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Searching for the elusive North Cascades grizzly bears, August 17-23

July 21st, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

North Cascades Institute is very excited to be partnering with the Wenatchee River Institute and Dr. Bill Gaines — the foremost authority on grizzly bears in the North Cascades — for “Ghost Bears: Searching for the Elusive North Cascades Grizzly Bears” August 17-23. Spend a week in the wild alongside Gaines’ team of wildlife biologists assisting in the scientific quest to secure credible evidence that grizzly bears, the ”Ghost Bear” of the North Cascades, still roam these mountains. Info and registration at www.wenatcheeriverinstitute.org.

WRI_Grizzly Poster

Top photo: This October 2010 photo provided by Joe Sebille shows a grizzly bear in the North Cascades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a hiker’s photo confirms a sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades for the first time in perhaps half a century. (AP Photo/Joe Sebille)
susmitaEmilyPetrovski

Youth Leaders Take on the World in the North Cascades

July 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Emily Petrovski

On a non-surprisingly gorgeous North Cascades day, donors and North Cascades Institute staff ventured out onto Ross Lake to visit Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA) participants. After enthusiastic choruses of “teamwork makes the dream work” from the YLA team, we boarded The Mule, put on our PFDs and were off across the beautiful turquoise lake. Participants chatted with each other and with visitors and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Several participants got to take turns steering The Mule under the careful guidance of Ranger Mike Brondi. When the front gate of the boat was put down, they climbed on to take pictures and feel the spray of the water.

mule.RossLake.EmilyPetrovski  Visitors and participants chatted on the Ross Lake Mule.

We stopped briefly for lunch and ate in small groups. We got to hear about the participants’ experiences and adventures in the backcountry. They had varying levels of previous experience in the outdoors, many having never canoed before this trip. Smiles and laughter were not in short supply. Though we were on the water, the sun was hot and we traveled to Devil’s Creek, a sheltered river canyon on Ross Lake.

The air immediately cooled as we turned into the creek, passing under a bridge. Trees and flowers grew out of rocky cliffs and water gently lapped onto the sides. A hush came over the group as they admired the reflection of the water dancing on the rocks. The entire place was a cool refuge on this otherwise hot day. Mike Brondi stopped The Mule and the students began their presentations.

YLA3Visitors and participants arrive in the sheltered Devil’s Creek.

They talked about what had brought them to the North Cascades and how their experiences here had affected them. Nearly all of them talked about wanting to share this place with everyone they knew and anyone who would listen.

Isaiah said he never imagined the trip would be as fun as it was. He thought they would be hiking or canoeing non-stop. But they had time to relax and enjoy the beauty around them. The group loved swimming, even though the lake is incredibly cold. After one particularly long day, they jumped into the frigid lake together and stayed in for a full 13 minutes. He said they must have set a world record with that.

Michelle said that with the friends she made on this trip, “I feel like I could take on the world.” She said she often felt like this experience was a dream she would wake up from. “But my imagination couldn’t come up with people as great as you,” Michelle said, pointing at her new friends.

Logan said his goal for coming on the trip was to gain a better respect for nature. “I like to see what others can’t,” he said.

David talked to us about how proud he was of the drains he built during restoration work on Big Beaver Trail. He felt a personal responsibility for them and didn’t want to work on anything else.

Miriel also told us how much she enjoyed doing the trail restoration with Ranger Lacey. “The natural world offers so much for me to learn and observe,” Miriel said.

JJ spoke about how nature was an escape for his sadness when he was bullied. “It just puts me at peace,” he said. He said the trip taught him how to be more confident. He told us how he enjoyed canoe racing Susmita and Matt, one of the trip leaders. JJ said he will take home confidence and leadership skills and more direction for his path to becoming a renewable resources engineer.

YLAkidsEmilyPetrovskiAssociate Director Jeff Giesen chats with participants Hayden and JJ.

Hayden, whose father works for the National Park Service, said this trip finally made him understand why people love places like this. “I learned why we need to preserve places like this and why people need to experience this,” Hayden said. During one night at Big Beaver campground, Hayden said he was able to relax, calm down and let everything go. He said he was entirely content and at peace in that moment, and never wanted it to end.

Beth talked about how she started to lose a sense of nature and self as she grew older. This experience has helped her regain that. “It’s just been the perfect experience to get out of my head,” she said. Beth said that being here makes you realize you’re part of something bigger.

YLA.Ross.EmilyPetrovskiTeam “BNT” poses for a photo on The Mule during visitor day.

