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Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

January 29th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Jihan Grettenberger

Jihan Grettenberger, a graduate M.Ed. student at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, came across some cougar tracks while walking down the Diablo East Trail this weekend.

Photo by Angela Burlile

The temperature really warmed up this week! Giant icicles began to break off onto the road between Highway 20 and Diablo Dam but were cleared away quickly thanks to Seattle City Light.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Call of the wild: can America’s national parks survive?
America’s national parks are facing multiple threats, despite being central to the frontier nation’s sense of itself
by Lucy Rock
published January 14, 2017

Autumn in the North Cascades National Park and soggy clouds cling to the peaks of the mountains that inspired the musings of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg 60 years ago. Sitting on a carpet of pine needles in the forest below, protected from the rain by a canopy of vine maple leaves, is a group of 10-year-olds listening to a naturalist hoping to spark a similar love of the outdoors in a new generation.

This is one of 59 national parks which range across the United States, from the depths of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the turrets of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All – plus hundreds of monuments and historic sites – are run by the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centenary last year. The parks were created so that America’s natural wonders would be accessible to everyone, rather than sold off to the highest bidder. Writer Wallace Stegner called them America’s best idea: “Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

It’s easy to agree. Nicknamed America’s Alps, Washington State’s North Cascades is an area of soaring beauty, a wilderness of fire and ice thanks to hundreds of glaciers and dense forest where trees burn in summer blazes. The Pacific Crest Trail – made famous by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon – runs through the park. Walking along Thunder Creek one midweek morning, the only sound is rushing water and birdsong. The view is a nature-layered cake of teal water, forested mountain slopes and snowy summits. But it is here that you can also observe the threats facing the parks in their next 100 years. They are fighting a war on three fronts: severe underfunding, climate change and a lack of diversity and youth among their visitors.

Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades surrounded by silence and rocky spires, far from the drink, drugs and distractions of his San Francisco life. He drew on his Cascades experiences in Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler and Desolation Angels, in which he wrote: “Those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snow-covered rock all around…” Those views look different today. Climate change is causing the glaciers to melt: their square footage shrank by 20% between 1959 and 2009.

Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute, an environmental educational organization, said that the difference between photos from September – when the seasonal snow is gone – in the 1950s and today was, “Incredibly dramatic. Snow is melting back more and more and now you see a lot more rock when you look at the mountains.”

» Continue reading North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15, 2017

January 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Angela Burlile

On Monday, I caught the sun dancing across Diablo lake in the morning mist on my way to North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

Photo by Dan Dubie

Graduate M.Ed student, Dan Dubie, took this beautiful photo of a snow covered Diablo Dam.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15, 2017

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Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

July 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Guest post by Imara White, Apprentice Instructor for Youth Leadership Adventures

Youth Leadership Adventures is a North Cascades Institute program that takes high school youth out in the North Cascades backcountry to backpack or canoe, complete service projects, and develop outdoor leadership, field science, public speaking, and communication skills. The program works to inspire a conservation ethic in the next generation of leaders all while developing a love and connection to the North Cascades landscape. Our first session of three crews hit the trail on June 28 and returned after 8 days in the wilderness.  

One of these amazing groups was an all-female group. When they first arrived for their trip, they were bundle of nerves and excitement since almost all of the girls were new to canoeing, backpacking and camping.

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» Continue reading Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

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Winter Musing in an Alpine Refuge: Creative residency January 18-30, 2016

May 30th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Véronique Robigou – Artist, Geologist, and Natural Science Illustrator.

At the start of the year, I was very fortunate to join the legion of artists, naturalists, and scientists who before me have benefited from the North Cascades’ Institute Creative Residency Program. A retreat as artist-in-residence in the remote, alpine setting of the North Cascades Learning Center! An escape from my city routine with all the comfort of a chalet in the forest, the support of the center staff, and the intellectual stimulation of interacting with graduate students that study environmental education at the center. What an ideal way to start the year!

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In winter, the Diablo lake landscape is not as colorful as alpine peaks and meadows blooming in Spring nor as glorious as the golden forests of the Fall but… the dark gray skies, the perfectly still surface of the lake, and the snowy trails are conducive to quiet and creative reflection – a luxury that I rarely have time for in my daily life.  I relished long, silent walks through the forests, and along the lakeshore, and many hikes up the snow-covered, mountain trails. The seemingly, dormant nature was amazingly vibrant with mosses and mushrooms thriving in the constant rain. And plants, bushes and trees were nurturing intricate, delicate buds. Buds that my eye had never quite noticed in the same way before. As I explored the area for the first time, I discovered nature in a season during which I usually don’t sketch in “plein air”. Hiking silently through towering Douglas firs, Sitka alders, and Ponderosa pines gave me an opportunity to muse and dream up new projects. Immersed in the subdued colors of winter, my sketches were infused not only by my observations in the natural world but also by the pitter-patter of rain, the raucous call of a solitary raven or the occasional rock fall on the mountain slope. Sounds became elements of my visual musings. Sounds became colors.

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When the rain would not take a break, I found refuge in the cozy center’s library to read and do research. Focusing on local, topographic maps, reports about the construction of the hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River, history of the Diablo lake region and natural history guides of the area, I unearthed fascinating ingredients that will feed new artworks. Over the next few months, all this new information, my observations and my impressions will gradually coalesce into new ideas to express with colors on paper and reflecting my time at NCI.

My discussions with the talented staff and students at the center have been some of the brightest moments of my stay. Sharing meals, life experiences and stories, art and science insights, and teaching strategies enriched my reflective time with energy from a youthful and dedicated group of people that enthusiastically share their passion for the environment. The atmosphere that they create and nurture at the center is a priceless addition to any creative endeavor. I also spent time facilitating an “Art of Map” workshop for the graduate students who literally transformed a gloomy, rainy day into “Liquid Sunshine”. Read more at

http://www.oceanetterrastudio.com/blog/liquid-sunshine.

As much as I thrive in the intensity of traveling afar, I may have found that a local, creative haven at the North Cascades Learning Center. How thrilling to have access to this refuge just a few hours from my studio! I look forward to future explorations at and around the center in all seasons.

Véronique is an artist, natural science illustrator, geologist, and educator at Ocean et Terra Studio in Seattle, WA. Learn more at www.oceanetterrastudio.com

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Listening to Coyote

May 13th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Emily Ford, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

After a rainy and dark winter, I’ve started to recognize the North Cascades as I remember them when I arrived last summer. Pyramid Mountain’s East wing is shaking off the snow, reminding me of summer as if it were an old friend. Soon again, Pyramid will be the snowless, chiseled, gray spire that taunted my stout climbing heart, and proved to me that its summit remains sacred beyond tired muscles, novice skills and terminal daylight. It is no longer capped by cornices like ice cream cone swirls that soften its thrust into the clouds. Pyramid stands out along the Diablo Lake skyline once more, and reminds me how deeply at home I have become.

Ok I got a little carried away. This blog is not about the North Cascades. In fact, I desperately needed to leave. I needed to go back to the desert, where I’ve returned to backpack and guide river trips for many years. When water has been scorned in the Northwest for being too much, the water in the desert is praised – and as Edward Abbey notes – exactly the right amount. Which is hilarious because it was 90 degrees in Seattle, but it rained every day, and even hailed, during my spring break trip in the Canyonlands.

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Eating dinner in a slickrock alcove, I watched a storm approach at sunset.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Shadows danced among the spires creating quite the dinner theater.

» Continue reading Listening to Coyote

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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.

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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