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Lessons from Desolation: Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades

September 1st, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Rebecca Zhou, Youth Leadership Intern 2017

12 days, 12 miles by canoe, 35 miles by foot, and a group of 12 girls. During the 12-day Science and Sustainability trip with Youth Leadership Adventures, students and instructors alike had the opportunity to dig deep and learn something about themselves. I believe that the fact it was an all-female identifying trip really helped with that. It helped create a safe space for each person to learn, grow, and be vulnerable with one another.

One such example of this includes our Challenge Day hike up Desolation Peak. Each Youth Leadership Adventures trip has a Challenge Day, or an exceptionally difficult day of physical activity. Instructors frame Challenge Day as an opportunity for students to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and grow both as individuals and as a group. On this Challenge Day hike, we gained 5,000 feet of elevation over the course of the 7 miles of trail from Lighting Stock Camp, and then we turned around and hiked back. Many students had never been on a hike before, much less a hike of Desolation’s magnitude. Even for myself as an intern instructor, this was a challenging hike.

The day started off cold and crisp at an early 5:00 am. We ate our granola, did our morning stretches, tucked things under the vestibules of our tents. Shortly after we set off we hit our first bump in the road–finding the way to the trailhead! All twelve of us stumbled groggily into an occupied Lightning Creek Camp trying to figure out if we had to pass through the camp to get to the trailhead. Eventually, we found our way. By 8:00 am, we got to the Desolation Trailhead. The overall spirit of the group was cheerful and excited. Everyone was determined to reach the goal that was decided unanimously the previous night: get to the summit. 

» Continue reading Lessons from Desolation: Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades

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Jack Kerouac’s first morning on Desolation

July 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Catching up with Jack Kerouac, who served as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades 60 years ago this summer. In this passage from his classic novel The Dharma Bums, he awakens on his first morning alone on the mountaintop and marvels at his surroundings:

Lo, in the morning I woke up and it was beautiful blue sunshine sky and I went out in my alpine yard and there it was, everything Japhy [Gary Snyder] said it was, hundreds of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber, and below, instead of the world, I saw a sea of marshmallow clouds flat as a roof and extending miles and miles in every direction, creaming all the valleys, what they call low-level clouds, on my 6600-foot pinnacle it was all far below me. I brewed coffee on the stove and came out and warmed my mist-drenched bones in the hot sun of my little woodsteps. I said “Tee tee” to a bug furry cony and he calmly enjoyed a minute with me gazing at the sea of clouds. I made bacon and eggs, dug a garbage pit a hundred yards down the trail, hauled wood and identified landmarks with my panoramic and firefinder and named all the magic rocks and clefts, names Japhy had sung to me so often: Jack Mountain, Mount Terror, Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, Mount Despair, Golden Horn, Sourdough, Crater Peak, Ruby, Mount Baker bigger than the world in the distance, Jackass Mountain, Crooked Thumb Peak, and the fabulous names of the creeks: Three Fools, Cinnamon, Trouble, Lightning and Freezeout. And it was all mine, not another human pair of eyes in the world were looking at this immense cycloramic universe of matter. I had a tremendous sensation of its dreamlikeness which never left me all that summer and in fact grew and grew, especially when I stood on my head to circulate my blood, right on top of the mountain, using a burlap bag for a head mat, and then the mountains looked like little bubbles hanging in the void upsidedown. In fact I realized they were upsidedown and I was upsidedown! There was nothing here to hide the fact of gravity holding us all intact upsidedown against a surface globe of earth in infinite empty space. And suddenly I realized I was truly alone and had nothing to do by feed myself and rest and amuse myself, and nobody could criticize. The little flowers grew everywhere around the rocks, and no one has asked them to grow, or me to grow.

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» Continue reading Jack Kerouac’s first morning on Desolation

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Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades

July 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Sixty years ago this month, Jack Kerouac left Northern California for the Skagit Valley and North Cascades to begin his summer as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak. We’re having fun tracing his trajectory through his writing found in The Dharma Bums and Lonesome Traveler, as well as John Suiter’s excellent history Poets on the Peaks.

