Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1
By Nika Meyers, Youth Leadership Adventures Field Instructor
Our journey into the wild started with an incredible boat ride on the Mule boat on Ross Lake to Little Beaver where the views of the North Cascades were in full force and the stories told by boat captains Gerry and Rob were in full supply. The dramatic vertical relief of the mountainsides shot up into the crisp air, Nohokomeen Glacier filled our rear view and the glassy surface of the lake rippled in our wake. We had 18 miles to go on boat and then a 4.6 mile hike into Perry Creek for the night.
At Little Beaver we filled up water, ate our lunch, did some stretches, adjusted our packs and reiterated the importance of dealing with a “hotspot” before it turns into a blister. We hoisted our heavy packs onto our backs and began the first hot climb up and away from Ross Lake. What an introduction to backpacking!
There was a mix of emotions during the first two hours: the beginning of pack rash, sweat dripping from many different body parts, beautiful views and getting to know and trust each other.
“I am not sure if this is what I was expecting,” said one student, just before another accidently kicked a squirrel that ran across the trail at the wrong time.
“Whoops” of joy were heard through the Western Hemlocks as the front of the group reached Perry Creek campsite. We finished off the day with a sponge bath in the stream, mac n’ cheese and peas in our tummies and a bear-hang dangling our 7 days of food from the sky.
To develop leadership skills, improve communication and learn many important hard skills, each student had the opportunity to serve in different job roles throughout the course. Each day we had two leaders of the day, two cooks, two cleaners, a camptender, a scientist, and a community journalist. By working together we were reminded about the importance of being open minded, to share skills and experiences with respect and curiosity, and the value of being a good leader and a good follower. We were challenged to be assertive, practice patience and share affirmative and constructive feedback to help us be a strong group.
Our leaders of the day woke us up to the sound of running water and wind in the trees as we were ready to go meet some of the National Park trail crew staff for a day of brushing along the trail. With weed whips (swizzle sticks), loppers and handsaws in hand we worked our way through 6 feet tall brush shoots revealing the tread way once again to the human eye. “Wow! There is a trail here! Who would have guessed?!” One student said. “Before I did this I always thought that trails were just always there right where you needed them. I never thought about the fact that someone actually does take care of them or they would disappear. I will never look at a trail again in the same way!”
Is there a trail here??
We found it!
Our trail work helped to contribute to more than 3,000 hours of hands-on stewardship work that YLA will contribute to public lands in the North Cascades ecosystem this summer. At our evening meeting, our journalist of the day shared, “Like the quote we shared today at lunch, ‘nature is not a place to visit, it is a home,’ as we are here we are making nature our beloved home. I hope the next five days are filled with joy, challenges and more great moments.”
And there were so many amazing moments…
Massage train on the dock
We named ourselves the Backpacking Beavers in honor of our location and our method of travel. On the 4th of July, we journeyed 7 miles to Stillwell camp learning about ecology, field science and the flora and fauna surrounding us. We celebrated our national holiday with un-roasted s’mores and waving glow sticks in the air.
The next day we woke up around 5 am — just as the light of day was bright enough to stir a few birds — to begin our 11.6 mile challenge day hike! We began the day with hurting shoulders, several feet covered in blisters and anxiety of what it might feel like to let a group down if we couldn’t make it. We reminded ourselves that when a goal such as a long hike seems overwhelming and at the time seemingly impossible, we should approach it step by step and work towards closer goals such as the top of the next hill or our next snack break to make it seem doable.
We made it Big Beaver Pass!
Even after 12 hours with heavy packs on we were still singing and laughing along the trail. The incredible sense of joy we felt when we saw the sign for 39-Mile Camp was expressed with yelps of delight and explosions of sweaty hugs. We were so proud of our accomplishments and blown away by what our bodies could do. It taught us how to support each other as a group and how to have the courage to speak up and be honest with our bodies. Never underestimate the endless determination of the Backpacking Beavers! We splashed in the stream and had a late dinner of burritos under a starry sky while sharing stories and singing songs into the night.
“You and I”
everyone learns to walk
those first steps are first of thousands
but not everyone takes it to the next level
Backpacking is the next level
Camp food – bug nets – and new friends
Late nights and early mornings
Force feeding and Western hemlocks
Not everyone takes it to the next level
You and I know that they should
Hiking the 5.5 miles the next day to Big Beaver was a beautiful walk past huge Western Red Cedar trees and countless Western Hemlock nurse logs. We talked about forest succession and briefly touched on fire ecology as a smoky haze hung in the sky. We had conversations of climate change and what this place might be like if we continue to have low snow years and disappearing glaciers. We shared concepts of sustainability and ideas for changing behaviors.
The openness of the lake was a beautiful transition from being deep in the forested landscape of the valley, and jumping into the clear cold water felt like heaven to our dusty and sweaty bodies.
We caught fish in our hands and let the red-sided shiners nibble away our skin. After we satisfied our grumbling hiker hunger with huge portions of Pad Thai, our evening meeting was spent on the dock under soaring bald eagles and feeding bats.
The next day was the only day we didn’t hike! Instead we were joined by other inspiring leaders for a Visitor day on the Mule boat. During the day the Backpacking Beavers gave incredible presentations where they shared their stories of home, who they are and how their journeys will influence their futures. It was awesome to hear Olivia share that she now wants to be an environmental lawyer, that Kang wants to open the first National Park in his home country of Burma and, by combining a love for video games and the environment, David dreams of creating a game based on the interconnectedness of species.
Olivia sharing her story
“I never thought I would feel like this but I just want to get down and hug the earth! The North Cascades are my new second home.” -Olivia
Our last night was spent on the dock at Green Point, writing appreciations about each other, sharing favorite moments of the trip and getting excited for frontcountry food and seeing familiar faces of family and friends. We lay down looking up at the sky, seeing shooting stars and watching satellites moving through space. We giggled, cried, and whispered congratulations as each participant was given a bracelet to remind them of our time together.
The next day was a blur of excitement and bittersweet emotions as we hiked our last and fastest mile the whole trip back up to Highway 20 — 25 minutes of uphill!
“My favorite part of the trip was the people, their different qualities and stories and when they come together magic happens! “
We were the very first Youth Leadership Adventures backpacking-only trip and the itinerary was an incredible challenge. Our group demonstrated tremendous leadership, effective communication and outstanding public speaking skills. While reflecting on our experience each of us felt empowered to make a difference in our home communities and in the world by taking direct action towards things we are passionate about. We also loved the sense of being present and fully living in the moment.
Through stewardship, sustainable behaviors and future career goals, the Backpacking Beavers will help shape a beautiful future that we all will be a part of!
Celebrating our journey back at the trailhead!
“It exceeded my expectations. The leaders are some of the best people I’ve met and Ross Lake has changed my life.”
Learn more about Youth Leadership Adventures, the Youth Leadership Conference at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and more at www.ncascades.org/youth. Stay connected to youth leadership opportunities in the North Cascades on Facebook!