Susmita, who moved to the United States from Nepal three years ago, canoed for the first time on her Youth Leadership Adventures trip. It was also her first time working on trail restoration. She said that while making the trail, she realized how strong she is.

After student presentations and questions from the visitors, we headed back out onto the lake. Visitors and participants continued to chat and admire the scenery around them. The YLA group was dropped off at their campsite at Green Point. As the sun glittered on the water, we waved goodbye to these young people who had grown to love the North Cascades just like we had.

teamBNTEmilyPetrovskiTeam BNT waves goodbye as visitors depart.

All photos by author.

Leading photo: Susmita laughs during introductory games on visitor day.
 

Emily Petrovski is the Environmental Learning Center intern this summer. She loves photography, dogs, pikas and the great outdoors. When not working she can be found exploring in the mountains or taking accidental naps.

 

 

 

5.18 GOG Big Rocks

Red rocks in the mountainous west

July 7th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

In May, toward the end of a road trip, my mom and I found ourselves in Colorado Springs for a couple days. While looking for things to do while we were there, I stumbled across the website for a park with some amazing rock formations.

Garden of the Gods park was set aside as public land in 1909. At that time, it was designated as a city park that would “forever be known as Garden of the Gods,” would not allow any “intoxicating liquors to be manufactured or sold in the park, no buildings except those necessary for the park to function,” and would “forever be open and free to the public.” Pretty cool. In 1972, it was recognized as a National Landmark.

Now, it’s filled with tourists, locals, climbers, and boulderers (you know, people bouldering…I may have just made up a word…). Since we were staying with some of my mom’s friends who live literally right behind the park, we were able to take the less crowded back trails for most of our walk.

#1 - Kissing Camels   This formation is called “Kissing Camels”.
#2 - Nesting AreasBirds have made homes in some of the holes in the sandstone. This is evidenced by their white droppings that stain the rock below.

» Continue reading Red rocks in the mountainous west

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A Trip to the Olympic Peninsula

June 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Come every fall, winter and spring quarter, the graduate students in residency at the Environmental Learning Center leave for a long weekend dubbed the “Natural History Retreat.” It is a chance to explore a novel, neighboring ecosystem beyond the North Cascades we teach about and love on a daily basis. Last autumn, in the midst of a government shutdown, we quickly cavorted to the Methow Valley; in winter, we slept, to the extent we were able, in hard-earned snow shelters on Mt. Rainier’s Paradise. This mid-June, we headed for the one Washington national park we had yet to discover: Olympic.

But backup for a sec. Before it seems grad school is all fun ‘n’ games, it’s essential to clarify that the term “retreat” is a bit of a misnomer. Try “concentrated, highly efficient learning experience” instead. There were no hot tubs nor Swedish massages. Rather, like wolverines — those elusive weasels capable of covering six miles per hour whether traversing rivers, flatlands, or the steepest vertical relief — we were on a mission to cover as much territory in as little an amount of time as possible. In three days, we traveled from the Environmental Learning Center to Port Townsend, and eventually to the Hoh Rainforest, pit-stopping along the way to engage in multiple natural and cultural activities.

wooden boats pt townsend K. RenzInside Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center. Smells so good, like wood and varnish and salt. Photo by author.

After a four-hour long end-of-season Mountain School debrief, we zoomed to sea level to catch the ferry out of Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Before we knew it, we were attired in orange dry suits and talking like pirates on a long boat in Port Townsend. We sailed and rowed around Port Townsend Bay, captained by Kelley Watson, former commercial salmon fisherman and organizer of the Girls Boat Project, and assisted by Chandlery Associate Alicia Dominguez. The quick trip was a success, and our tiny craft failed to collide with the giant ferries or picturesque sailboats in the midst of their weekly Friday night race. A graduate student in education herself, Watson told us Port Townsend had recently passed the “Maritime Discovery School Initiative.” As part of the community’s commitment to place-based education, all students would get a first-hand exposure to the maritime trades. Our collective graduate cohort eyebrows raised in unison as we heave-hoed through the salty sea: Jobs?

wooden boats III pt townsend K. RenzDown from the mountains, on the sea: From L to R: Katie Komorowski, Sarah Stephens, Elissa Kobrin, Samantha Hale, Joshua Porter, and Alicia Dominguez. Photo by author.

» Continue reading A Trip to the Olympic Peninsula

matt k. Carolyn Waters

Preparing for Summer in the Backcountry

June 24th, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Ed. note: Youth Leadership Adventures started their first session last Thursday, June 19. But instructors have been zipping around the Environmental Learning Center for the past two weeks, working to ensure the program will run smoothly through mid-August.