“On the 18th of June, a Monday morning, Kerouac set out for Desolation from McCorkle’s (cabin in Mill Valley), marching off down Montford Road under full pack. In Mill Valley he began hitching north, following Highway 101 through Sonoma and Mendocino and Humboldt counties to Eureka and up into the redwoods to Crescent City. There he turned east to join up with Highway 99 at Grants Pass, Oregon. Now he was in Snyder country, following Gary’s well-worn path up into Portland, across the Columbia, north to Snoqualmie Pass, and beyond — to America’s last and greatest wilderness.”

— John Suiter, Poets on the Peaks

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“At Marblemount the (Skagit) river is a swift torrent, the work of quiet mountains. — Fallen logs beside the water provide good seats to enjoy a river wonderland, leaves jiggling in the good clean northwest wind seem to rejoice, the topmost trees on nearby timbered peaks swept and dimmed by low-flying clouds seem contented. — The clouds assume the faces of hermits or of nuns, or sometimes look like sad dog acts hurrying off into the wings over the horizon. — Snags struggle and gurgle in the heaving bilk of the river. — Logs rush by at twenty miles an hour. The air smells of pine and sawdust and bark and mud and twigs — birds flash over the water looking for secret fish.

As you drive north across the bridge at Marblemount and on to Newhalem the road narrows and twists until finally the Skagit is seen pouring over rocks, frothing, and small creeks come tumbling from steep hillsides and pile right in. — The mountains rise of all sides, only their shoulders and ribs visible, their heads out of sight and now snowcapped.”

—Jack Kerouac, making his way up the Skagit in to the North Cascades, from Lonesome Traveler.

YOU can hike Desolation Peak and visit the fire lookout Kerouac stayed in this summer on our “Beats on the Peaks” class Aug 4-7 ~ info and registration at www.ncascades.org/signup/programs/beats-on-the-peaks-2016.

» Continue reading Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades

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

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On the Lookout for Unalloyed Pleasure: Poets in the North Cascades circa 1950s

February 10th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

North Cascade Institute’s graduate Cohort 13 recently hosted our annual Instructor Exchange with other students and teachers from IslandWood and the Wilderness Awareness School. As part of this, I facilitated a session about the handful of poets who served as fire lookouts in the North Cascades in the 1950s. My notes were gathered almost entirely from John Suiter’s comprehensive and lovely book, Poets on the Peaks (Counterpoint 2002). After the presentation was through, I realized my hunch was correct: People love these stories.

At this point, over half-a-century later, Jack Kerouac’s benzedrine-fueled fiction and Allen Ginsberg’s revolutionary (for the times) poems can seem romantic and co-opted to the point of being trite. Sometimes. More often, though, I regard this small club of men – Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac — who looked out, in solitude, from these mountains as an immense and symbolic source of relief. All three had connections and allegiances to the San Francisco Bay Area, a peninsula inhabited by freaks and artists and which regularly appeared as a setting in their writings. I, too, have been steeped in that place. It is a lifeline to know they lived and loved, wrote and pondered, here in the North Cascades, that they were the keepers of these ridges and valleys over a decade before these mountains were bestowed national park status. I can look up toward Sourdough Mountain, if it’s not hiding behind heavy grey, and hear Snyder and Whalen reminding me what a stunning land this is, assuring me that the steep streets of North Beach, the forested flanks of Mt. Tamalpais, the cacti gardens and Craftsman homes of Berkeley are a mere hitchhike away, should one choose.

The following relates three connected snippets of the poets’ experiences in the North Cascades. All information and quotes are from John Suiter’s Poets on the Peaks.

*    *    *

It is 1954, and Gary Snyder is not happy.

After spending two summers as a fire lookout in the North Cascades, once perched in the highest structure, atop Crater Mountain, and later living on the comparatively “suburban” Sourdough Mountain, Snyder’s application to work a third season is rejected by the United States Forest Service. Had the 24-year-old poet and mountaineer done something wrong? Perhaps he had not spent the requisite 20 minutes per hour scanning the horizon for smokes or failed to memorize every peak amidst his diligent practicing of Zen Buddhism, outlining a future play about lookout life, reading galore and imbibing green tea?

view north from SD, K. RemzThe view from Sourdough Mountain, looking north toward Ross Lake. Photo by Katherine Renz.

The answer is hardly definitive. On February 10, the Forest Service supervisor in Bellingham denies Snyder’s application on unclear grounds. Snyder eventually receives an explanation from the Department of Agriculture, vaguely attributing his dismissal to a “general unsuitability” as opposed to “security” issues. One thing is clear: Snyder is blacklisted from government work.

