Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

August 18, 2013

Fatal Attraction: Georgia man’s love of Montana ends in tragedy


-- — “See the bison as they ramble across the roads, stopping up traffic of minivans and RVs for miles … They, as a part of the more natural state of things, command and control every aspect of this place, and it only takes some … tourist attempting to pet the wild animal … for that brutalistic force of nature to assert itself.” – Austin Parker’s blog, July 2

Electric Peak

Electric Peak, a 10,969-foot mountain, is the tallest point in the Gallatin Range. Author Cedron Jones described it as “huge, and an anomaly — it’s over 500 feet higher than anything else in the range.”

The first ascent of Electric Peak was made in 1872 by Henry Gannett during the Hayden Survey. The first ascenders of the peak were nearly killed by lightning when they reached the summit, and experienced electrical discharges on their hands and in their hair, hence the name Electric Peak, according to

“Electric Peak, while primarily sedimentary, has intruded igneous rock formations that were once molten into the sedimentary rocks,” Yellowstone National Park geologist Hank Heasler said.

“Those rocks — separate from the Yellowstone Volcano — are relatively higher in iron and magnesium. Any high isolated peak, whether it be the Grand Teton or Mount Moran or Granite Peak, tends to get hit by lightning a lot more. You add to that the iron associated with the Absaroka volcanics, and you have a chance for significant lightning strikes. You gotta be darn careful if you are out there,” Heasler added.

There are two standard routes to the top — the Glen Creek Trail, which follows the south face and southeast ridge of the mountain, which Parker ascended, and the Beattie Gulch trail, which ascends up the mountain’s north flank, up to the west summit.

For even strong hikers, it’s a climb — Glen Creek Trail’s 10-mile trek to the peak requires a bit of hiking before even reaching the base of the mountain. It’s physically taxing, too — there are 6,000 feet of elevation gained from the Glen Creek trailhead to the peak.

“Electric Peak is a peak like many peaks in the area — it doesn’t necessarily have a trail to the top,” Yellowstone National Park chief ranger Tim Reid said. “It’s important to take the path of least resistance and stay within your comfort zone.”

Ivan Kowski, Yellowstone’s backcountry program manager, thought back to the last time he had summited Electric Peak.

“It’s a pretty steady climb — once you get above the tree line, you get up into the scree–rocky slope section, and hikers have placed rock cairns up there to identify the easiest route. There’s a couple of places where you have to climb up and over some cliffy areas.

“It’s not too difficult, but there’s some exposure. If you were to fall, it could be a bad thing,” Kowski said.

Going up the mountain requires hikers to get as early of a start as possible, so they are back in lower elevations by, at the latest, noon, before afternoon thunderstorms roll in, Kowski said. Because the 20-mile, round-trip hike can be lengthy for some hikers, many camp along the nearby Gardiner River to shorten the distance.

Reid recommended standard hiking gear for those planning to summit — water, food, bear spray, layered clothing, and a map and a compass, regardless of if you have a GPS unit or not. He encouraged people to hike with a partner. He also recommended hikers stop in at the backcountry offices in the park and get information. The weather in the area can be a major factor, he said, since it can often be unpredictable.

“The weather is a big issue. There’s often an afternoon buildup with thunder and lightning. It’s good to leave early and be off the slopes early to mid-afternoon,” Reid said.

He also encouraged hikers to follow the basic golden rule of lightning.

“While there’s no guarantees of where lightning will or won’t strike, be in lower elevations when it’s there,” Reid said. “Don’t be the highest elevation object in the path of the storm.”

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