By Carolyn Waters

The Youth Leadership Adventures staff have assembled at the Environmental Learning Center to prepare for a summer of backcountry courses. Here’s a sneak peek into what it takes to get everything in order, along with some interesting stats about our provisions.

Total number of Youth Leadership Adventure courses offered this summer: 11
Number of students who will participate in Youth Leadership Adventures this year: 107 (including two undergraduate interns and three graduate students)

yla food Carolyn WatersFood is separated out for each course prior to packing in buckets.

Gallons of trail mix to be consumed during 2014 Youth Leadership Adventures: 85

Number of days one person could be well-fed with the food we’re packing: 1,344

Number of days one bear could be well-fed with the food we’re packing: 1 (just kidding!)

Greatest number of tents we will set up in one night this summer: 20

Number of raincoats available for students to borrow: 43

kaci prep Carolyn WatersGraduate student and instructor Kaci Darsow inventories gloves for students to borrow.
sabrina by Carolyn WatersInstructor Sabrina repairs a water filter hose.
annabel food Carolyn WatersGraduate student and instructor Annabel Connelly inventories hiking socks for students to borrow.
yla bins Carolyn Waters
Empty buckets, ready to be filled with all of the summer’s food.
sabrina prep Carolyn WatersSabrina, program instructor, counts backpack rain covers.
aneka food Carolyn WatersAneka, program coordinator, and Sabrina, program instructor, consider massive quantities of trail mix.
matt computer Carolyn WatersLead instructor, Matt, checks the gear spreadsheets.
 
Leading photo: Matt, lead instructor, is ready to eat all of the dehydrated chili.
 

All photos by author.

Carolyn Waters is a Youth Leadership Instructor. She is also a former graduate student and fulfilled many other roles for North Cascades Institute. Now, she is thrilled have returned to the peaks and valleys of the American Alps.

 

 

 

Owen Painter, MS, by Cam Painter

“When we say…….

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

….’Mountain’, you say, ‘School!’”

Mountain!!

School!!

Mountain!

School!

It has been another successful season here at Mountain School, the North Cascades Institute’s flagship program through which naturalist-educators have welcomed 4th-12th graders to the North Cascades since 1990. It was an extra long spring season, stretching from February 18 to June 12 due, in large part, to having to reschedule three schools from the government shut-down last October.

Program Outreach Coordinator Codi Hamblin, who is also a former graduate student from Cohort 10 and former editor of Chattermarks, supplied the numbers:

  • Total number of Mt School participants (students, teachers chaperones): 2,588
  • Total number of Mt School students only: 1,445
  • Schools (both public, private, and home) attended from western and eastern Washington: 34

 

Some of the schools attending Mountain School this spring received scholarship assistance from North Cascades Institute. The scholarship is dependent upon an individual school’s demonstrated need as provided by the state’s Office of Superintendent Public Instruction. This helps to ensure a variety of schools can attend Mountain School regardless of a community’s need.

But enough words. Buff Black, a photographer and parent-chaperone from Bellingham’s Silver Beach Elementary, generously offered to share his images with Chattermarks. A select few are shown below, organized loosely following the A, B, and C‘s of our most popular three-day curriculum, “Ecosystem Explorations.”

 

Day 1: Abiotic (“not living, never will live, and never has lived”)

 

kevinbigmapSenior naturalist Kevin Biggs facilitates a lesson on the Big Map about the orographic effect.
tylersourdoughsignGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Tyler Chisholm helps orient her trail group to where they are in the forest and where they’re going.
kevinecosystemboardAn ecosystem is made up of both biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”) and abiotic components. This is the foundational concept of “Ecosystem Explorations.”
40 - Kaci and Dancer Solstice © Buff BlackGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Kaci Darsow helps entertain approximately 65 hungry 5th graders before they slowly descend on the dining hall.
pillowfightInstructors go home after either a diurnal or nocturnal shift (which only lasts till about 9:15pm, at the latest). But apparently pillow fights are a popular ritual in the lodges. Who knew?

 

Day 2: Biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”)

 

22 - Yasmin and Blindfolded Juliette Find the Right Tree © Buff BlackSilver Beach students work on team-building skills while learning to use senses other than sight to get to know some of the plants in the forest community through the popular “Meet-a-Tree” activity.
30 - Head Dunking in Sourdough Creek © Buff BlackSeveral trail groups tend to visit “The Waterfall” on Sourdough Creek on Day 2, doing trail lessons and games throughout the 3.5 mile round-trip hike. Head-dunking in the snowmelt-fed creek is often requisite.
37 - Food Waste Warriors and Chef Hard at Work © Buff BlackThe Food Waste Warriors and Chef Kent defeat Valuta Wastoid once again with their fresh, local food and penchant for composting in Mountain School’s nightly rendition of dinner theater. Waste not!
43 - Guide Kaci and Cougar Clan Get In Touch with a Wolf Skull © Buff BlackThe evening Ranger Program uses “Mystery Skulls” to hone students’ observation skills while teaching them about carnivore adaptations and wildlife of the North Cascades.
42 - Ranger Dylan and Cougar Clan Talk about Carnivores © Buff BlackRanger Dylan, kindly borrowed from the National Park Service (a primary partner of the North Cascades Institute), chats with a student during the small group discussion portion of his program.

