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Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): A story…

July 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Ginna Malley Campos, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

Long, long ago, when ice and snow covered the land as far as the eye could see, we speckled the landscape. Only a few of us grew here and there.  But soon came a time when the ice  and snow began to retreat. And as it did, ever so slowly, so we followed. Growing along the rich wet soils left behind, we became more and more abundant along the Pacific Northwest.  In some places, we made up to half of all the vegetation in the forest. We grew and we continue to grow, but of course never without giving back!

We gift our sapwood to Black Bear when they roam the forest hungry, waiting for Salmon to arrive. Our saplings we gladly offer to Deer and Elk, whom depend on this for survival.  Our foliage has been home to numerous mosses and lichen. Our shade provides habitat for fern, salal, and devil’s club. We give Earth carbon from Sky by befriending special fungi through our roots.  Forest creatures gift us in return in many, sometimes invisible ways. Salmon travels unimaginable distances bringing the gifts of Ocean deep into the forest.  Bear and Eagle bring their decaying bodies to our feet, and with them we grow stronger and we continue the cycling of all.


Deep Forest by Ray Troll

» Continue reading Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): A story…


Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November

January 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Joe Loviska, Graduate Phenology Assistant

Phenology is the study of how plants, animals, and other biotic organisms change with the cycle of the seasons. As the graduate phenology assistant at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), it is my job to collect and organize data on the weather, mammals, and birds around the center.


Weather Data from ELC Station

From these few numbers we can see that this fall has generally been cooler than the last two years, with the exception of the November lows in 2013 and 2014. 2014 was a very wet year overall, but this year has already seen more rain than 2013. A few weather events have stood out this fall. Most impactful to our place was the rainstorm from August 21 to September 3. During this period 4.41” of rain fell, effectively stopping the Goodell Creek fire and allowing us to move back into the ELC on August 31. On Halloween (October 31) it dumped 2.29”. Finally, the two rainiest days of the season were November 13th and 17th when 3.08” and 3.67” fell, respectively. This was during the biggest rainstorm of the season, from November 10 to November 18, during which it rained 9.54”. Wow!

Saul Weisberg’s (executive director of the North Cascades Institute) birthday fell on November 16, along with the first snow of the year at the ELC. On November 19, J. Loviska observed that the sun left the ELC amphitheater at 2pm, blocked by the ridge south of the lake. Thus began winter, despite what the calendar claims.


We kicked off the Mountain School season well with a black bear (Ursus americanus) sighting in the ELC parking lot on September 14. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Two trail groups were on hand to observe the bear as it trundled down the road; then, upon noticing us, it hustled into the forest on the north side. Other notable traces of megafauna: J. Porter heard a gray wolf (Canis lupus) howling early in the morning on September 15 at Black Pine Lake; a wolverine (Gulo gulo) was picked up by the remote camera station on October 1 in Fisher Basin. This collared individual was later identified as Special K; A. Gourd observed a beaver swimming in Diablo Lake near Power Tower Island on October 5. White wood and trees with tooth marks have been observed near the mouth of Thunder Creek, but if anyone has seen beaver activity closer to the ELC, please let us know; on November 11 a coyote was seen crossing Highway 20 in Newhalem, near a deer carcass.

Wolverine Special K Caught on camera.

Wolverine “Special K” caught on camera on 10/01/2015.

» Continue reading Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November


Park Creek Pass: A Tale of Two Hikes

October 9th, 2013 | Posted by in Adventures

It was early August, and time for the end-of-quarter North Cascades backpacking adventure for the new graduate students, collectively called “Cohort 13.” At 12 people, plus two instructors, we exceeded the Park Service’s backcountry limit of 12 hikers per group. So we picked two routes: One party would travel the high road over McAllister Pass and the other would follow the mellower yet equally scenic Bridge Creek Trail. The plan was to meet up about 30 miles later in Stehekin, and then divide again. The following is one perspective from one hiker in the group that went over the pass.

Day 1: The cohort splits at the Rainy Pass parking lot off Highway 20 and heads down the Bridge Creek Trail. Separation anxiety attempts to set in, but the scenery is too captivating. Later, the pain is too great. Ten day’s worth of food, scores of switchbacks. We are broken in and make it, dragging, to McAllister Lake. Midnight lightening storms trigger visions of an electric death, or a ecstatic rave.

