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Place-based Learning Course: Paddling the Skagit River

October 16th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

In August, my cohort and I began our 7-quarter educational journey of earning our Master of Education degree. We are the 17th Cohort of students in the Graduate M.Ed Residency program through the North Cascades Institute and the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

Before beginning our year-long residency at the Learning Center, we engage with the natural and cultural histories of the North Cascades region through field excursions. This intensive six-week course includes canoeing on the Skagit River, learning about local communities and sustainable agriculture, hiking in alpine areas, cohort community formation and a culminating 10-day wilderness backpacking experience. 

Below are pictures from the paddling portion of our Place-based Learning Field Course, along with excerpts from our group journal. Enjoy!

Big Canoe and Community August 9, 2017:

“With a little less smoke in the sky, Cohort 17 loaded into the Salish Dancer for a paddling orientation to Diablo Lake and the surrounding area. Before the canoe left the dock, we heard and saw two peregrine falcons – the fastest member of the animal kingdom – amongst the rocky cliffs of Sourdough Mountain.

» Continue reading Place-based Learning Course: Paddling the Skagit River

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

DSCF0096

Snapshots of Paddling on the Skagit

February 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

While the Broncos and the Panthers were playing the biggest football game of the year, almost two dozen of us living in the upper Skagit valley traveled down the Skagit River. In our “paddling crew” included members from the Institute’s 14th and 15th graduate cohorts, North Cascades Institute Staff and students in the Remote Medical International class living at the Environmental Learning Center for a month or so. Here are a few of the best “snapshots” of our adventure down the Skagit from Marblemount to Rockport.

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Making sure everything we wear is waterproof before hitting the water.

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Our canoes ready for launch!

» Continue reading Snapshots of Paddling on the Skagit

YLA

A Recipe for the Future: A visitor reflects on Youth Leadership Adventures

August 20th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sioux Towner

I had the privilege to witness, for the second year running, Youth Leadership Adventures in action. North Cascade Institute really knows how to navigate the tremulous water of teens in America, all kinds of teens: The diversity of the group I listened to today demonstrated to me that the strength of our country lies in its variation. After five days of wilderness hiking, team building, mentoring and “public speaking” (within the group twice a day or more), the ups and downs of North Cascades National Park along Diablo Lake did its magic once again.

It’s called “Visitor Day”; what that means is that each participant shares challenges, accomplishments, thoughts and dreams with an eclectic group of interested people who could be donors, teachers, park employees, national forest employees, alumni from former leadership trainings. It is a melange of adults often as diverse as the participants. What happens during this day, in my experience, is nothing short of perfect. It is filled with a kind of authenticity that can only blossom in a safe and caring environment. How that environment gets made was my personal quest today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParticipants transport themselves and their gear through a combination of backpacking and canoeing.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStewardship along the trails is an integral part of the Youth Leadership Adventures experience. The teens pack/canoe all their tools into the backcountry themselves.

I came up with several ideas based on what I heard from the group dubbed the  “Tree Huggers” (a name they gave themselves). The recipe goes something like this:

1.) Combine a group of total strangers — the more diverse, the better

2.) Provide for all their basic needs and no more

3.) Marinate in an atmosphere of wilderness and experienced staff

4.) Structure the days with meaningful work, challenges (nature usually takes care of most of that with rugged topography, weather, insects, wind, etc.) and the opportunity to talk to someone and be heard by all

Out of this relatively simple yet refined formula comes the most heartwarming stories of companionship, confidence, and insight — a backcountry utopia really. So many times we heard about some transformation that was incubating or starting to fledge. There were tears and laughter, questions and surprising answers. The unpredictability of the speeches was as refreshing as the environment, clean and pure — leaders in the making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProtecting wildlife, protecting their food! Participants become experts at hanging their food and any other scented items, an important responsibility in the backcountry.
Leading photo: Youth Leadership Adventures participants harnessing the ancient power of fire.
 
All photos by Carolyn Waters, Youth Leadership Adventures instructor.
 

Chattermarks gives a huge “thank you” to Sioux Towner, both for heading out to experience the backcountry with the student-participants and for being inspired to write her reflections.

 

 

 

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. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
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.

 

 

 

gorgelakewithdam.KristiKlinesteker

Gorging the Senses on Gorge Lake

March 21st, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Though I moved to the Environmental Learning Center last August, I had visited many times before during my first summer while living in Bellingham as a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Each time I drove by Gorge Lake, I marveled at the huge sand banks with gigantic tree trunks, remnants from before the dam was constructed and the gorge was flooded. One of three manmade reservoirs on the Skagit River, Gorge Lake is part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Built in 1921, it makes up one third of a three-part system that helps power the city of Seattle. The two other parts of that system are Diablo and Ross Dams, with their consequent lakes.