 

Day 3: Community (the plants, the animals, and their interactions)

 

50 - Guide Tyler Leading an Eyes-Closed Trust Hike © Buff BlackTyler’s all smiles leading a trust line for her trail group.
32 - Cougar Clan and Sourdough Creek Waterfall © Buff BlackWe made it!

Chris Kiser, Mountain School Program Coordinator, reflects on the season:

This spring, nearly 35 schools and 1.500 students from all over the Puget Sound and East and West sides of the Cascades came to the mountains to experience and explore the magic of this place, leaving as more cohesive groups with expanded understandings of the local ecosystem and their role in it. Closing campfire ceremonies at the end of the Mountain School program always bring this home for me, as students share out loud an unselfish wish for their community. Often, these wishes focus around Mountain School being available to every 5th grader, or continuing to care for wild places so that National Parks like the North Cascades will be protected now into the future. I can’t think of a better example of the Institute’s mission to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education in practice than the words of these young people.

34 - Crouched Cougar Clan Portrait Looking Up © Buff Black
Leading photo: Representing Omak Middle School from Washington’s east side, Owen Painter gets creative with the spillway on Diablo Dam. The “Dam Walk” is one of the evening activities during springtime Mountain School, a privilege granted by our partner, Seattle City Light. It is often a unique experience for the students to get to walk across a 389-foot-tall dam and learn about hydroelectric power generation in a national park. Photo by Cam Painter.
 
All photos by Buff Black (except the lead).
 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She wishes to extend a huge thank you to all the Mountain School students, teachers, and chaperones; to Buff Black for his beautiful photography; to Chris Kiser for her extraordinary organizational capacity; and to her fellow Mountain School instructors. Schooooool’s out, for, summer!

 

 

backpacking Hillary S.

The Preservation of the World

June 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Ed. note: The days are getting longer, at least for another week or so. Here is a piece from a former graduate student to inspire you to get out there, both to the big-W wilderness as well as the wilds just outside your door.

By Hillary Schwirtlich

Glacier Peak Wilderness

We huddle from the driving wind under the protection of a band of stunted subalpine firs on the ridgeline near White Pass. My rain jacket is soaked through, again. The clammy synthetic material clings heavy to my arms and I can feel the cold rain seeping through my shoulders and wrists. My bare legs are numb. We ducked under these trees for a moment because we haven’t stopped walking for hours, but we know we can’t stop long or we’ll start to shiver. We’re attempting Glacier Peak for the second time tomorrow. Our first attempt, almost exactly a year earlier, was thwarted by a combination of lack of fitness and a spectacular storm of the kind that creeps like a blanket over the peaks of the Cascades in late summer. We hope our training will help us this time. We walked here from Mexico, we tell ourselves incredulously. The longest approach on a mountaineering trip ever. We can do this.

We stand up and start toward the pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail turns left toward the newly built bridge over the Suiattle River and our detour takes us left through a marmot colony toward Foam Creek. After so long away from cities, our eyes are tuned to pick out anything that doesn’t fit in this landscape, and we spot an orange lump on our route, then two strange figures, brown and white. “What is that?” I ask, and Chris replies, “Llama?”

view of White Pass Hillary S.A green view of White Pass: What the author imagines when she thinks of Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo by author.

We’ve become a little wild ourselves by this point, and we approach warily. When we get close, the orange dome tent spits out a beanie-topped man, older than us, with a steaming cup in his hand. “Hi!” he beams, and since the rain has let up for a moment, we stop to chat. He’s a hunter, up for the high hunt. He hasn’t seen a single deer or elk, but he says he’s just happy to be where he is. “I’ve been coming to this country for a long time, and these hunts are just an excuse for me to be here, really.” We nod, we know what he means, we’re here for the same reasons. The Glacier Peak Wilderness was — and still is — the landscape my heart escapes to in its daydreams.

