The Vespula Veterans arrived at Samish Woods Montessori with some mixed feelings about the gear they packed. The Mentors let the Explorers know a little secret, “No one is quite sure what to pack for spring weather in the North Cascades; a good practice is to pack for any type of weather.” Being Prepared for the journey is a skill that is up to the boys now. As we venture out ever further into the wilderness the boys are slowly starting to understand that they’re responsible for each other as a group and they need to take ownership in their preparation.
As Stubbs motored out Highway 542 the boys laughed and joked, excited to be in each other’s company. After an hour we turned off the Highway and onto Hannagen Pass Road. Winding down the gravel road we held our breath that it would be snow free until we reached Hannegan Trailhead, and with a little luck it was! Climbing out of Stubbs the group immediately gravitated towards a snow bank that covered half the parking lot. As Greg set down his pack a snowball whizzed over his head. Hearing the groups call the Mentors decided that is was best to just get the snowball fight out of the way.
After about ten minutes the Mentors called the group together and we gathered around a map of the area. Greg asked the group to find their exact location on the map. They did a pretty good job and with a little help were able to orient the map and get an idea of the terrain they were going to be heading into. Hannegan Pass is an area that is notorious for avalanches so it’s important that we have an idea of the landscape before heading out on the trail. This pre-trip planning at the wilderness trailhead junction will hopefully be the first of many for the Vespula Veterans. As Mentors we relish the opportunity to take these boys on extended backpacking trip.
Hiking down to Ruth Creek the Explorers marveled at the deep blues and greens of the freshly melted snow flowing over slabs of granite. The Mentors told the group to be careful, in the frontcountry falling into a creek does not have much consequence but in the backcountry it could mean life or death. Sitting on the river rocks the boys gazed up at Nooksack Ridge. What a dynamic area! The sun glistened off its snowfields as the runoff cascaded down the crumbling talus and scree fields. Remnants from large avalanches littered its lower flanks. At the ridges prominence stood Mt. Sefrit’s shrouded in cornices, crags and arêtes.
The Mentors explained that dynamic valleys like Ruth Creek demand our focus and awareness. Careful risk assessment and decisions-making skills are vital for safe exploration. Although the dangers are real we come to these places to gain inspiration and humility. We are reminded that we are not in control but merely subject to the landscape. The more interdependently we interact with the land the more we thrive.
Turing our focus East we signed into the Forest Service trail log and headed out. Hiking along the trail we passed through stands of ancient Hemlock, Fir, and Cedar. After about a quarter mile the group came upon some scat. Examining it the group concluded that it was Black Bear and relatively fresh. Greg, with some great tracking, found a bear trail running horizontal to ours and wondered if that’s where the bear was heading because we found no signs of tracks.
Continuing on we hiked alongside Ruth Creek for about a mile, admiring the abundant Trillium growing on the valley floor. We reached a large snowfield that covered the trail. Climbing up and across it the group looked at the carnage created by avalanches. Sub Alpine Fir and Alaskan Yellow Cedar debris littered the snow. It was an excellent opportunity for the boys to explore the inter-cambium layers of the ancient trees. They admired the crimson red color on the Cedars outer bark and its yellow heartwoods pungent smell of raw potatoes.
After some difficulty route finding on the other side of the field the group decided to turn upwards to explore the steep creek drainage on the valley walls below Granite Mountain. Kicking steps into the snow the boys climbed up until they reached a gully. Climbing alongside it the group caught the sweet smell of sage and marveled at the Wild Strawberries and vibrant Indian Paintbrush flowers. Resting at a knoll the group laid back and took in the view. This was a great opportunity for the group to take some self-care by glopping on sunscreen and dipping our bandanas in the cold gully water as we basked in the sun.
Looking at the clock it was time to start heading back, however this time we would not follow the trail. When we were ready the group navigated back by traversing the valley walls downwards towards the creek. As a team we bushwhacked through dense thickets of Sitka Alder and old growth log piles, eventually finding our way through large swaths of of ancient Hemlock rich with Oval Leaf Blueberries and Coyote scat.
Hiking back along the last leg of the trail the group was thankful for their experience and for the easy travel on the trail. Stopping before the trailhead the group held a closing meeting in the solitude of the wilderness. With only the sounds of wind and river the group gave thanks for the day. Giving gratitude for wilderness, companionship, fresh water, tenacious animals, mountains, and for adventure. The Mentors felt it an appropriate to share with the boys that just last weekend the Firestalker’s had graduated, making them the elders in the Explorers. This transition comes with a great deal of responsibility and opportunity. They now set the standards for the younger boys and will be stepping into Explorer Mentor Apprenticeships in the fall. They are not only responsible for the Mentoring of their peers but increasingly responsible for their own decisions. The wilderness mirrors the challenges that lie ahead. As the Vespula Veterans gain more independence they will not always have their parents and Mentors present to help them make decisions. In these times they will need to rely on their instincts, integrity, morals, critical thinking skills and peers to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of adolescence and their newly discovered cultural wilderness. As Mentors we hope to continue making deep connections with them and offer our guidance as they mature into caring and whole males in their communities. We are also thrilled to spend four days with the Vespula’s in the Chuckanuts this summer!
A big thanks goes out to all the parents of the Vespula Veterans. We could not do it without your trust and support! We are grateful to have you and your families as part of our community. Don’t forget we will have a summer solstice gathering at Hovander Park on June 14th. You can find more details at the bottom of the Vespula Veteran’s spring page.
For more photos from the outing please visit the Vespula Veteran’s photo gallery.