Mayhem on the Mountain
The last two bolts were the worst for Smith. “I didn't even feel it when I hit the ground. I just felt like mush. Everything inside me was just mush, like my bones were soft and I had been boiled into soup,” she says. When Kline rushed over to her aid as soon as he himself could move, he found Smith twitching and twisting from the shock. After one more strike at 12:30 p.m., Smith became completely paralyzed from the neck down. Though she lost control of her body, she hurt everywhere. Kline picked her up, laid her on top of their ropes, and leaned over, putting his face intimately in front of hers.
“We're going to be okay. You know I love you. Everything is fine. We're going to get off this mountain,” he whispered over and over again. Despite the reassuring words, Smith was convinced she was going to die. She begged Kline to leave her, but he refused and kept repeating how much he loved her and how they were going to get off that mountain. “I don't think I had realized at that point in our relationship how much he cared for me. That really, really got to me,” says Smith with eyes welling up. “I wanted them all to be safe. It was so hard for me to just lay there.”
It had been 45 minutes since that last big blow. The lightening storm had finally passed. Larson, who miraculously was the least hurt, saw that Smith was in serious trouble. With everyone's okay, he began a brave solo-descent down the mountain to get help while Kline stayed lying next to Smith and Walker, who suffered severe foot burns, sat close by.
Flashes of Hope
By 1:30 p.m., Smith could stand up again but had no use of her arms. Walker was also able to get on his feet, but one was numb so he hobbled around while holding onto Smith for balance. Nobody knew if a search-and-rescue team would make it in time before another storm rolled in, so as they coordinated their movements, Kline gathered all their gear to start a self-rescue. He wasn't any less hurt, though his injuries were less apparent. Having the most experience in the group, he was the only one qualified to save them at this point.
Considering everyone's conditions, they couldn't simply hike down: They need to be rappelled. Kline looped ropes around Smith and Walker and lowered each down to a flat platform. Once they were safe, he then lowered himself. They did this four times for about 500 feet until they reached the upper saddle at 13,160 feet around 2:30 p.m. There they met with a rescue crew who immediately started providing medical support to both Smith and Walker. An hour later, Smith and Walker were airlifted off the mountain to safety and taken in an ambulance to the hospital where Kline and Larson, who were also flown down, joined them later.