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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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A Look Back At Our Summer in the North Cascades

November 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

It seems a little strange to write about summer as we step into winter but there has to be a start to every story and the story of C16 begins with our arrival to the Environmental Learning Center on a warm July day. We were to begin the first course of our year long residency, ‘Place Based Learning In The North Cascades’. For the following seven weeks, we traversed the North Cascades National Park, Okanogan/Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie/Wenatchee National Forests, state and county public lands, private lands, the Methow Valley, and Puget Sound under the guidance of our fearless leaders, Joshua Porter and Lindsey McDonald. The goals of the course were to give us a better understanding of the greater North Cascades ecosystems, learn the natural and cultural history of the region and examine the foundational ideas of place-based environmental education.

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Graduate Program Director, Joshua Porter and Graduate Program Coordinator, Lindsey McDonald.

A great distance was covered that summer. We spoke with geologists, naturalists, farmers, historians and writers; each person adding richness and depth to the stories of the land. We moved from the Methow Valley in the east, up and over the glaciated peaks of the North Cascades, following the Skagit River as it flows into the Salish Sea.

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Just a few of the places our course took us over the summer. Photo – Google Maps

It seemed a monumental task to try and fit all the moments, people, and places into one post so I have instead highlighted some of my favorite memories from the summer to share with you.

Meeting C15

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Photo 1: C15 and C16 together at NCI. Photo 2: A little friendly competition, a moo-off between C15 and C16. Photo 3: A delicious dinner at Skalitude Retreat.

Before we officially met C15 (Cohort 15), they had graciously welcomed us to the North Cascades Institute family through an open letter posted here on Chattermarks a month prior to our arrival. Our first C31 (C15+C16) gathering happened in the Methow Valley mid summer. C15 patiently answered all our questions, offered advice and shared their stories. There was some friendly competition, a contra dance, and delicious meals shared. Though they have continued on to the campus portion of our program in Bellingham, they continue to be mentors, friends and gracious hosts when we’re feeling the itch of civilization. 

» Continue reading A Look Back At Our Summer 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

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.

 

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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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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

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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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» Continue reading Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

YLA 2015 Group

Youth Leadership Adventures 2015: A Report from Ross Lake

November 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sabrina Freedman

Editors note: To put into context the Youth Leadership Conference held at our Environmental Learning Center from November 6-8, this article was written by one of our Youth Leadership Adventure leaders, Sabrina Freedman.  In it, she reflects on the growth she witnessed in her student trail group during their backcountry journey.

A remote basin in North Cascades National Park sits below two of its tallest peaks. Goode and Logan mountains are heavily glaciated, and are a remarkable and remote destination to park visitors and students on a Youth Leadership Adventures trip. This basin is so remote, that it is home to a wolverine monitoring station and a three-mile trail that terminates in high meadows with herbaceous plants and black bears galore.

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Basin between Goode and Logan mountains.

The group of students on an 11-day backpacking adventure was unsure if they would find habitat for themselves in such a wild place. The nine students, all rising juniors, seniors or recent high school graduates had signed up for a 16 day field course focused in learning about climate science and sustainable practices. The students were from as far as Astoria, Oregon though many were from the Skagit and Nooksack flats in towns such as Mt. Vernon, La Conner, Sumas and Saxon.

Many students came for the great views and to have fun outside but also to complete their senior projects and to learn more about our changing climate. As the new group got together on the first day to hike over Cascade Pass with a collective 450 pounds of gear and food, they were amazed both by the beauty around them and by their personal strength. They were especially mesmerized by the glaciers.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Adventures 2015: A Report from Ross Lake