Hiker survives Mt. Elbert lightning bolt | AspenTimes.com

Hiker survives Mt. Elbert lightning bolt

Nicole Formosa
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

FRISCO ” Justin Eggleston thought he might end up one of the 80 people killed each year by lightning strikes.

“I’m super grateful that I’m alive,” the 28-year-old Boulder man said from his hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit at Summit Medical Center on Wednesday. “It sucks with the pain, but I’ll take the pain over death any day.”

Eggleston and his girlfriend, Jamie Willett, were descending Mt. Elbert ” Eggleston’s first summit ever of any Colorado peak ” at about 3 p.m. on Sunday when a massive thunderstorm rolled in.

Lightning bolts were striking all around the two as they jogged down the 14,440-foot peak through hail and rain toward treeline.

“The next thing you know it felt like I got swept off my feet and I thought I was rolling down the mountain in water. Then I woke up and I wasn’t going anywhere, I was just laying there. (Jamie) ran over to me and she started crying and I asked her what happened. She said that we were hit by lightning.”

Willett was about 125 feet behind Eggleston when he was struck.

“I was petrified. I didn’t know what happened. I knew he got struck by lightning, but I just feared the worst,” said Willett, who was also knocked over by the bolt.

A group of three hikers, including a doctor from Aspen, saw Eggleston get hit and rushed to help.

“I started hyperventilating and crying and then they tried getting me to calm down and breath deep, stop breathing so fast,” Eggleston said.

He couldn’t feel his hands or his lips.

The doctor checked his vitals and his motor skills, then, with the storm still threatening overhead, two of the bystanders put their arms around Eggleston and walked him more than 2,000 vertical feet down the mountain.

After a miserable two-and-a-half hour descent, the group finally reached Eggleston and Willett’s campsite.

Willett drove Eggleston to the hospital in nearby Leadville and the medical staff decided to transfer him to Summit Medical Center.

Eggleston is still in quite a bit of pain. The doctors told him the lightning strike caused some muscle damage and he will be sore for a few weeks, but he’s expected to recover.

Willett believes the help from the hikers played a big part in Eggleston’s survival.

“Without their assistance, I don’t know what I would’ve done. They pretty much saved him because I was freaking out myself,” Willett said.

Eggleston said his ordeal won’t stop him from hiking more peaks in the future. He’ll just work out his timing a bit better.

“(I’m) definitely not going to be coming down any mountains at 3 o’clock. I guess the rule of thumb is to come down by noon so I’m going to stick to that,” he said.