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MS Fall 2015 Cover

Mountain School: Celebrating 25 Years and the end of the Fall Season

November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

For the past 25 years, the North Cascades Institute has been teaching students about their wild nearby through the Mountain School program. The program started back in 1990 and was based out of Newhalem, WA. Tracie Johannessen, who lead the program when it started and is the current Education Director at the Institute, informed the newest Mountain School instructors during training that “Mountain School used to be based out of tents in Newhalem. Other than the location change (up to the Environmental Learning Center in Diablo in 2005) and tweeks in the curriculum here and there, the program has been consistent.”

The typical, three day program for fifth grade students has a simple ABC format: Abiotic, Biotic and Community days. As Tracie said, every student coming for Mountain School over the past 25 years has experienced the North Cascades in this way. This fall 1,230 students from 19 schools joined this legacy.

MS Fall 2015 Bus

Two students ready for an awesome three days!

After driving anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours on a bus, the students arrive with big smiles and arms full of luggage. Some of the schools have been coming for 25 years, so these students have been hearing about this journey from their older schoolmates. They then drop off the luggage and go through a humorous and informative orientation about the Environmental Learning Center, the North Cascades National Park, and what to expect for the next three days. The students are then divided into trail groups of 10 students maximum per instructor.

» Continue reading Mountain School: Celebrating 25 Years and the end of the Fall Season

Trans Trek Mike Coffee

Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

November 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Adventures

By Mike Rosekrans

For the North Cascades Institute’s 14th cohort of Graduate M.Ed. students, it was a year marked with adventure, struggle, triumph and togetherness.

Our cohort is a very tight-knit, close community where we all share our various skills and talents with one another to make for a more comfortable and enjoyable living arrangement, and family for that matter. From Petra’s primitive skills to Kelly’s crafting projects and to Kevin’s rock climbing, we each bring something special to the group, sharing our lives, talents, hopes, dreams and abilities with one another to improve and enhance each other’s lives and to make the world a better place.

After a year of living in the North Cascades — a year that saw “fire and rain and sunny days that we thought would never end,” to quote James Taylor — it was time for our cohort to transition to the second year of the program at Huxley College of the Environment on the Western Washington University campus. (After a cohort does the residency program at the North Cascades Institutes’ Environmental Learning Center for a year, they “trek” down to Bellingham to finish the degree.) It seemed only fitting that leave our homes in the mountain for the city of Bellingham by traveling the river that connected us from the Environmental Learning Center to our new home on the Salish Sea: the mighty Skagit River. We realized that eventually our time at the Environmental Learning Center and campus portion in Bellingham would merge into one, and a river runs to it.

» Continue reading Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

Zachary with Hawk

Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

November 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Woke up at 0555 to a pack of coyotes (Canis latrans) howling and barking in a playful manner with one another for about ten minutes. During this time a barred owl (Stix varia) was making some small hooting. Still very dark, the weather was mostly fog with a 70 yard visibility at 40*F.

This is how my journal entry for the 2015 Fall Natural History retreat started on October 8th, 2015.  As part of the Graduate Program at North Cascades Institute, the fifteen of us students  in the newest cohort along with our instructors Joshua Porter and Lindsey MacDonald went over to the Methow Valley to get first hand experience with our natural home. As future environmental educators, it is vital for us to understand our local ecosystem through experience so that we can lead the next generation in outdoor experiences.  With this trip in particular, the first day focused on beavers, while the second on hawks.

We had spent the night in the Gardner Hut on Rendezvous Pass.  When we awoke we heard a chorus of coyotes and owls, but could not see them due to two factors: low visibility due to heavy fog and little sunlight, and rather comfortable and warm sleeping bags. Despite this, we packed up, ate breakfast, and heading for Winthrop.

Ponderosa at Gardner Hut

Packing up from our night in the Gardner Hut. Two Ponderosa Pine are pictured.

» Continue reading Beavers and Hawks: Graduate Fall Retreat Seminar 2015

YLA Visit Day 2015 6

Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

November 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Murali Krishnan

This summer, on July 25th, 2015, I had a gift to learn from young high school kids. I was invited as an adult coach to observe and help in the Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA), an innovative program run by the North Cascades Institute(NCI). In turn, I got a lot more learning from the program as well.
Thanks to NCI, YLA is conducted for motivated high school students. According to the institute:

During summer expeditions, students canoe and or backpack, camp, and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science, communication skills, and public speaking. Upon returning home, students ages 16 to 18 in Science and Sustainability courses design and implement their own service projects in their home communities.

