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Camping at Lightning Creek on Ross Lake

10 favorite things to do in the North Cascades

June 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Saul Weisberg and Christian Martin for The Seattle Times

Canoe the Skagit River
The Skagit is one of the great rivers of the west, supplying nearly 40 percent of the fresh water and wild salmon entering Puget Sound. A multiday trip down the Skagit River is a real gem. Designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1978, the Skagit drains an area of 1.7 million acres, including the most glaciated region in the Lower 48. I like to put my canoe in at Copper Creek in North Cascades National Park and paddle to the mouth where it empties into the Salish Sea. This trip takes three to four days and involves camping on gravel bars and beaches. The river gains momentum after the Cascade, Baker and Sauk rivers add to its flow, and you can finish a great journey by paddling up the Swinomish Channel for dinner in La Conner. Shorter day-trips can be made by paddling from Marblemount to Rockport or Rasar State Park.

 

Copper Ridge by Andy Porter

Backpack from Hannegan Pass to Ross Lake
There are several long backpacking routes in the North Cascades. One of my favorites begins from the Mount Baker Highway, climbing Hannegan Pass and continuing north along Copper Ridge before descending to the Chilliwack River, climbing over Whatcom Pass and finally over Beaver Pass and down Big Beaver Valley to Ross Lake. A fire lookout, incredible views of the Picket Range and one of the best old-growth cedar forests in the range — this trip is hard to beat. Other great long hikes include the Devils Dome circumnavigation of Jack Mountain, or dropping into Stehekin via Bridge Creek from Rainy Pass.

Explore the Methow Valley
There are many different ways to explore this valley flowing off of the east slope of the Cascades. You can look for great birds and butterflies in Pipestone Canyon, cross-country ski in the winter, or mountain-bike on dozens of backcountry roads in the summer. Try Sun Mountain for beginners, Buck Mountain for a challenge.

 

climbing desolation

Paddle Ross Lake and climb Desolation Peak
Perhaps the most famous literary spot in the North Cascades is the fire lookout atop Desolation Peak. This is where writer Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 working for the U.S. Forest Service, an experience he later recounted in “Desolation Angels” and “The Dharma Bums.” The lookout is still there, perched atop the 6,102-foot peak and commanding one of the best views in Washington. The Desolation trailhead on Ross Lake can be reached by canoe, by renting a small powerboat from Ross Lake Resort or by hiking the East Bank Trail from Highway 20. The lookout trail is steep — carry plenty of water — with views around every corner.

Hike to Hidden Lakes Peak
I was a backcountry ranger at Cascade Pass in 1979, and that trail and the view from Sahale Arm are close to my heart. However, to avoid the crowds I like to turn off the Cascade River Road before reaching the Cascade Pass Trail, at the short spur to the trailhead to Hidden Lakes Peak. It’s a beautiful trail to an old fire lookout, which is open to the public, and fabulous views of Cascade Pass and Boston Basin looking east across the valley. Hidden Lakes are surrounded by a veritable rock garden of giant talus boulders. Sibley Pass, accessible by a short scramble from the trail, is an amazing place to watch the fall migration of raptors overhead by the hundreds.

 

Mt. Baker, WA, USA. Mt. Baker Wilderness Area. 10, 778 ft / 3285 m. Coleman and Roosevelt Glaciers. Black Buttes on the right. Lupine and Mountain Bistort Wildflowers on Skyline Divide. 4x5 Transparency ©2000 Brett Baunton

Explore around Mount Baker
There are many ways to explore Komo Kulshan, the northernmost Cascade volcano that looms ever-white over Bellingham and the San Juan Islands. Great trails start from Heather Meadows, but to avoid crowds I suggest you explore the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness or hike the lowland old-growth forest on the East Bank Trail of Baker Lake. Drive a bit farther to access Railroad Grade, the Scott Paul Trail and Park Butte. From this alpine wonderland, you’ll see the Easton Glacier and the Black Buttes up close and personal.

» Continue reading 10 favorite things to do in the North Cascades

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The Raven

June 27th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Hannah Newell, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

When you hear the word raven, what first comes to mind? Do the words deceptive, persistent, clever, noisy or disruptive come to mind? Most often, this is how people have culturally thought of the raven.

Through the early works of Edgar Allen Poe, parts of society have learned to fear the death bringing raven who “Quoth, nevermore” to his dead love Eleanor. What people don’t always know is that the story goes deeper into history. Early cultures around the world have encountered the raven through hunting practices or even at their homes. Hunters from Greenland have been recorded using ravens as a beacon for finding herds of caribou as they were associated with flying in circles around the herds. Similarly, the Han of the Yukon in Canada went to the length of mimicking their calls in order to attract bears to hunting areas. This learned behavior of the bear acts as an example of cultural knowledge being passed on through the generations of bears, creating a new learned relationship between the bear, the raven and the hunter. The raven, being the one who finds the carcass, the bear who strives for the same carcass by following the raven call, and the hunter who uses the desire of the bear to hunt it for their own needs. Ravens use the exchange of knowledge from generation to generation to transfer understandings of humans, feeding sites and potential threats to either their own brood or to roosting mates.

