The Ross Lake Rockers: A Youth Leadership Adventures field report

This trip report is from a Youth Leadership Adventures trip that took place July 5-13 on Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park. It is written by YLA intern Carlos Lemus.

“This trip showed me what it means to be a strong woman.”

These are the remarkable words of one participant of Youth Leadership Adventures Outdoor Leadership, an 8-day course aimed to foster environmental stewardship and leadership through experiences in nature.

At the beginning of the expedition students were taught how to pack for this 8 day trip.

“This backpack is bigger than me,” one individual expressed after packing her bag at the start of the trip. That, however, would not stop that student from carrying it up and down the steep hill that stood between our group and our canoes. We would navigate these canoes around the waters of Ross Lake for the next week.None of the participants in the group had ever been backpacking or paddling for eight days straight. So, no wonder, phrases like I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I give up were muttered at the start of the long paddle. Paddling was new to many members of the group, and paddling with a partner required not just skill but a lot of clear communication and teamwork as well. Despite the doubts early on, our group The Ross Lake Rockers had a very important motto: paddle through it, which everyone did. After many C, J and forward strokes, we arrived at our first camp, McMillan. The arrival to camp was well deserved, and participants were strong paddlers after that first day. Just a few days into the trip, smiles spread throughout the group as soon as we started on the water, even during difficult paddling times.Following that first paddle, the group passed by many busy days filled with activities, lessons and many, many riddles bonded everyone together and allowed each group member to find themselves in this new landscape. Working together through various challenges was a favorite of the group. For example, during one activity, everyone had to trust each other and themselves to walk over obstacles while they were blindfolded. One person in the front was not blindfolded and had the responsibility of looking out for obstacles, and passing tips and directions to the rest of the group. Self-confidence and community trust were established through this activity.Within camp, every group member chipped in to take care of all of the necessary camp jobs. Students learned how to cook on our camp stove, filter water, take notes in our science journal, and serve as Leader of the Day (LOD). Each task had its own learning experience, and all were important to the well-being of the group. Everyone was excited, although sometimes nervous too, to be LOD since it required taking responsibility of managing the groups timekeeping us on route, and leading morning and evening meeting.

One of the many highlights of all of the students was the stewardship project. The group contributed their time and energy to trail work. They dug trenches to help prevent water erosion and cleared high branches on trails to make the passage of stock and hikers. Through this project, the group supported Leave No Trace ethics to help make the least amount of human impact on public lands possible.

This stewardship project allowed everyone to become familiar with different tools including the pulaski, loppers, and shovel. With proper safety equipment and teamwork, clearing the trail was a big highlight to many.

After several days working and living together the groups cohesion was tremendously strong. Swimming — for the first time for some people — was powerful in allowing those students to get out of their comfort zone. Taking on new challenges and experiences was what made each moment spent together so much more valuable. These moments were crucial in allowing each individual to find what they really desire when they’re away from the comforts of home and technology, and to explore other spaces. In doing so, many students were engaged in learning about the climate and how to identify different trees.

Day 6 of the trip was Challenge Day. Our morning began at 6:00 AM. With strong winds heading North and our group headed South, we paddled against the wind for about 7 miles. However, the whitecapping water was not going to bring the Ross Lake Rockers enthusiasm down because, as we all agreed, we would paddle through it! We arrived at Big Beaver, our last camp, around 2:00 PM. Everyone was very proud of themselves and the overall group.

The next day was Visitor Day, a day in which students expressed how they had changed over the course of the trip and how would they apply the lessons that they had learned at home. Amusing highlights and touching memories were also shared with the visitors.

Some members expressed courage, despite previously being nervous during public speaking. Others expressed confidence, after seeing how much they were capable of. Some expressed happiness, even when away from their cell phones. Most of all, everyone was more than grateful to have been part of the program. Each presentation was heartwarming and a reflection of everyone’s amazing experience.

The last day began at 5 AM with a beautiful rendition of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song for one of the group members. The song was much needed to get everyone ready to paddle out to Ross Lake Trail Head. Many desired this moment, the moment of going home, at the beginning of the trip, but at this time, students felt like they were home here, living in the wilderness and discovering their inner selves. Paddling in the morning was surreal because of the crystal-clear water that surrounded everyone and the wildlife that was seen. Wildlife seen included a bald eagle and a young black bear at Cougar Island. The trip concluded with lots of positive thoughts and vibes, brought by each individual. Smiles from these pictures shows just a small amount of what everyone brought to the table.


  1. Jodi

    Wonderful trip recap, Carlos. Thanks so much for sharing the power of this program, including the determination it takes to work together to push past comfort zones and challenges.

  2. Sharon Babcock

    Cheering you on, youth leaders. Congratulations on what you did in the wilderness individually and as a group during this adventure—and what you might have learned from it. Is your next challenge how to apply it back home?

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