resembled the upper portion of a
circus-tent. There were no rough places or angles.
When darkness came on, the surface of this cloud-range was at times
splendidly illuminated by electricity beneath; and, when the darkness,
deepened, the electrical play beneath often caused the surface to shine
momentarily like incandescent glass, and occasionally sinuous rivers of gold
ran over the slopes. Several times I thought that the course of these
golden rivers of electrical fire was from the bottom upward, but so
brilliant and dazzling were they that I could not positively decide on the
direction of their movement. Never have I seen such enormous cloud-forms or
such brilliant electrical effects.
The summit of Specimen Mountain, from which I watched the clouds and
electrical flashes, is about twelve thousand five hundred feet above
sea-level. A calm prevailed while I remained on top. It was about 8.30 P. M.
when I left the summit, on snowshoes, and swept down the steep northern
slope into the woods. This hurry caused no unusual heart or muscle action.
The next morning was cloudy as low down as ten thousand five hundred feet,
and, for all I know, lower still. The night had been warm, and the morning
had the oppressive feeling that dominated the morning before. The clouds
broke up before nine o'clock, and the air, with haze in it, seemed yellow.
About 10.30, haze and, soon after, clouds came in from the southeast (at
this time I was high up on the southerly slope of Mt. Richthofen), and by
eleven o'clock the sky was cloudy. Up to this time the air, when my
snow-glasses were off, burned and twitched my eyes in the same manner as on
the previous morning.
Early in the afternoon I left Grand Ditch Camp and started down to Chambers
Lake. I had not gone far when drops of rain began to fall from time to time,
and shortly after this my muscles began to twitch occasionally under
electrical ticklings. At times slight muscular rigidity was noticeable. Just
before two o'clock the clouds began to burst through between the trees. I
was at an altitude of about eleven thousand feet and a short distance from
the head of Trap Creek. Rain, hail, and snow fell in turn, and the lightning
began frequently to strike the rocks. With the beginning of the lightning my
muscles ceased to be troubled with either twitching or rigidity. For the two
hours between 2 and 4 P. M. the crash and roll of thunder was incessant. I
counted twenty-three times that the lightning struck the rocks, but I did
not see it strike a tree. The clouds were low, and the wind came from the
east and the northeast, then from the west.
About four o'clock, I broke through the snow, tumbled into Trap Creek, and
had to swim a little. This stream was really very swift, and ran in a narrow
gulch, but it was blocked by snow and by tree-limbs swept down by the flood,
and a pond had been formed. It was crowded with a deep deposit of snow which
rested on a shelf of ice. This covering was shattered and uplifted by the
swollen stream, and I had slipped on the top of the gulch and tumbled in.
Once in, the swift water tugged at me to pull me under; the cakes of snow
and ice hampered me, and my snow-shoes were entangled with brush and limbs.
The combination seemed determined to drown me. For a few seconds I put forth
all my efforts to get at my pocket-knife. This accomplished, the fastenings
of my snowshoes were cut, and unhampered by these, I escaped the waters.
Since I have felt no ill results, the effect of the entire experience may
have been beneficial. The clouds, glorious as they had been in formation and
coloring, resulted in a terrible cloudburst. Enormous quantities of water
were poured out, and this, falling upon the treeless foothills, rushed away
to do more than a million dollars' damage in the rich and beautiful Poudre