Shock Treatment

Jude Friend still feels the effects twenty years later.

In the first hours after Jude Friend was struck by lightning, at a moment when she did not know whether she would live or die, she crawled to an opening in her tent and gazed at the morning sky. "What a beautiful sunrise," she thought.

Twenty-one years later, the image lingers: It has come to symbolize her life after the strike. "When I saw that, I just had the feeling I was going to be okay," she says. She knows what Garry Rudd and others are going through; she wants them to know that there's hope.

The 48-year-old pharmacist was born in Texas but traveled from military base to military base with her family. Her husband, Nelson Chenkin, is a software engineer from New York City. During early trips out west, they each developed a love for the outdoors that would draw them together as adults. Nelson dreamed of conquering mountains; Jude contemplated blossoms. "I could spend hours staring at flowers," Jude says. "I'm just fascinated by nature."

Survivor! Jude Friend was struck twenty years ago.
John Johnston
Survivor! Jude Friend was struck twenty years ago.

They met in 1973, on a scuba-diving excursion to a sunken World War II ship. They fell in love, married, and settled in Fort Collins five years later, drawn by the Rocky Mountains and the sun. "It was either Colorado or the Pacific Northwest," Jude says. "We chose Colorado. It was drier. We don't like carrying wet tents."

They cross-country skied in the winter, hiked in the summer, and strapped on a backpack every chance they could. They were well-heeled, well-equipped and reasonably well aware of natural hazards, including lightning. Nelson also was a stickler for safety precautions and planning. In fact, two months before Jude was struck, he'd completed a CPR class offered through the Colorado Mountain Club. He practiced on Jude.

"We felt like we were ready for whatever might happen," Jude says.

"Not quite experts, but not novices, either," Nelson adds.

The couple planned to celebrate Jude's 27th birthday on July 21, 1979, with a four-day backpacking trip through the Rawhaw Wilderness, thirty miles northwest of their home. Nelson's friend Perry Brown, visiting from Kentucky, would accompany them.

"I was excited," Jude recalls. "It was my birthday, it was beautiful outside, and I thought that maybe Nelson would bring along some treat like freeze-dried ice cream. I knew I would get some kind of a surprise. But I didn't expect this big of a surprise."

Although Nelson had chosen the Crater Lakes as their destination, he changed his mind en route after learning that other campers had claimed the spot. He decided they'd hike several hundred feet higher, to Rockhole Lake, where they'd have more privacy. On the second day of the trip, after a nine-mile hike, they finally trudged up a loose talus slope toward the lake, well above timberline, and picked a campsite at the edge of an open cirque, about seventy yards from a stream. The view was magnificent: Poudre Canyon to the east, Mummy Range to the south, the Rawhaw Peaks to the west and north.

Nelson had indeed packed a birthday treat: freeze-dried cheesecake. But at about 6 p.m., as he and Perry plotted their surprise, they noticed a storm gathering about five miles to the west. Although it hadn't begun to rain or thunder, Nelson thought they'd better pitch the tent, anyway. So while he and Perry got to work, Jude hurried down to the stream with her aluminum pan to wash up.

Lightning suddenly flashed, then flashed again, and Nelson expected to see Jude scrambling up the hill, frightened by the blast. When she didn't appear, he headed to the stream. He saw what he thought was Jude's wool shirt tossed onto the ground and wondered, "Why did she take her shirt off?"

Then he realized that it wasn't her shirt: It was Jude. She was lying on her back with her eyes half-opened, foam on her lips, skin ashen, feet dangling over a crater blasted into a rock that was eighteen inches deep and two feet wide.

Nelson cried for help and ran toward his wife, smelling burning hair and wool as he approached her. He started CPR, and within twenty seconds, Jude began to breathe. Her pulse returned. Her face flushed. She moved. If Nelson had not taken that class two months before, his wife would have died.

The two men carried Jude back to camp and placed her in a sleeping bag inside the tent.

Then Perry headed out for help, hiking toward a camp they'd spotted about three-quarters of a mile away. Nelson huddled over Jude, who finally regained consciousness about thirty minutes after she was struck. But when her eyes opened, she couldn't see.

She asked Nelson who he was, asked where she was, then passed out.

At around 4 a.m., Jude awoke. She crawled to the opening of the tent and marveled at the pink-and-gold sunrise. She was dehydrated. Nauseated. Burned on her neck, chest, hands and feet. She tried to walk, but couldn't.

"If you don't get me out of here," she told Nelson, "I'm going to die."

Later that morning, help arrived, and the campers packed up their gear and carried Jude down the precarious forty-degree slope. On the final stretch, as the terrain became even steeper, Jude had to crawl down on her hands and legs. Finally, when they got low enough, she was taken out in a flight-for-life helicopter.

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