A Fitting End to a Wild Season: North Cascades Wild 2009

hiking Sauk2
We’ve just now wrapped up our final events of our North Cascades Wild 2009 season. And what a season it’s been! Forty-seven students from Skagit, Lake Forest Park and Seattle participated in our summer wilderness 12-day canoe camping and backpacking trips on Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park. During the trips, students learned about and practiced leadership, community building, stewardship and natural and cultural history. We built and brushed trails, conducted Park-led research to count non-native red-sided shiners, cleaned campsites, picked native plant seeds, stuffed ourselves with huckleberries and thimbleberries, and hiked and canoed for miles. Together, we contributed more than 1400 hours of service to North Cascades National Park!

t2 trail work
Students from Trip 4 built a new trail along Ross Lake in late July.

Trip 1 students canoeing on Ross Lake.
Trip 1 students canoeing on Ross Lake in early July.

Our summer season culminated in two events this fall: Our North Cascades Wild Reunion at Camp Long in Seattle on September 12th, and our final Day Trip for Skagit students on October 3rd.

Our attendance at the Seattle reunion was our best ever. More than 45 people – including 29 students – gathered together at Camp Long to contribute service, enjoy a pizza lunch, watch a slide show of the year’s events, play North Cascades Wild Jeopardy and celebrate and be recognized for their achievements. You can view the slideshow here:

Attendees at the 2009 North Cascades Wild Reunion
Attendees at the 2009 North Cascades Wild Reunion.

Family members were also invited. It was gratifying to see such a great spread of ages throughout the group. We had little kids to parents pulling invasive blackberry, cleaning trails and enjoying a beautiful day together.

Esmeralda Martinez (right) from Trip 1 and her family pause for a photo while digging out invasive blackberry from the grounds of Camp Long.
Esmeralda Martinez (right) from Trip 1 and her family pause for a photo while digging out invasive blackberry from the grounds of Camp Long.

During North Cascades Wild Jeopardy, students teamed up with students from different trips and were tested on some of the skills they learned during the summer. Questions included “Name three naturalists’ skills we practiced” (pay attention, ask questions, and share your stories), “Name three ways you can practice Leave No Trace” (leave what you find, plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other visitors) and “What should you do if you see a bear in the woods?” (get big, back away slowly, avoid eye contact, talk loudly). The final prizes include a delicious bag of trail mix and beef jerky from the summer trips. Nothing like a bag of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit to bring back memories of Ross Lake canoeing, camping, sunsets, service work and bonding with new friends.
wendy at reunion
Wendy Li, a 2007 North Cascades Wild alumni from Seattle, joined us for the reunion to complete service and share her experiences as a summer student hire in North Cascades National Park.

On October 3rd, nine Skagit students rose early to climb Sauk Mountain in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for our final North Cascades Wild event of the year. Don Gay and Orlando Garcia of Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest along with Institute naturalist and North Cascades Wild leader Kevin Biggs and myself completed the party. Our goals were to climb a mountain, further our friendships and love of this place, learn ways to continue our engagement, and to celebrate our 2009 North Cascades Wild season.

Earlier this summer, nearly every group successfully climbed 6,102-foot tall Desolation Peak, a challenging hike of 4.7 miles each way with an elevation gain of 4,400 feet. The Sauk Mountain hike was a bit easier, climbing only 1,040 feet over 2.1 miles each way. But it was still steep – and there was early season snow covering the trail for most of the way up.

hiking sauk
Students hiking the icy trail up Sauk Mountain.

The thimbleberries we’d enjoyed over the summer during our backpacks were now mostly dried up, and the crimson-leaved huckleberries lacing the trail’s edges had already lost most of their berries, either to hungry hikers eager fingers, bears’ paws or just the test of time, gravity and the changing of seasons. It was interesting to see the bright orange tiger lilies we’d marveled at on our hikes up Desolation were now brown, dried-up seed pods, the seeds already released to form next year’s flowers.

Tiger lily seed pods seen along the trail up Sauk Mountain.
Tiger lily seed pods seen along the trail up Sauk Mountain.

The slippery and icy trail tested us but everyone made it safely to the top to enjoy stunning views of the Skagit Valley, Mount Baker and innumerable other peaks of the North Cascades. We observed several red-tailed hawks, a golden eagle and other too-distant-to-identify raptors winging south on their annual autumn migration, reminding us that winter was not far away. While letting our sweat dry, everyone chowed down on sandwiches, trail mix and rice krispies treats while marveling at the vast backdrop of snowy peaks, swirling clouds and sun-glinted river valleys surrounding us.
Hairo Garcia looking for migrating raptors.
Hairo Garcia looking for migrating raptors.

The view from Sauk Mountain.
The view from Sauk Mountain.

Staying warm on the summit.
Staying warm on the summit.

At the summit, Don shared some fascinating information about his research on mountain goats, while Orlando discussed ways students could continue their involvement by working for the Forest Service next summer as student-hires. Kevin Biggs led a wonderful sense of place guided imagery exercise, using the universal connection of water to remind us how special our place is here in the North Cascades.
Don Gay sharing Forest Service research on mountain goats.
Don Gay sharing Forest Service research on mountain goats.

North Cascades Wild is intended to be a gateway program, to turn students on to nature, stewardship and the incredible public lands that are in our backyards. Once we were safely back at the trailhead, we held a closing circle to share our parting thoughts. Several students described how they plan to join their high schools’ Outdoor Leadership or Earth Clubs or even a 30-day Student Conservation National Crew. When asked what students learned during North Cascades Wild, students described now understanding “the feeling that nature gives you”, “how people and nature are connected”, and knowing “what I am capable of and how strong I am.” Other students explained, “Now I know what it is like to be a steward, “I can make a difference,” “I’m going to think more about how my actions affect the world,” and “Washington is so beautiful; I’m lucky to live here!”
North Cascades Wild on the summit of Sauk Mountain.
North Cascades Wild on the summit of Sauk Mountain.

All in all it was a fantastic end to our North Cascades Wild season. A huge THANK YOU to all of our incredible partners, supporters and funders of the program. Now onward to planning our 2010 adventures!


  1. Kate Bedient

    Congrats, Amy and all involved on another successful season! Looks like it was a spectacular summer. I’ll never forget those days…

  2. Kevin Biggs

    I love NC Wilders and their goofy faces. Thanks to everyone that made my summer so great.

  3. Tracey Wong

    It’s so nice how we still get letters and e-mails from time to time regarding the North Cascades, so that I feel like I am never really detatched from the community and you guys. I still remember that the length of one pace of a Roman Soldier is 5.92 feet! It’s great to have crew leaders that know everything – even the tiniest/randomest facts!

  4. Regina (teacher ranger 2008)

    Hi Amy..me Regina. Working at my friend’s copy / graphics place. Sharing North Cascades stories with one of my coworkers. Looking for images and this came up!
    Survived another school year, Sergio graduated in top 30%.
    Take care..

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