Homegrown campaigns against labor rights activists in Washington and Oregon got nasty after World War One, at times demonstrating a particularly Pacific Northwest brand of vigilante violence by flogging Wobblies with the spiky native plant, devil’s club (an ethnobotanical application of this highly medicinal species that usually goes unmentioned). Thirty-five years later, Snyder is irritated, hurt, and increasingly angry and frustrated by attempts to find other, equivalent employment. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare is raging, and though the young poet is an open pacifist and anarchist, he is not involved in any radical organizing. Calling all pikas! You mountain goats o’er there, with your un-American beards! C’mon Hozomeen, rally the chert!

Plan B. Snyder sends a stack of applications all over the Pacific Northwest and California looking for summer work doing trail-building, fire crew, or fire-watch. He is successful, and buys six weeks worth of groceries on the way to his new lookout job in the Gifford Pinchot forest. He is fired the next morning. He finds a position as a choke setter on Oregon’s Warm Springs Indian Reservation instead. From Zen lookout-poet to manning one of the most dangerous jobs in the logging industry, Snyder’s season was a challenge.

Poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg Backpacking
Though never a lookout himself, poet Allen Ginsberg [on right] was a friend and contemporary of Snyder, Whalen, and Kerouac. He writes: “Between June and September 1965, North Cascades National Park, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington State, USA — Summer 1965, 8 day backpack climbing in wilderness area of northern Cascades, Glacier Park, Washington state, [with] Gary Snyder [on left] back from a near-decade in Kyoto studying & practicing Zazen. My first mountain walk.” — Image © Allen Ginsberg/CORBIS

As Snyder writes in a letter to his friend, fellow poet and lookout Philip Whalen: “I am physically sick for wanting to be in the mountains so bad. I am forced to admit that no one thing in life gives me such unalloyed pleasure as simply being in the mountains.” And later, he elaborates: “Everything feels all wrong: I just can’t adapt to not packing up and traveling this time of year and my rucksack and boots hang accusingly on the wall.”

Philip Whalen’s boots, however, are indeed on his feet, though they are likely propped up on a chair, his lap supporting a book, more often than his mountaineering friend Snyder’s ever were. Set above 6000 feet at Sourdough Lookout, it’s mid-August and Whalen is in his second season, occupying the one room home in which Snyder had experienced his own creative surge the year before in 1953.

Previously, Whalen had spent his premier lookout season on Sauk Mountain, with a choice view of the Picket Range, Mount Shuskan, and Mount Baker. The two men, both writers, became friends while students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Highly intellectual, Whalen is turned on to lookout-ing by the younger Snyder, thrilled not so much by the physical challenges of the outdoors but by the rare opportunity to embark on an intensive summer reading campaign while living embedded in beauty and solitude to inspire his writing. And getting paid by the Eisenhower administration to do it! Snyder also introduces Whalen to Zen teachings and practice.

During his short stint in 1954 atop Sourdough (fire danger is low that year, and the season starts late), Whalen’s neighbors include a herd of a dozen stags and a resident black bear. Upon returning to the valley, motivated and enthused, he writes in a letter to Snyder: “My imagination is in great shape. Goodness knows what will happen next.”

diablo from SD Katherin RenzA classic image of Diablo Lake, as seen from the flanks of Sourdough Mountain. In his poem “Sourdough Mountain Lookout”, Whalen describes it as “two lights green soap and indigo”. Photo by Katherine Renz.

It is a little over a year later, October 1955. A handful of poets, on fire, give a reading at San Francisco’s Six Gallery. Allen Ginsberg unleashes his incendiary “Howl”. Jack Kerouac, a writer and train-hopping Buddhist who’d recently arrived from a literary bender with William Burroughs in Mexico City, is in attendance, too. It proves a legendary night, the kickoff of the literary resurgence fueled by the so-called Beat Generation (not all participating poets, Snyder included, would enjoy this lasting label).

Whalen shares his tales of lookout work in the wild North Cascades to Kerouac. Snyder elaborates. Though Kerouac has never traveled in the backcountry before, he has long fantasized about holing up in a hermitage – writing rapid-fire, beset with visions, privy to a direct line to the divine. His experienced friends encourage him to apply.

