NC Wild begins fall exploration

To explore your own backyards and expand your sense of place—this was the central goal of the 2010 North Cascades Wild’s (NC Wild) first fall day trip, held on Saturday, September 18th.
Sense of place. What is that? Ask any of this year’s students of NC Wild and they would be quick to tell you an answer. As one of the four core themes we emphasize in NC Wild, sense of place is embodied by a student’s increased awareness of and appreciation for the history—both through nature and culture—of a landscape. And the landscape of choice for September 18th’s day trip was that of Blue Lake and Dock Butte, in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Easily bypassed for the more popular Mt. Baker National Recreation Area at Schreiber’s Meadows, tucked away among Pacific silver firs and Mountain hemlocks, Blue Lake and Dock Butte afford amazing access to subalpine flora and fauna, geology and hydrology, and astounding views of the North Cascades with only minimal effort.

(Title) Mt. Baker as viewed from the road ascending to the Blue Lake and Dock Butte trailhead (Above) Which way to chose? You can access both Blue Lake and Dock Butte from the same trailhead

The Blue Lake trail is only a short 0.7 miles one-way from the trailhead, with less than 100 feet of elevation gain, while the Dock Butte trail ascends 1,400 feet in 1.5 miles—a bit more daunting than the former—but leads to an old fire lookout site with grand views of the Mt. Baker volcano.
With the September weather less predictable than that of the summer, Forest Service Ranger and Wildlife Biologist Don Gay suggested the venture so that students could reconnect with each other and revitalize their hiking and leadership skills, while also discovering new areas near home to take their families and friends.
At the Sedro Woolley Headquarters, after some introductions, name games, a trail talk and gear gain, students Karleigh and Griselda from Trip 1, Jailyn, Karla and her siblings Junior and Maria from Trip 2, Gabi and Matt from Trip 5, Jason, Sabir and Cleo from Trip 6, instructors Amy, Martine and Kelsi, and Ranger Don Gay, headed east to the trailhead.

Forest Service Ranger Don Gay shows NC Wild students the trail we are about to travel

Once hiking toward the butte, everyone had opportunities to identify plants and catch glimpses of birds, while the clouds cast a low veil across the landscape.

Amy teaches students about the cultural uses of the Pacific Silver Fir
The Pacific Silver Fir, fresh with raindrops of the morning

Wandering through meadows filled with the fall’s biggest bounty—blueberries—students took many a break to grab handfuls of the tasty treats while ascending the slopes. With no views appearing as the group approached Dock Butte, the group decided to turn around, descend and explore the area surrounding Blue Lake.

Ascending the trail toward Dock Butte
Jason and Cleo of Trip 6 pose for a picture with the wild blueberries
The delicious blueberries encountered along the trail

After Martine’s enthusiastic “Great Big Moose” song breaking the subalpine silence, students learned about the biology of mountain goats from Ranger Don and the geologic history of the Mt. Baker Volcanic Field from Kelsi. The clouds were clearing, revealing the turquoise sheen of Blue Lake, and not long after Ranger Don explained the rarity of seeing a mountain goat in the area, several students gasped while pointing upward. What could it be?

The reward of the day – picturesque Blue Lake
Participating in some fun, active songs at Blue Lake
Gabi takes interest in studying mountain goats from Forest Ranger Don Gay

There, perched atop the cliffs above the lake, stood a single mountain goat. Its white coat shone brightly in the sun rays peeking out through the dissipating afternoon clouds, reflecting the dew from morning. It stood still, silent, looking down upon us as we grabbed for binoculars and gasped again and again with glee. For ten minutes it remained in view, and then slowly sauntered off behind the trees.

If you look closely, you can see the mountain goat atop the cliff
Junior admires the mountain goat with binoculars
Students along the tape measure of geologic time with significant Mt. Baker geologic events

After spending some time reflecting on the day’s experiences during a lakeside sit spot, the group came together to share their stories and reactions of the day.
With huckleberries and mountain goats as the highlights, the exploration of a new trail in their backyards was complete and their sense of place, expanded.
Agreed among the group as well was the necessity of reconnection, spending time together as one, big NC Wild community after the summer. With two more NC Wild events remaining this fall—the September 25th Reunion in Seattle and October 9th Sauk Mountain Hike—opportunities for reconnection abound.

The September 18th, 2010 Fall Day Trip group photo at Blue Lake

Until then, keep exploring NC Wild.

Photos courtesy of Amy Brown & Kelsi Franzen.


  1. Brooke

    Thanks for the story and pictures Kelsi! What an amazing day.

  2. Amit

    Enjoyed reading the blog and pictures looks amazing !

  3. Christian

    A magical visit from the mountain goat god himself. Wow! What a treat for your students.

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