Wild Whatcom Blog


BEC: Alevin Explorers Hike Blanchard Mountain to Lizard Lake

The Alevin arrived at the Upper Lily and Lizard Lakes Trailhead followed by a cloud of dust from the dry, bumpy logging road. Once the boys were grouped up and the dust had settled they handed out jobs and gathered round to look at the Chuckanut Recreation Topo map. Orienting the map to the cardinal directions the group determined that we had a 2.5-mile hike with roughly a 1000 feet of elevation gain.

Shouldering our packs we headed up the logging road toward the Alternate Incline connector. After a half mile the group stopped to take a quick break at a clear cut which over looked Alger Alp and Mt. Baker, what a view! A few of the boys commented that they had never see Mt. Baker from this side and had no idea how much lowland wilderness there was before it. Hiking on the boys feasted on the dense Salmonberry thicket that grew along the sides of the road. It’s wonderful to see these boys really know the land; their ability to identify edible plants and track their seasonality does so much more for these boys than just providing them with a delicious trail snack.

Veering off the logging road we began our ascent up Alternate Incline Trail.  The trail is not only beautiful and well engineered, but a wonderful piece of natural history. Tracking the land the Explorers found rusted logging ties, pieces of train tracks, pots and pans; all evidence of the Blanchard Mountains long history of logging and mining. The boys also tracked that every old growth stump in the forest seemed to have burn marks. In 1925 what was left of the old growth on Blanchard Mountain caught fire in a major burn. What an amazing restoration and growth this track of land has had.

After a long climb we reached the junction to Lizard Lake and the boys were thankful to give their legs a rest and eat some cupcakes baked by Terri Van der Vlugt for her son Rhys’s birthday. Thanks Terri! Sitting at the Lizard Lake campsites we made a plan for how we would best use the rest of our outing. The group decided that they’d explore around the lake for an hour and then head to the caves underneath Blanchard Mountain’s North Butte. Mentors told the boys that as long as they stayed near the shore of the lake they would be able to hear the crow call and were free to wander. The lake was a wonderful container for the boys to spend time wandering.

The group dispersed and investigated the mysteries of Lizard Lake: Pacific and Spotted Salamander egg clutches, deer bones, Bog Cranberry, and a fully functioning beaver lodge. Click here to read more about the symbiotic relationship between Spotted Salamanders and green algae. The boys found the beavers of Lizard Lake to be quite active, creating a jungle-gym like maze of fallen logs at the east end of the lake. The boys practiced their balancing techniques as they navigated around patches of Devil’s Club while trying not to fall into the lake. They also spent some time tracking which trees the beavers preferred felling, coming to the conclusion that they would really liked Alder, but would take about anything.

After the group had decompressed we climbed the steep drainage out of the lake basin and over a ridge into field filled with large boulder and caves. Naturally the group scattered like Mountains Goats, bounding and scampering from boulder to boulder. Looking up, Blanchard’s North Butte towered above, beckoning us to climb higher. It was at this time the mentors called the Explorers together to have a conversation about awareness. With some of the boulders as tall as 30 feet the boys needed to show more self-directed risk assessment and attentiveness towards the inherent safety risks of this location. For the Alevin, finding the balance between following their excitement and energy for what is happening in the moment and being able to think preventatively towards their own safety is an edge. As mentors we aim to cultivate this outdoor leadership tool in each one of the Alevin so that we can offer them more freedom and autonomy as we venture further into the wilderness.

Breaking our circle the boys climbed back up the boulder pile and stumbled across a large female porcupine. The porcupine immediately ran under a rock overhang. As the boys crowed around the mentors told them to only approach from one side. When animals feel cornered they will either attack or defend, neither of which is pleasant from a porcupine. Once the boys found a safe distance we sat and observed it. It was truly a magical moment as the boys marveled at such a large and mysterious creature.

Giving the Porcupine some space we put on our headlamps and crawled down into a cave. As we descended in the rocks and air got damp and cold. Finding some light shining through on the other side we emerged a good distance from where we started.  A few of the Explorers claimed to have seen a creature swimming in one of the cave pools. From their description the creature had a beaver like body and tail with porcupine legs and arms and head shaped like a Salamander. Some skeptics in the group thought it to be just a log, but never the less the story of the “Lizard Lake Legend” will live on each time the Boys EC visits Blanchard Mountain’s North Butte.

Packing up we headed back to the Lizard Lake Campsite for a closing meeting. Gathering creek water in a pot and a few armfuls of Western Hemlock twigs we made a fire in one of the designated pits and boiled some water for tea. Going around our circle the boys recounted their adventures of this season and shared apples and thanks. What a powerful closing outing for our spring season.

Neither the Alevin’s energy level throughout the outing nor their enthusiasm to explore over the next ridge waivered throughout the outing. These boys are hungry for adventure and ready for the challenges that Big Wilderness experiences demands. For the boys the rewards of these experiences will be a newfound sense of identity and self, both inner and outer fortitude, autonomy, self-affirmation, maturity, leadership, wisdom, decrement, and responsibility. Brian and I are excited to continue this journey with the Alevin in our summer WE: Wilderness Experiences and in fall with an extend exploration in the Mt. Baker alpine.

