Mountain School Reflections #4: Tae

This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of North Cascades Institute’s longest running programs—Mountain School! To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’ve been collecting stories from people who have been involved with Mountain School over the years, whether as a student, a teacher, or a program instructor. Tae is a rare "three-peat" Mountain School student from Bellingham, Washington. She shared these reflections with us as part of our Celebration of 30 Years of Mountain School.

Meet Tae —a Bellingham local who first joined us at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in 2009 with her 5th grade class from Birchwood Elementary. She was able to come back to Mountain School two more times with her high school, before graduating in 2016. We no longer offer Mountain School for high schoolers—so she was one of the lucky few!

Every time I go, I learn about what matters and let go of what doesn’t.”


Tell us about your Mountain School experience.

My 5th grade trip changed my life and relationship with the outdoors! I still have my photo album from the trip and all the memories that came with it. Learning about the local habitat and Washington native plants was exciting. Hiking to the waterfall and spying on little frogs and fish was so much fun. I went on 3 more trips before graduating high school a few years ago and can’t wait to go back–every trip was a completely different experience!

What was your favorite Mountain School memory?

That would definitely be during my first Mountain School trip, as a 5th grader when we were walking towards Diablo Dam with our trail group, learning about its history and we saw a REAL LIFE BOBCAT!! It was just hanging out on the side of the road, I was completely captivated but our leader had us stop—I could tell they were a little nervous. But it was just looking at everyone, and then turned and went on its way up the rocks!

I knew right away that it was a bobcat, I’ve always been obsessed with big cats but seeing a bobcat up close was mind blowing. It had always been my dream to be a park ranger or something that would let me work to save endangered animals. So this was just amazing!

Why do you think Mountain School is important?

For me, changed the way I viewed my own abilities and access to the outdoors. Growing up in Bellingham, the outdoors is all around but there are so many barriers when you’re stressed about money and ability to do things. Mountain School was the first time that I  felt I could do anything.  I got to go on my own and experience the great outdoors—and I didn’t have to worry about any of those other things. Plus everyone at Mountain School makes you feel so welcome. It’s a little scary to be away from home but all the leaders made us feel safe and secure and made everything easy.

I remember that my leader was a little bit bigger and seeing someone that was leader, who looked like me really opened my eyes. I kept thinking, “She is literally doing everything that I want to do and nothing is stopping her!”

It was also the first time I was really engaged in learning, I’d never experienced learning in that way until Mountain School and it made all the difference. I had always loved connecting with nature through Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, but my experiences at Mountain School really changed my relationship with nature and the outdoors.

Since graduating high school in 2016 Tae has been working in the medical field but does nature photography in all her free time and hopes to be able to travel and do photography full time soon!

She still makes it up to the North Cascades once a year at least, it’s where she at home and a sense of community with the staff, different groups, and visitors there!

Tae spoke at Northwest Youth Services’ gala and auctioned her photos to raise money for the organization. She takes immense pride in building connections with people, which is one of the reasons she loves going to the Learning Center.


Getting young people outside to learn, play, discover, reflect, and share is at the heart of a healthy life. Make a gift today!

We want to hear YOUR stories! Students and teachers: Please share your favorite Mountain School memories with us at

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