The relationship between humans and ravens have not always been one of admiration, but as we step into the next generation with science and field biology as a priority in many cultures around the world, the desire to learn about ravens and their complicated social dynamics has grown. When humans begin to learn about their complexity, the raven becomes more interesting  and desirable to understand, perpetuating the line of knowledge.

» Continue reading The Raven

C15

An Open Letter to the 16th Cohort

June 24th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

If you are new to or unfamiliar with the North Cascades Institute, there are a few bits of jargon that need to be explained:

  • Western Washington University has a graduate residency program where students spend their first year at the Institute (often shorted to NCI). They then finish their degree at the University.
  • Early summer is the transition time where the older cohort spends the summer working through Leadership Tracks, while the younger cohort arrives to the mountains for the first time together.
  • The current older cohort is the 15th, and the younger 16th. Often this is shortened to C15 and C16.

Even if you are not a part of C16, this letter is a great opportunity to learn about C15, Leadership Tracks and the residency as a whole. On to the letter!

 

Dear C16,

Welcome to the North Cascades ecoregion! If you have lived here your whole life or if this is your first time here, you are going to get to know more about the life in these mountains than you ever thought possible. Between hiking, tracking, teaching and paddling, in just a year this place will feel like home.

» Continue reading An Open Letter to the 16th Cohort

andy porter baker ice

Integral Ice : A Creative Residency reflection

June 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Manasseh Franklin

For much of the lower 48 states, it’s easy to consider glaciers as distant, sometimes extraordinarily so. A great deal of my research and writing focuses on closing this distance in order to give access to the beauty, vitality and total importance of ice on the decline throughout North America. To do this, I rely on intimate first hand experiences, scientific counsel and the compelling narrative of the landscapes themselves.

I came to the North Cascades Institute to write about ice. Fittingly, this region is home to the largest concentration of glaciers remaining in the lower 48. What I didn’t realize prior to arrival, however, is just how much that ice is integral to the livelihoods of people in this region, and how accessible that makes it on a day-to-day basis, both on the ice itself, but primarily off.

Being stationed at Diablo Lake provided the perfect starting point: glacial waters flowing through hydro-electric dams that power neighboring cities. Waters that, without glaciers, would not be able to provide the growing capacity of electricity needed in those places.

Through conversations at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I was able to see the bigger picture not only of water and electricity but also glacial melt and how both its temperature and flow are integral to salmon runs. Glacial melt and its contribution to irrigation for orchards that supply fruit to the entire country. Glacial melt and the incredible milky emerald hue Lake Diablo took on during the final weeks of my stay in early June.

Not only did the landscape provide access to these integrated systems, but my encounters with the Environmental Learning Center did also, both for me and for the many groups of children and adults who were stationed there when I was. I found the mission of the center to resonate with my own mission in writing: using intimate and educated experiences in the outdoors to inspire conservation (and appreciation) of diminishing resources.

Of course, the landscape provided that connectivity as well. Evidence of ice resounds in the countless waterfalls, hanging valleys, and the glaciers themselves—roughly 300 in the park alone—perched in high valleys and cirques. They, like glaciers throughout the world, are diminishing, but still very physically present in the lush landscapes of the North Cascades.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciated my time at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only was I able to be physically proximate to actual ice, but I was also able to integrate in a community of people passionate about sharing the intricacies of this incredibly diverse and inspiring ecosystem with others.

* * * * *

Top photo of Mount Baker by Skagit photographer Andy Porter, available for purchase on his website at www.andyporterimages.com

Manasseh Franklin was a Creative Resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in the Spring of 2016. She is a writer, mountain guide, educator and adventurer who seeks big, hearty landscapes, and then writes about the experience of them. Franklin graduated from the University of Wyoming with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Environment and Natural Resources and seeks to bridge the gap between science and experiential narrative. Her words have appeared in AFAR, Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, Western Confluence, Aspen Sojourner, Yoga International and Suburban Life River Towns magazines, in addition to several newspapers, blogs and websites. Learn more about her work at http://glaciersinmotion.wordpress.com and http://manassehfrass.wordpress.com.

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VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project

June 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emily Ford, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

“VOCALIZE” attempts to share the Natural and Cultural History of the Loon through multiple ways of knowing. This project blends Indigenous Education and Scientific Study through the following list of topics, in order to create an ecological and social learning platform for all: Etymology, Art, History, Biography, Archeology, Astronomy, Taxonomy, Phylogeny, Poetry, Geology, Mapping, Natural History, Anthropology, Biology, American Literature, Conservation Studies, Storytelling, Indigenous Education and Pedagogy, and Place-Based Learning.