Day 2: Subalpine meadows stretch like Oz through McAllister Pass. We’re a little late for a wildflower explosion, but we still spy the indigo gentian and some older chartreuse ribbons of false hellebore. We make it to Bench Creek, with its manzanita mats and forest of spindly snags.

Day 3: Solo hikes to Rainbow Lake. Learn the riddle “Green Glass Door” (“a tree/puppy/moss/apple can go through a green glass door, but a flower/dog/fern/banana can’t,” etc.) which will prove an invaluable tool a month later in Mountain School. It’s a treat to have some time alone, with letters to friends and a screechy pennywhistle. In the evening, we huddle under the group tarp as it hails hard and heavy for five solid minutes. There’s a mini-avalanche, ice the size of Whoppers, into our cozy cookspace, and into David’s bivy sac.

Day 4: Descent into Stehekin, traipsing through where the Rainbow Bridge Fire lived in 2010. The remnants offer a picturesque contrast: Charred snags and standing pines, magenta fireweed coming in like a beautiful weed and offering fixed nitrogen to the altered landscape. What will Stehekin be like, this controversial little National Park inholding? We were just starting to accumulate a backcountry layer of dirt and blood. Could it be too soon to re-enter civilization?

chelanLake Chelan, with the Stehekin River valley opening toward the sky. Photo by Elissa Kobrin.

Day 5: Potentially yes, had town and culture not tasted of cinnamon rolls bigger than my face and crisp lettuce, of IPA and cherry tomatoes. The cohort reunites. We lay across the bridge to Harlequin camp, laughing and awing over meteors.

Day 6: The entire cohort takes the bus to the end of that old, contested Stehekin Road to High Bridge, where we will soon divide once again and discover our respective paths. Hundreds of tiny western toads cross the Old Wagon Trail, making hiking without imprinting the amphibs with Vibram soles a morbid challenge. Our 13.2 miles begin and, though hard, are a success.

Here, accounts diverge even more between the two groups….choose your own adventure: Elissa’s version! or, Katherine’s version!

Leading photo: Some naturally-inspired love from one part of C13 to another, near the bridge at Park Creek Camp. Photo by Elissa Kobrin.


Institute Celebrations of Spring

May 7th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

I think it may be safe to say that life is coming back to the North Cascades as of today, and yesterday, and even a few weeks ago! At first the change was so subtle it was barely recognizable, and we here at the North Cascades Institute were still clinging to the warmth of our down jackets even as the first shoots of palmate coltsfoot were pushing their way stubbornly through the matted duff of winter. Then the first familiar calls and presence of returning migratory birds were heard – the throngs of robins, the vibrant rush and resonate tapping of the red-breasted sapsuckers, the two-toned trill of the varied thrush, yellow warblers, and most recently the whir and brilliance of the rufous hummingbird. And now, with the warming and lengthening days, spring has truly taken off. Life is bursting everywhere from canopy to forest floor and an expanding color palette hints at more to come. Emergent alder leaves catch the growing sunlight and reflect it at new angles throughout the understory, delicate yellow violets line the edges of pathways, a few brave lady slipper orchids hide behind rocks, fiddleheads unfurl their fronds, and a solitary patch of bleeding hearts open their petals.

Each day, new anticipations. Each day, burgeoning new colors. Each day, returning signs of life to marvel at and explore.

Here at the Institute we each notice and experience these springtime harbingers in different ways. For some, spring’s arrival is primarily an auditory sensation captured in birdsong and flowing creeks, for others a visual experience of color, and for others still a feeling that sneaks up on them slowly or startles them into wonder at a particular moment – a waterfall swelling with snowmelt, sulfur butterflies basking in the sun on muddy trails, or the first black bear spotted as it munches feverishly on new shoots of grass and greens. Together, our collective celebrations paint a rich narrative of springtime in this place where we live, work, and play.

The dappled hues of green cast by sunlight on emerging alder leaves. Photo by Katie Tozier.

» Continue reading Institute Celebrations of Spring