From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram



Passing the Paddle: Cohort 13 Graduation

April 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Time has a variable quality when you live in the mountains. Spring can descend on you with no warning, like it happened overnight, but a day can stretch on eternally when staring at the umpteenth draft of a project. When I worked as a wilderness therapy guide, the students had a saying: “The days go by like weeks but the weeks go by like days.” So it is here, too, sometimes.

Somehow, without us noticing, the students of Cohort 14 have completed nearly nine of our thirteen month residency. An even bigger milestone hit; one that served as a reminder of our trajectory and where we’ll be in exactly one year: graduation.

In the two days leading up to graduation on March 19th, the members of Cohort 13 presented their capstone projects to an audience of friends, family, North Cascades Institute staff, and Cohort 14 students. These capstone projects focus on “a topic that has intrigued [the students] throughout their graduate school experience, connecting their experiences within environmental education, natural history, sense of place and the future of education” (quoted from

As a relatively new graduate students, and never having seen a capstone presentation before, I had no idea what to expect. Frankly, I still don’t. Cohort 13’s projects spanned an incredible range of presentation styles and topics. Due to a change in the schedule of the graduate program, and the flurry of activity that C13 was in the midst of when we arrived at the Environmental Learning Center last July, the two cohorts have had very little interaction. But these capstone presentations gave me excellent insight into each student’s passions and values.

Kaci Darsow’s Doing.Myself.Justice. felt like a true performance piece. One that intimately explored Kaci’s identity, sense of justice, and shifting perspective during their time in graduate school.

Katherine Renz’s No More Icebreakers: Environmental Education for the Rest of Us took us inside the walls of Phyte Club: a visionary bar with the goal of educating customers about the natural world through botanically infused libations and weekly events.

Phyte Club
Did I mention that Phyte Club also plays heavy metal?

» Continue reading Passing the Paddle: Cohort 13 Graduation

C12 graduates haag

A Generosity of Spirit: Cohort 12 Graduates!

March 25th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The twelfth cohort of graduate students earned their Masters in Education degrees through North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University this week. Dr. John Miles, Executive Director Saul Weisberg, Graduate Coordinator Joshua Porter and Program Manager Katie Roloson recalled anecdotes and unique qualities of each of the eight grads, while about 100 friends and family watched in support. “They opened my eyes to gas station junk food,” Roloson laughed, invoking the power of sour gummy worms and experiential education.

Snickers bars and red licorice vines were hardly Cohort 12’s only sweet contribution to the Environmental Learning Center community. As the sky changed from gray to golden to grey again, and everyone sat in the Dining Hall looking west toward Diablo Lake and the future, the speakers described what Porter called “the generosity of spirit” that characterized this small group. Roloson noted they were experts at supporting each other, collaborating and holding council, saying, “They were the first cohort where every decision seemed like a group decision.”

Dr. John Miles, the students’ primary professor throughout both their residency and three quarters at WWU, told several stories from their adventures together over the past seven quarters. The audience was transported to Yellow Aster Butte, where he set up a belay with parachute cord down a steep subalpine slope, and to his and his wife, Susan’s, beautiful Bellingham garden, where they would hold summertime classes. One Kentuckian student, Kim Hall, coming from the Peace Corps in Senegal, would have to wrap herself in a sleeping bag to armor herself against western Washington’s July temperatures.

kim graduating haagKim Hall, sans sleeping bag. Photo by Jessica Haag.
sahara graduating haagSahara Suval laughs with Program Manager Katie Roloson behind a Douglas fir-stump podium. Photo by Jessica Haag.

» Continue reading A Generosity of Spirit: Cohort 12 Graduates!


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.