The multidisciplinary nature of Natural History allows both cultural and scientific knowing to be shared and valued. The Common Loon (Gavia immer), is not only the focus in this project, but also provides a lens to investigate Environmental and Social Justice, especially as it pertains to North America’s Native First Peoples. The Loon’s hauntingly visceral “call of the wild” has spoken to humans throughout the centuries, and offers a vessel for silenced cultural perspectives to come to light.

Within the project booklet, you will learn about the appearance, habits, and vocalizations of the charismatic Common Loon. Dive beneath the water, and you will also experience the emotions, voices, stories, and values held by the Loon. As we observe and interpret the Loon’s being, we must also recognize the human context of engaging with nature. “VOCALIZE” serves as an example and call to action for all readers to be open minded, aware, and inclusive of diverse human experience and beliefs. It demonstrates the importance of listening to and valuing every voice, including the voice of the Earth, as we come to realize our interrelations.

For example, I examine the word “vocalize,” often used to describe the loon’s various calls. In English, “Vocalize” means to articulate, or to sing vowel sounds, and comes from the root ‘call out’, or ‘cry.’ I pair this with the many Ojibwe definitions, in order to value their language and roots of their words. This serves as an example of how language is a form of power, and it is important to present more than just one perspective. I also use this word to reiterate the layered metaphors of indigenous oppression throughout the project. A loon’s call in the night comes out of the silence, and echoes with a wounded mournfulness, yet stands strong in people’s memory of wilderness and beauty. Paired with these concepts, I also include scientific studies of the four loon calls and their adaptive uses for communication.

Similarly, I investigate the bird’s many names. Loon’s scientific name is Gavia immer, from Scandinavian roots. In Ojibwe, “Loon” and “brave” are the same word: “Maang.” I then share the creation story of the loon, from astronomy, to Indigenous creation stories, to evolution and archeology.  

My poetry is scattered throughout the booklet to reinforce the subject topics and include my own reflections and voice. This poem follows the investigation of our naming of the loon and its vocalizations, as well as a discussion of layered metaphors about the power and oppression of language use. Accompanying the poem is art by Ojibwe artist Jackson Beardy who fought as an activist, educator, and artist, for the rights of Canada’s First Peoples and the revitalization of woodland cultures.

» Continue reading VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project

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Skinning for Science: A Bobcat Casestudy

June 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Holli Watne, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

On Jan 5th, 2016 the residents of the Blue House (our Marblemount property) discovered a dead bobcat in the garage.

The cause of death was unknown, but no evidence of trauma was found. The carcass was quickly moved to the biological specimens freezer in the North Cascades Institute’s lab, where it has served as a great teaching tool for hundreds of Mountain School participants this year.

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Holding up a bobcat

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Bobcat found under bicycles in barn.

But for an item as popular as the bobcat, the freezer is not a very sustainable solution. It is bad for the specimen to be constantly moved in and out of the freezer. Also, it takes up a lot of space – and there’s not much to spare in the freezer.

» Continue reading Skinning for Science: A Bobcat Casestudy

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An exploration into science and art

June 13th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Holli Watne, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th Cohort.

I have a deep love for entomology and artistic exploration. Until recently, I viewed these two pleasures as mutually explicit. My perception changed when I was introduced to the work of Hubert Duprat. He has been working with Trichoptera (one of my favorite orders of insects) since the 1980’s, getting them to build beautiful structures out of precious materials. (For more information of Mr. Duprat’s work, please read this article.)

Trichoptera, commonly known as caddisflies, can be found in all biogeographical regions, except the Antarctic, in (larvae) or near (adult) a large range of aquatic habitats. There are about 1,400 species of Trichoptera in North America, 230 of which have been identified in Washington State. The majority of species have aquatic larvae that build cases out of silk and various natural materials. These cases aid in streamlining substrate-attachment and protection against predators.

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Trichoptera, or caddisfly, larva. Drawn by Holli Watne.

In my undergrad studies at Western Washington University, I remember my entomology professor telling me that entomologists that specialize in Trichoptera can frequently identify the species just by looking at a case. This is because each case-building species has characteristic ways of building their cases.  Using Duprat’s work as an inspiration, I started a simple study to see if larvae would build cases that are structurally similar to their native cases when provided with a choice of unfamiliar building materials.

Being a poor grad student, it wasn’t really an option for me to use such fine materials as Duprat uses in his work. Instead, I introduced the caddisflies to various beads and different sizes of glitter:

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» Continue reading An exploration into science and art