From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram



Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

August 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

I wedged myself between two boulders on the summit of Silver Star Mountain in Okanagan County, Washington and peered out over the North Cascades range. It was May 1, 2016. Mount Baker was crystal clear some 100 miles to the west across the snow cover peaks. The mountains were shimmering, almost blindingly so, in all directions with miles and miles of snowfields. The day was hot, almost 60 degrees in the sun at an elevation of 8,875 feet. Our ski boots were standing on a snowpack of over 8 feet deep I was trying to fathom the amount of frozen water surrounding me. Looking to the east I saw the Methow Valley and Okanagan County expanding into the horizon and tried to imagine the journey that the water molecules beneath my feet will make, providing habitat for migrating steelhead trout, nourishing Cottonwoods, and irrigating crops that become food to nourish the people. I chugged the last bit of water that was in my Nalgene, filled it to the brim with snow, stuffed the bottle in my pack and skied down 5,000 feet of glorious spring corn snow.

Snowpack in the North Cascades has declined between 20% and 40% since 1950 (Stoelinda, Albright, Mass, 2009, p. 1). Snowpack in the mountains is stored water that provides life to all organisms including humans by irrigating and growing the food we eat. Snowpack is declining due to natural climate fluctuations and anthropogenic global warming.

» Continue reading Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

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

Petra working with ss

Snow School 2016: Experiential Education on Mt. Baker

March 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

On a rainy Friday morning in Bellingham, eight environmental educators cram tightly into a van fully equipped in winter gear. The van’s destination—Mt. Baker Ski Area. Rain continues to fall heavily in the lowland forests of the Nooksack Valley as the van makes its way toward the mountain. Soon we’re steeply ascending toward the Ski Area and as we pull into the parking lot we hit a magic line where the rain turns to thick, wet and heavy snowflakes. We have an hour to prepare for the day until a school bus arrives with a hoard of 8th grade students from Mt. Baker Middle School in Deming, WA.

Upon arrival, the students seem excited but also unsure for what’s in store for the day. The environmental educators, with lesson plans prepared, await to go explore the nearby snowy mountain terrain with these eager students who will be heading into the field to collect data and observations on weather, snow pack and snow stability.

Based out of the Mt. Baker Ski Area, Mt. Baker SnowSchool is a collaboration between the Mt. Baker Ski Area, North Cascades Institute, Northwest Avalanche Center, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and The Winter Wildlands Alliance.

KB Making Snow Pit

Northwest Avalanche Center instructor Jeff Hambleton teaches students to identify layers in the snowpack.

» Continue reading Snow School 2016: Experiential Education on Mt. Baker


Following Tracks

May 6th, 2013 | Posted by in Adventures

My touring partner, Ian, and I found ourselves looking out across Ptarmagin Ridge toward our distant objective, Coleman Pinnacle.  The only noise was that of the wind coursing through the wings of a passing raven.  The sun shone down on our faces, lighting up the snow and landscape beyond.  I turned to Ian and asked where we were going.  He simply replied “Narnia,” and we continued along the skin track toward the jagged peak in the distance.

» Continue reading Following Tracks

Standing in Snow

December 8th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

A little over four months ago, I set out on a hike with two of my closest friends on the Devils Doom loop in the North Cascades.  I remember beautiful views of the undulating landscape filled with glacier lilies, snow capped peaks, and the remnants of hillsides filled with wildflowers.  Nearly fourteen miles into the hike, the trail broke underneath where I had just placed my foot and I instantly knew something was wrong.  I heard a loud snap and found myself rolling down the hillside. Catching myself on a nearby tree, I began screaming for help.  One partner ran the fourteen miles back to the road to call for help, while the other helped me scooch a little over a mile to a glacially carved cirque where we waited sixteen hours for help to arrive in the form of a helicopter. Later that day, I learned that I had broken my tibia and fibula in three separate places, requiring a plate and six screws to be inserted into my leg.  I was told that it would be at least November until I could run again, and possibly February before I could strap back into a snowboard.  It would take a year for me to return to the level of fitness I had at the time of the accident.  I am happy to say that I have proven the doctors wrong.


» Continue reading Standing in Snow

Welcome graduate cohort 10!

July 29th, 2010 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Summer has finally arrived at the Environmental Learning Center! Diablo Lake has regained its characteristic green color, peregrine falcon fledglings are learning to hunt near the dam, a new fawn is sporting spots around campus, and the tenth cohort of graduate students have begun their academic journey.

Cohort 10 at Diablo Lake.  Field journaling with Libby Mills (above).

Cohort 10 began classes in Bellingham on June 22nd. The eleven students who are enrolled in the graduate program come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from education to environmental science to multi-media studies. Their summer coursework consists of three classes: Introduction to Place-Based Education, Resource Issues in the North Cascades, and Cultural History in the North Cascades. These courses are interwoven into a series of field excursions in the region, supplemented by readings, projects, and discussions in classes at Western Washington University.

Students learn about mycorrhizae from Brandi Stewart, cohort 9

» Continue reading Welcome graduate cohort 10!