Movement has been our default for the last five months and the sun is setting earlier these days, so our restless legs tug us onwards. We wish each other good luck and Chris and I push on, our eyes trained upwards for our path over the ridge, a familiar notch. We leave the cupped, underused trail, climb up and over, then back down, up and down, our steps tracing ancient lava flows from the white giant over the ridge. Finally, we see it: our campsite, a windy plain of moonrock. Then farther, when the clouds clear for an instant, past a patchwork field of rock and snow: a lake of milky greenish water, beside the dirty remains of the White Chuck Glacier. We have been expecting this view, having been temporarily turned around on our previous trip, our climbing party arguing briefly over whether we were in the right basin. The USGS-made map dated from the 1970s showed a blue field of ice where a lake and rubble now was. This was the first place climate change, which I’ve now come to see as the grief, challenge and opportunity of my generation, hit me as something more than just a contested abstract concept.

panorama glacier Hillary S.Panorama of White Chuck Glacier (left) and the lake where it used to span (right). Photo by author.

We set up camp, giddy to be here, apprehensive about the morning’s weather. We fall asleep to the sound of wind howling across newly exposed glacial deposits. In the morning, the wind is stronger, and though fitness is no longer a factor and the sky clears, we reach a point a thousand feet below the summit when the wind severs my connection with the ground. I find myself flat on my belly, heart pounding, hugging the narrow ridge to keep from being blown away. Only slightly disappointed, we turn around. We still have Canada to look forward to, and this place will always be here.

On our way back down, a deafening roar rumbles from behind and we glance back in time to watch a fighter-jet contour up the white edge of glacier and barrel roll, only feet from the summit. Our legs go wobbly and we feel lightheaded with vertigo. “What if we were up there?” we ask.

coming down Hillary S.Coming down the mountain. Glacier Peak looms bright in the background. Photo by author.

Home

I used to have a moss garden. On the cement in front of the door of our north-facing, basement apartment, where only recently the weak spring sunlight has begun to stream through the branches of the rhododendron outside the window, the constant Washington wet would drip off the roof and land muffled and splashless on a bed of bright green moss the size of a dinner plate. When we moved in in September I made up my mind to sculpt it into some aesthetically pleasing shape, but that goal was quickly buried in a sea of grad-student to-dos. So there it stayed, ragged and shapeless and lush.

Until the end of February when a snowstorm left the ground white and left the newly arrived robins with no grass to pick at. The snow on our cement path melted faster than the snow on the grass, and the robins went for the only thing green they could find. I didn’t watch them do it — I only knew because the same thing had happened at my professor John’s house when we arrived at class that day. Bits of moss that had grown on his steps were strewn about his front walkway, strewn about by robins looking for insects and grubs and worms to tug out of the grass.

maple buds Hillary S.The little things: Maple tree flowers outside the author’s front door. Photo by author.

Now the snow has melted and the buds are breaking on the maple trees in the front yard. Snowdrops — those small white flowers that always know its spring before I do — have pushed themselves up from the cold soil and spread their frost-colored petals to the sky. The other morning, when the snooze on my alarm clock failed to get me out of bed, curiosity about the source of the trilling, musical song outside my window did. A crow calls twice and ruffles its glossy black feathers from the streetlight across the street, and chickadees scold and buzz from the birdfeeder, their eyes bright and black-crowned heads cocked. Nuthatches perch on the lip of the feeder, wary, then choose the largest seed and flit away to ignore gravity on the trunk of a nearby tree.

house Hillary S.The rhododendron bush and the “moss garden” (see left) helping provide a landscape to love, even in town. Photo by author.

For the last six months we’ve lived on this busy street corner and I’ve walked guiltily past the trash that lays in my yard, left by college students walking downtown and blown in from the streets and parking lots around where I live. But while sitting outside the front door on sunny days and behind my window on the much more common rainy ones, I began to notice. I started picking up that trash, respecting this tiny piece of land, surrounded by asphalt and concrete and filled with non-native plants. Because even though it’s a small thing, I know that this is the way I should treat a place that I love. It’s how I treat wilderness, after all.

-4Maple tree in the fall, setting the author’s front yard on foliage fire. Photo by author.
Leading photo: Not a llama, but a beanie-topped man the author and her partner, Chris, met on their trek through Glacier Peak Wilderness toward the end of their Pacific Crest Trail adventure.
 

Hillary Schwirtlich graduated in March from North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is the Southwest and Sierra Program Coordinator for American Alpine Institute, and lives and gardens in Bellingham, Washington. She loves to read, write, climb, hike, paint and cook, and you will usually find her in the Chuckanuts, at Vital Climbing Gym, bike commuting through Boulevard Park or volunteering.