A Fitting End to a Wild Season: North Cascades Wild 2009
Weâ€™ve just now wrapped up our final events of our North Cascades Wild 2009 season. And what a season itâ€™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!
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 yearâ€™s events, play North Cascades Wild Jeopardy and celebrate and be recognized for their achievements. You can view the slideshow here:
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.
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 â€œName three naturalistsâ€™ skills we practicedâ€ (pay attention, ask questions, and share your stories), â€œName three ways you can practice Leave No Traceâ€ (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 â€œWhat should you do if you see a bear in the woods?â€ (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.
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.
The thimbleberries weâ€™d enjoyed over the summer during our backpacks were now mostly dried up, and the crimson-leaved huckleberries lacing the trailâ€™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 weâ€™d marveled at on our hikes up Desolation were now brown, dried-up seed pods, the seeds already released to form next yearâ€™s flowers.
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.
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.
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 schoolsâ€™ 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 â€œthe feeling that nature gives youâ€, â€œhow people and nature are connectedâ€, and knowing â€œwhat I am capable of and how strong I am.â€ Other students explained, â€œNow I know what it is like to be a steward, â€œI can make a difference,â€ â€œIâ€™m going to think more about how my actions affect the world,â€ and â€œWashington is so beautiful; Iâ€™m lucky to live here!â€
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!