During the warmer summer and fall seasons, the utility company, Seattle City Light, keeps the Gorge Lake water level relatively low, making the lake bed look like a vast expanse on a foreign planet. Not long after I moved up to the Environmental Learning Center in September, Seattle City Light raised the water level in Gorge Lake. The Skagit River in winter, without the addition of glacial flour scoured from the mountains above, is a dark emerald green that begs for exploration.

tylerdrygorgelake.HaleGraduate student Tyler Chisholm explored the cracked surface of the de-watered Gorge Lake last fall, looking for signs of a moose who some encountered visiting the town of Diablo. Photo by author.

I recently had the opportunity to canoe the lake with some friends, and though it was a drizzly day, the company was warm and light. We started in the town of Diablo, close to the bottom of the Diablo Dam. Two in our company, Dylan and Max, were advanced paddlers, which made for an easy learning experience for the rest of us who all came with varying degrees of canoeing know-how. Starting close to the dam was a wonderful idea as it gave us a new perspective of the small, company town as we floated by. The Diablo Power House, built into the rock wall, seemed so much more impressive on water than it did on land.

As we floated down lake, we came to a small section of white water where Stettatle Creek meets with the mighty Skagit. My canoe partner, Max, gave me a few quick pointers before we entered the waves and we floated down easily without much duress, bumping and tossing as the flow pushed us here and there. As we shot out the other end, Max and I let out a WHOOP! It was a short bit of rapids, enough to keep us on our toes and to be a ton of fun. We watched as Dylan, Annabel and Kristi expertly navigated the waves before paddling on toward where Highway 20 crosses the lake. On the other side of the massive bridge, we slowed down and meandered through stumps and sandbars that momentarily sit above the water line. We could see far through the deep green water, with visibility at ten or so feet. The sand bars above and below the water line had deep cracks in them, presumably due to the shifting level of the lake. The remainders of the stumps that we could see were old, large and teeming with new life. It is remarkable how quickly nature reclaims that which has been disturbed.

powerhouse.KristiKlinestekerGraduate student Samantha Hale and Seasonal Naturalist Max Thomas paddle past the Diablo Power House. Despite its grey, concrete exterior, the inside is quite fancy, complete with marble and granite flooring, an art deco water fountain, and a tiled goldfish pool. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.
submergedtree.KristiKlinestekerStumps of old trees poke through the green waters of Gorge Lake, like 100-year-old ghosts lending paddlers an idea of what the landscape looked like before the dam and reservoir were constructed. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

As we continued on our journey, we stopped here and there to explore the many waterfalls that feed into the lake. By this point, the drizzle had turned to full-blown rain, swelling the cascades around us, giving an even better idea at the amount of water coming off the land. No wonder they call this place the North Cascades. To make the occasion all the more special, it was Kristi’s birthday weekend, so we took our time meandering around some lakeside caves and waterfalls of all sizes and shapes. We continued on much farther than we had originally planned, finally coming to rest at the point where the Gorge Falls meets its namesake lake. The falls are impressive from the roadside, and even more so from the base. Climb as we did, it was too damp to get higher for a full view of the falls. However, there were many waterfalls closer to the lake that were equally as impressive and easier to access.

canoeinggorgelake.KristiKlinestekerChasing waterfalls: Thomas and Hale canoe past one cascade after another, meandering toward Gorge Dam up ahead. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

After a bit of playing in the snow and taking a plethora of pictures and “selfies”, we were on the water again. Before heading up lake we stopped to touch the massive 300 foot dam on our way back. I can now say I have seen and touched all three dams on the Skagit. On our return journey we hugged close to the opposite shore, investigating an equal number of waterfalls as well as avalanches and rock slides. Rain or shine, the day was exquisite, and I can’t wait to return to the Gorge Falls on a sunnier day. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone, but would suggest going when the water level is higher as it makes for a more relaxed journey.

Enjoy your weekends and get out exploring, my friends!

happycanoers.KristiKlinesteker

We made it to the Gorge Falls!  From L to R: Kristi & Dylan Klinesteker, Samantha Hale, Annabel Connelly, and Max Thomas. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.
Leading photo: The trip began in the shadow of Diablo Dam. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

 

Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She has a background in marine mammal research and is ever in search, via canoe, of Diablo Lake’s elusive porca.

 

panorama at desolation lookout

Science, Sustainability, Singing, Stir-fry, and Snacks!

August 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

I met them on August 1st. Twenty bright new faces arrived on buses and vans at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. As they walked quietly out of the vehicles, sleepy from early morning pick-ups at high schools from Bellingham to south of Seattle, I could tell right away that they were older than the rest of our Youth Leadership Adventures participants this summer—mostly because 90% of them were taller than me…

These 16-18 year olds from western Washington and Oregon had been selected for our Science and Sustainability program. They were about to spend 15 days in the North Cascades—11 days backpacking and canoeing on Ross Lake, followed by four days of staying at the Learning Center and camping in Marblemount, all the while studying science, sustainability, leadership, and community.

backpackingBackpacking down Ross Lake. Photo by Institute staff and graduate students
practicing canoeingThe students practicing their paddling strokes before loading the canoes. Photo by Institute staff and graduate students

» Continue reading Science, Sustainability, Singing, Stir-fry, and Snacks!