Incredible learning comes from a deep connection with nature. Now imagine being in the wilderness with no immediate access to transportation for miles amidst the mountains and forests filled with thick tall trees. And add to that this episode continuing for 8 or 16 days. Yes, the digital cameras may become dead weight after taking amazing pictures of nature and not being able to charge up. Yes, the cell phone batteries run out too. It is in this setting that about 8 students spent their summer in the North cascades. Better yet, I believe they invested their summer to connect with nature and discover themselves. And here is a fun video from the group.

YLA 2015 2


» Continue reading Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

NCI Snyder SourDough 2

Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”

November 7th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“August on Sourdough,

A Visit from Dick Brewer”

Poem by Gary Snyder from The Back Country; a reading with Rob Rich

You hitched a thousand miles

north from San Francisco

Hiked up the mountainside     a mile in the air

Thy little cabin – one room –

walled in glass

Meadows and snowfields,     hundreds of peaks.

We lay in our sleeping bags

talking half the night;

Wind in the guy-cables      summer mountain rain.

Next morning I went with you

as far as the cliffs,

Loaned you my poncho –      the rain across the shale –

You down the snowfield

flapping in the wind

Waving a last goodbye      half hidden in the clouds

To go on hitching

clear to New York;

Me back to my mountain      and far, far, west.



Just behind the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, Sourdough Mountain looms. This fabled peak has enjoyed a front row seat to generations of comings and goings in the Upper Skagit: a glacial lake draining, indigenous peoples journeying to quarry ancient sea-floor stones, newcomers paving Route 20 through gorges, your car rumbling through them.

» Continue reading Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”

YLA 2015 Group

Youth Leadership Adventures 2015: A Report from Ross Lake

November 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sabrina Freedman

Editors note: To put into context the Youth Leadership Conference held at our Environmental Learning Center from November 6-8, this article was written by one of our Youth Leadership Adventure leaders, Sabrina Freedman.  In it, she reflects on the growth she witnessed in her student trail group during their backcountry journey.

A remote basin in North Cascades National Park sits below two of its tallest peaks. Goode and Logan mountains are heavily glaciated, and are a remarkable and remote destination to park visitors and students on a Youth Leadership Adventures trip. This basin is so remote, that it is home to a wolverine monitoring station and a three-mile trail that terminates in high meadows with herbaceous plants and black bears galore.

YLA 2015 Mountain

Basin between Goode and Logan mountains.

The group of students on an 11-day backpacking adventure was unsure if they would find habitat for themselves in such a wild place. The nine students, all rising juniors, seniors or recent high school graduates had signed up for a 16 day field course focused in learning about climate science and sustainable practices. The students were from as far as Astoria, Oregon though many were from the Skagit and Nooksack flats in towns such as Mt. Vernon, La Conner, Sumas and Saxon.

Many students came for the great views and to have fun outside but also to complete their senior projects and to learn more about our changing climate. As the new group got together on the first day to hike over Cascade Pass with a collective 450 pounds of gear and food, they were amazed both by the beauty around them and by their personal strength. They were especially mesmerized by the glaciers.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Adventures 2015: A Report from Ross Lake

north cascades institute-117

Tim McNulty’s “Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

October 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

Poem by Tim McNulty; a reading with Rob Rich

A late-summer sun
threads the needles of McMillan Spires
and disappears in a reef of a coral cloud.

Winds roil the mountain trees,
batter the shutter props.

I light a candle with the coming dark.
Its reflection in the window glass
flickers over mountains and
shadowed valleys
seventeen miles north to Canada.

Not another light.

The lookout is a dim star
anchored to rib of the planet
like a skiff to a shoal
in a wheeling sea of stars.

Night sky at full flood.

Wildly awake.

Sourdough Lookout

During our recent lunar eclipse, I know an awestruck child who asked that most earnest strain of seven-year old sincerity: “Daddy, where’s earth?” Though I had lacked the courage to so boldly echo her question, I couldn’t help but to smile in agreement. Just how is it that our real experience on this planet be so utterly surprising and mysterious…so unearthly?

» Continue reading Tim McNulty’s “Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”