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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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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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Where the Powerlines Start

April 21st, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Bumper to bumper traffic on I-5 provides the perfect thinking spot. Usually this is the place where my mind starts to wonder things like “Why does traffic happen” and “When will they make flying cars?” The most recent time I was fortunate enough to be stuck, however, my mind drifted over to the powerlines beside the road. More electrons than I could count were wizzing past, heading into homes, phones and even some cars. The hyper-speedways of electricity, we only see powerlines in the transportation or end state. But they have to start somewhere, right?

My quest to see the start of the powerlines had me heading east on Washington State Route 20. If you wish to pursue this adventure yourself be warned: there is not cell phone reception and most importantly no traffic. Heading east along SR 20 will take you past the towns of Sedro-Woolley, Concrete and Rockport. Make sure you fuel up in Marblemount though as it is the last place for gas before heading into the park.

Keep traveling, and you will see the large North Cascades National Park sign just past mile marker 111. Gradually, you will begin to see civilization be replaced with the expansive wilderness that is Western Washington. Even the little town of Diablo (which will be on your left) is dwarfed by the forests, mountains and the mighty Skagit River.

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Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

November 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Murali Krishnan

This summer, on July 25th, 2015, I had a gift to learn from young high school kids. I was invited as an adult coach to observe and help in the Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA), an innovative program run by the North Cascades Institute(NCI). In turn, I got a lot more learning from the program as well.
Thanks to NCI, YLA is conducted for motivated high school students. According to the institute:

During summer expeditions, students canoe and or backpack, camp, and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science, communication skills, and public speaking. Upon returning home, students ages 16 to 18 in Science and Sustainability courses design and implement their own service projects in their home communities.

Incredible learning comes from a deep connection with nature. Now imagine being in the wilderness with no immediate access to transportation for miles amidst the mountains and forests filled with thick tall trees. And add to that this episode continuing for 8 or 16 days. Yes, the digital cameras may become dead weight after taking amazing pictures of nature and not being able to charge up. Yes, the cell phone batteries run out too. It is in this setting that about 8 students spent their summer in the North cascades. Better yet, I believe they invested their summer to connect with nature and discover themselves. And here is a fun video from the group.

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Entering the Ethereal Forest

April 12th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

UPDATE MARCH 2014: Join us the weekend of March 28-30 for a brand new Field Excursion: “Ross Lake: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe” with Institute naturalists and North Cascades National Park geologist Jon Reidel! This class will explore the geologic history of the Ross Lake area during the annual drawdown, a period when the lake is lowered by Seattle City Light and vast new terrain becomes exposed. This unique landscape has been shaped by glaciers, the Skagit River and the Skagit Hydroelectric Project, and a wealth of natural history phenomena emerge every spring when the hidden landscape is revealed.

Info and registration at http://ncascades.org/signup/programs/ross-lake-paddle-the-draw-down or 360-854-2599. Sign up today to guarantee your spot!

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This past weekend dawned sunny and warm in the North Cascades, an unexpected delight for those of us electing to live out the winter in the solitude of the snow-capped peaks and hushed forests around the Environmental Learning Center. Although spring has reportedly been blooming down along the Skagit Valley, our world has remained snowy, rainy, and cold. And if by chance we forget, the closure of Highway 20 just a few miles to our east reminds us it is so. Eager to take advantage of the sun and rare blue skies, a group of 6 of us – staff, grads, and friends – decided to canoe up into the big drawdown of Ross Lake and spend a night under the stars.

We began our 22 mile canoe trip first in the wind-chopped waters of Diablo Lake, some of us (myself included) wondering what we were getting ourselves into. After an hour of paddling, we reached the boat dock at the end of Gorge Canyon, and hitched our canoes to a few wobbly, old, and very janky wheel gurneys in order to portage our boats up and over 540 ft tall Ross Dam to Ross Lake. It was a haul to say the least, and a huffing and puffing adventure at that. On the other side we were greeted by a stunning view of Jack Mountain, and chose to have lunch at the water’s edge, mesmerized by the beauty mountains in every direction.

Kai Girard portaging one of our canoes up the service road between Diablo and Ross Lakes. Photo by the author.

Surprisingly, the wind died down on Ross Lake, and our group paddled along in excited anticipation for every new peak and vantage awaiting us around each corner. It wasn’t long before Ruby Mountain came into view, a delight for me after months of barely glimpsing the tip of it, concealed as we are so far below along Diablo Lake. The water was glass, and each canoe of two spread out along its width as if responding to the naturalness of its quiet and its calm. It felt good to be out on water, moving ourselves by the strength and consistency of our paddles.

» Continue reading Entering the Ethereal Forest