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John McMillan’s Cabin: Traveling the paths of ghosts

April 14th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Hannah Newell, a M.Ed. Graduate student of the Institute’s 15th Cohort

Where would one place their grave in these woods? And how could one bury themselves? These two questions came to me as I was half delirious with exhaustion, wandering around on the west bank of Big Beaver Creek along Ross Lake. My cohort member and work study compliment, Joe Loviska, and I were on a two day excursion into the Ross Lake Recreation Area to document wildlife and for him, phenological stages as our season turns to spring. I was on a personal quest as well. The previous months leading up to this trip, I had been in contact with a number of resources to lend a hand in my discovery of the history of trapping in this area of the North Cascades.

The trappers and homesteaders were few and far between in this vast landscape of pinnacle mountains and dense forests. One could get lost among the giant cedars and accidentally wander into a forest of Devil’s Club without notice until their fate was sealed with this prickled plant. This is not a forgiving land to those foreign or unprepared for their travels.

I had heard John McMillan’s name in my first round of research into the topic of fur trapping and soon started to hear stories of his cabin. All that was shared with me about the location of this cabin was that it is somewhere on the west side of Big Beaver Creek, before the marsh and after the stream.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Joe and I had the advantage of hearing about first hand accounts of finding the homestead through the use of roughly drawn maps and a faint trail that was previously used by McMillan and the Forest Service before Big Beaver Trail was established.


Trail map around Diablo Lake. Photo courtesy of the United States Forest Service.

We found this faint line of a trail that lead directly into a fresh patch of fluorescent green moss and downed trees. We had immediately lost the trail, but continued on to meandering through the woods experiencing the true wonder of wandering among the old growth.

» Continue reading John McMillan’s Cabin: Traveling the paths of ghosts


Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Nika Meyers, Youth Leadership Adventures Field Instructor

Our journey into the wild started with an incredible boat ride on the Mule boat on Ross Lake to Little Beaver where the views of the North Cascades were in full force and the stories told by boat captains Gerry and Rob were in full supply. The dramatic vertical relief of the mountainsides shot up into the crisp air, Nohokomeen Glacier filled our rear view and the glassy surface of the lake rippled in our wake.  We had 18 miles to go on boat and then a 4.6 mile hike into Perry Creek for the night.


At Little Beaver we filled up water, ate our lunch, did some stretches, adjusted our packs and reiterated the importance of dealing with a “hotspot” before it turns into a blister. We hoisted our heavy packs onto our backs and began the first hot climb up and away from Ross Lake. What an introduction to backpacking!

There was a mix of emotions during the first two hours: the beginning of pack rash, sweat dripping from many different body parts, beautiful views and getting to know and trust each other.

“I am not sure if this is what I was expecting,” said one student, just before another accidently kicked a squirrel that ran across the trail at the wrong time.


“Whoops” of joy were heard through the Western Hemlocks as the front of the group reached Perry Creek campsite. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
We finished off the day with a sponge bath in the stream, mac n’ cheese and peas in our tummies and a bear-hang dangling our 7 days of food from the sky.

To develop leadership skills, improve communication and learn many important hard skills, each student had the opportunity to serve in different job roles throughout the course. Each day we had two leaders of the day, two cooks, two cleaners, a camptender, a scientist, and a community journalist. By working together we were reminded about the importance of being open minded, to share skills and experiences with respect and curiosity, and the value of being a good leader and a good follower.  We were challenged to be assertive, practice patience and share affirmative and constructive feedback to help us be a strong group.


Our leaders of the day woke us up to the sound of running water and wind in the trees as we were ready to go meet some of the National Park trail crew staff for a day of brushing along the trail. With weed whips (swizzle sticks), loppers and handsaws in hand we worked our way through 6 feet tall brush shoots revealing the tread way once again to the human eye. “Wow! There is a trail here! Who would have guessed?!” One student said. “Before I did this I always thought that trails were just always there right where you needed them. I never thought about the fact that someone actually does take care of them or they would disappear. I will never look at a trail again in the same way!”


Is there a trail here??




We found it!

» Continue reading Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

Entering the Ethereal Forest

April 12th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

UPDATE MARCH 2014: Join us the weekend of March 28-30 for a brand new Field Excursion: “Ross Lake: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe” with Institute naturalists and North Cascades National Park geologist Jon Reidel! This class will explore the geologic history of the Ross Lake area during the annual drawdown, a period when the lake is lowered by Seattle City Light and vast new terrain becomes exposed. This unique landscape has been shaped by glaciers, the Skagit River and the Skagit Hydroelectric Project, and a wealth of natural history phenomena emerge every spring when the hidden landscape is revealed.

Info and registration at or 360-854-2599. Sign up today to guarantee your spot!

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This past weekend dawned sunny and warm in the North Cascades, an unexpected delight for those of us electing to live out the winter in the solitude of the snow-capped peaks and hushed forests around the Environmental Learning Center. Although spring has reportedly been blooming down along the Skagit Valley, our world has remained snowy, rainy, and cold. And if by chance we forget, the closure of Highway 20 just a few miles to our east reminds us it is so. Eager to take advantage of the sun and rare blue skies, a group of 6 of us – staff, grads, and friends – decided to canoe up into the big drawdown of Ross Lake and spend a night under the stars.

We began our 22 mile canoe trip first in the wind-chopped waters of Diablo Lake, some of us (myself included) wondering what we were getting ourselves into. After an hour of paddling, we reached the boat dock at the end of Gorge Canyon, and hitched our canoes to a few wobbly, old, and very janky wheel gurneys in order to portage our boats up and over 540 ft tall Ross Dam to Ross Lake. It was a haul to say the least, and a huffing and puffing adventure at that. On the other side we were greeted by a stunning view of Jack Mountain, and chose to have lunch at the water’s edge, mesmerized by the beauty mountains in every direction.

Kai Girard portaging one of our canoes up the service road between Diablo and Ross Lakes. Photo by the author.

Surprisingly, the wind died down on Ross Lake, and our group paddled along in excited anticipation for every new peak and vantage awaiting us around each corner. It wasn’t long before Ruby Mountain came into view, a delight for me after months of barely glimpsing the tip of it, concealed as we are so far below along Diablo Lake. The water was glass, and each canoe of two spread out along its width as if responding to the naturalness of its quiet and its calm. It felt good to be out on water, moving ourselves by the strength and consistency of our paddles.

» Continue reading Entering the Ethereal Forest