Episode 25: Minko Nikolov — Survival After the Unimaginable

Minko Nikolov, 31, had lived a pretty charmed life up to a couple months ago. Originally from Bulgaria, Minko discovered rock climbing through his local crags and a powerhouse gym located just minutes from his house. In the early 2000s, as the competition scene lay fairly dormant in the States, Minko launched himself into the Bulgarian circuit. He walked out of his first competition in second-to-last place. Less than a year later, he won the second comp he ever entered. That was just the beginning.

Engrossed with competition, Minko steadily improved and regularly won comps all over his home country. In the mid-2000s he left Bulgaria to study in the States, plopping down in Arizona. The American climbing ethos soon washed over him and he was logging more days outside than on plastic. Shortly after graduating from university, Minko made the leap to Colorado, where he became one of the strongest “hobby climbers” (as he puts it) in the state, sending V13 way back in 2008. He found a community and settled into life as a passionate climber while sustaining a good job, a rare feat for a climber of Minko’s raw talent.

On August 17th, after incoming weather thwarted his solo session in Rocky Mountain National Park, Minko was on his way down the trail, somewhere between Lower Chaos and Emerald Lake. Already below tree line, the lone slice of lightning to hit the ground during the storm struck Minko on his shoulder, missing the crown of his head by inches. 100 million volts threw him to the ground, unconscious.

Minko woke up dazed, thinking he may have been shot, smoke rising from his prostrate body. He couldn’t move his arm or leg. His shoulder hung dislocated and his jaw was broken. The lightning had torn through his body, severely burning over 30 percent of it, and blew a hole out the side of his foot as it exited. Rain fell on his blood-streaked face as he tried to piece together what had happened, the sudden trauma masking the pain to come.

Incredibly, a couple of hikers spotted Minko on the trail and shouted to him that he’d been struck by lightning. Equally miraculous, the hikers stood in a rare pocket of cell service. RMNP Search and Rescue was on the scene within minutes, hauling the now pain-riddled Minko off to a waiting helicopter, the hospital, and an uncertain future.

Minko’s is a story of survival, perseverance, and calm determination in the face of unthinkable trauma. His narrative, riddled with lessons both apparent and analogous, left us speechless.

Have a question, feedback, suggestion, or pitch? Launch a missive at thunderclingpodcast@gmail.com or DM us at @thethundercling on Instagram. We read and respond to every note, unless you mention Fidi’s Greek accent, in which case he will hunt you down.

Cheers to Ryne Doughty for the tunes! He’s back in the studio putting together his FIFTH (!) album. We can’t wait.

Happy Halloween, you Pagan horde!

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