Leaving Seattle, the weather was party cloudy and I had believed the rains would be gone for the day so I decided I wouldn't need my rain gear. Terrible choice right there because it absolutely poured out in the foothills of the Cascades so I shame myself for being so stubborn. I was happy, however, that the hike to the caves was only a mile in so I decided to suck it up and head out in my thin North Face micro fleece. The trail was really undemanding but it just poured and there were low clouds blocking the views around us and the towering Big Four mountain. About a half a mile in, we see our first flash of lighting and BOOM of thunder. My jaw hit the floor and I was in such awe. Having just finished a degree in meteorology and climate, I was dying of excitement just thinking about what was going on up above. Definitely a thundercell associated with the huge low pressure system coming into the region recently and near the foothills of these mountains they can really start to rev up. The coolest thing was that we were right in the storm. The thunder came less than a second after we saw the flash so it was close. We knew we had to keep aware of the weather conditions, it could get dangerous.
Here is a picture of my boyfriend, Hunter, posing at the clearing with the caves in the back. A little further down, we were out of the trees and into a large open rocky area with an overflowed stream running through it. Hunter set off ahead, his main goal to set a foot inside the cave and I stayed a little behind him to carefully navigate the dry rock route. As I was hopping around and taking my time and taking photos, another huge flash and boom go off right above us. I could tell that that lightning strike was literally 1000 meters above my head. I about shat my pants because I was in the textbook situation of getting hit by lightning. Open field, visible lightning flashes, it had started to hail.. We were in the storm. Hunter turned around and shouted something like "THAT WAS AWESOME" and I was like "OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO GO!!"
The only place to take cover was inside the cave, unfortunately. I had read that a 10 year old girl in 2010 died by getting crushed by a Volkswagen bus sized slab of ice.. But we had to get out of the field so in we went. Well, Hunter went in the cave pretty deep and I basically stayed by the "door", constantly looking around, checking the roof incase any ice started to break. I was so scared - can't go in the cave because what if a Volkswagen sized slab of ice crushes me and can't go out because I could very well get struck by lightning. How ironic would that be, a meteorologist dying by getting struck by lightning? I'm not quite a meteorologist yet, so I guess it wouldn't be that funny. Anyways, I basically huddled near the ground in the pouring rain so mentally uncomfortable and fearful and soaked and freezing.
What happened next was pretty hilarious. From my position, I see three figures with large umbrellas making their way across the field to the caves. This lightning had struck no more than five minutes ago and these dorks clearly had no idea of the severity of the weather conditions. I'm still huddling when they come within range of me and I see that it's three asian men in jeans and tennis shoes with huge friendly smiles on their faces. The first guy kept saying "Ayyy! Ayy! Halloo!" and pulled out his camera. I thought he wanted a picture of his friends by the caves but no, he wanted a picture with me. Super weird, awkward, but expected? So that happened, held up my peace signs and then Hunter came back and we ran the hell out of that area and back into the forest.
Even though it was terrifying, I will say hearing and seeing thunder and lighting up close remains one of the coolest things to witness. The lightning was so close that you couldn't see the bolts, but rather a bright white flash with a purple hue covering half of your eyesight even when you're staring at the ground.. Insane. Check these caves out, well worth it!