Kerouac is accepted to man Desolation Lookout, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, for the summer of 1956. His anticipation is overwhelming, and he tells his friend, Carolyn Cassidy, “O boy, O boy, O here I go, I got the offer for the job watching fires…and I told the Forest Ranger I hoped he’d take me back next year, and the next, and all my life. It will be my life work…”.

kerouac copyright Walter LehrmanMay 1956, Kerouac at Gary Snyder’s going-away party (Snyder would be back and forth between Japan and California for the next 12 years) in Northern California. This is six weeks before Kerouac left for his season in the North Cascades. Image © Walter Lehrman.

Being a fire lookout does not become Kerouac’s life work. He writes a ton while on Desolation (his arguably most famous novel, On the Road, would be published a year later). But he is also lonely, scared of the looming Hozomeen, especially in the dark, having more delusions than visions and yearning more for debauchery and drugs upon returning to the city than for the dharma of the present. In his 63 days on the aptly-named mountain, he receives no visitors, his sole social contact being when he scrambles down to the Ross Guard Station, ten days into his season, to scrounge a one pound tin of Prince Albert rolling tobacco from the generous guards.

*     *     *

Three men, 360 degree views, a slew of haikus, tales and legends. It is 2014. I look to the peaks and they rumble poems.

desolation sign NCIAbove and top images © North Cascades Institute

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is looking forward to an obligatory pilgrimage to Desolation Peak this coming summer vacation, followed by a drink in North Beach.

 

 

Tuition Free High School Opportunities in the North Cascades

February 7th, 2012 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

North Cascades Institute is pleased to announce Summer 2012 Applications are available online for high school students interested in the Cascades Climate Challenge or North Cascades Wild programs. Both programs are tuition-free and focus on leadership, community, stewardship, outdoor skills and connection to the natural world through wilderness experiences in North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

A CCC student takes a moment to appreciate the small wonders of the natural world while studying climate change.

Cascades Climate Challenge (CCC) students will spend three weeks camping, canoeing and backpacking while working alongside natural resource managers and Institute staff learning the science behind climate change and how students can effectively communicate ways to mitigate the effects of a changing global climate on human communities. Upon returning home, students design and implement a service-learning project in their community teaching others about ways we can address climate change. In November they will be encouraged to attend the Youth Leadership Conference in the North Cascades to share their experience with other youth. Applications for CCC are due March 30th.

NC Wild students on board the NPS Mule on Ross Lake.

North Cascades Wild features 8- and 12-day summer wilderness expeditions in North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Students canoe, camp, backpack and complete conservation service projects while developing leadership skills and learning about the local natural and cultural history of the North Cascades region. The program includes spring and fall monthly field trips for students from Skagit and Whatcom County, WA, a fall reunion and a Youth Leadership Conference at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Students currently in any grade in high school from WA and OR are eligible to apply. Applications for Skagit/Whatcom students are due February 16th while students from the rest of WA and OR are due March 30th. 

Applications are found on our website along with quotes, photos, blogs and video!!

North Cascades Wild Information and Application

Cascades Climate Challenge Information and Application

Youth Leadership Conference

Teachers – Stay tuned for news of a climate change teacher training opportunity this August with North Cascades Institute!

If you have any questions please feel free to call or email Aneka Singlaub (email: aneka_singlaub@ncascades.org; 360-854-2595) regarding Cascades Climate Challenge, or contact Amy Brown, North Cascades Wild Program Coordinator, regarding North Cascades Wild (email: amy_brown@ncascades.org; 360-854-2582). Thank you.

Leading photo of NC Wild students after successfully summiting Desolation Peak in North Cascades National Park. All photos courtesy of North Cascades Institute.

Young, WILD and free

July 23rd, 2010 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Oh, to be young and wild and free. That common saying, which most of us recognize, is wholly applicable to the wilderness of the North Cascades and of the youth adventures carried out by the first two trips of this summer’s North Cascades Wild program.

After spending 12 days exploring North Cascades National Park (NOCA) by boat and boot, through canoeing and backpacking, 17 students and six instructors, each divided into two trips, had quite the journey to recount.

(Title) Canoeing is a core component of the youth program North Cascades Wild (Above) Trip 1 dressed to impress at Ross Lake Resort
Trip 2 goes wild for NC Wild at Ross Lake Resort

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