Parents, thank you for your continued support and care for the boys and the program, it is a pleasure the mentor your sons. For more pictures from the outing please visit the Alevin’s Explorers photo gallery.


Parties with a Purpose - Boat Cruise to Vendovi Island

Join us Friday, July 10 for a boat cruise to Vendovi Island and nature hike. Reserve your spot today! For questions, email: info@wildwhatcom.org. Special thanks to boat owners Steve & Kerry Gersey.


The Barred Owlets traverse Padden Creek to Connelly Creek

As the old saying goes: The best laid plans.....

Our intention for our first traverse as a group was to follow the lifecycle of the salmon by hiking from Marine Park to the Connelly Creek service site on the trail that follows the creek through Fairhaven Park. You may remember we began the spring season by talking about the water in our bodies. Of course, mother nature complemented our conversation by providing all sorts of water in the form of a steady downpour! On the next outing, we talked about estuaries when we visited Clayton Beach. Then, we worked hard to restore the Connelly Creek service site to foster the salmon traverse. So, it made sense to tie it all together with this nicely organized hike.

But, like I said, the best laid plans....

We took off from Marine Park and headed to the estuary where Padden Creek empties into the bay. We talked about the near shore habitat as we observed the low tide, then crossed over to the south to follow Padden Creek. So far, so good.

We hadn’t gone 50 yards, though, when the draw of the creek proved too powerful for the explorers. Several boys dropped down from the trail to the creek and splashed in. Can you feel the nice, neat plan falling by the wayside? A few more boys in the creek and we faced a decision as a group...should we abandon the trail and hike the creek bed? Thanks to our dry spring, the water level is low, which tempted even those without water ready footwear to try rock-stepping, rock-hopping, trail-side wandering and otherwise following the water without getting too wet. Or so we thought...

The explorers were excited to venture off the beaten path. A few saw a trout, all figured out how to vault over the log lying across the creek and several tested the echo-level in one of the tunnels. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we got to a spot that was a bit deeper - a bigger challenge for the boys trying to stay dry, more excitement for those who were OK with getting wet.

Of course, we don’t shrink from a reasonable challenge at Explorers Club (check out our Stretch Your Edge and Challenge by Choice mottos here). And that’s a key takeaway from this outing. We challenged the boys to accomplish their first traverse and then raised the stakes by dropping into the creek for much of the hike, and they responded. It’s nice to see their connection with the land deepen with each outing. And just as nice to see them stretch their edges to accept the challenges that come with spending time in the outdoors. They’re doing great! So, all’s good, right? Well......

Back to our intrepid explorers in that higher level water. A few were doing their best to keep their boots and socks dry by edging along on what turned out to be wet clay, not the Chuckanut sandstone they thought (hoped?) it was. Quicker than you can say, “It’s raining, it’s pouring; let’s go exploring!” they were in the creek up to their navels!

By now, everyone was wet to varying degrees. Fortunately, the boys were ready to deal with the consequences of our adventurous nature, the weather cooperated (I wouldn’t wanted to have this happen on that first outing!), and we still had enough time hiking to dry most of the pants, socks, and boots.

When the creek and Interurban Trail parted ways, we climbed back up to the trail and headed east toward the Connelly Creek service site. Hiking the trail was a nice break that lasted until we crossed Old Fairhaven Parkway. Connelly Creek is in the tall grasses, but access is limited at this point. So, back off trail. This time, we bushwhacked our way to Connelly Creek and back into the water!

Amazingly, we arrived at the service site right on time to make some tea and enjoy the cookies Steve made to atone for forgetting the apples at Clayton Beach. A sit spot to reflect on nature’s wonders and a round of thanks in our closing meeting, and the Barred Owlets’ spring 2015 season passed quietly into posterity.

Sincere thanks to you for entrusting your boys to our care during the spring. Try as we might, we couldn’t keep them dry (even when the sun was shining) but we believe their time in the outdoors is therapeutic. We look forward to spending more time with them at camps over the summer and back to Explorers Club in the fall. Check here for photos from our traverse.


Parties with a Purpose - Yoga and Lunch in the Garden

Join us Saturday, June 13 for Yoga and Lunch in the Garden. Reserve your spot today! For questions, email: info@wildwhatcom.org. Special thanks to ACME Farms + Kitchen and Ciao Thyme for their donations.


Daredevils Club Natural Exoplore Natural History at Whatcom Falls

On a stunningly beautiful May day, the Daredevils Club reunited one last time to conclude the Spring 2015 season. As the first few boys showed up, they were immediately drawn to a large bramble of Salmon Berry whose berries must have heard the Swainson’s Thrush and realized it was time to ripen up! Munching on berries, the boys nonchalantly acknowledged the mentors, set down there packs, and went back for more. Some of the parents even got in on the fun and indulged on a few berries here or there.

With the rest of the Explorers present, the mentors thought it might be worth revisiting the Salmon Berry since the boys clearly felt confident in their abilities to identify and proceed to consume its berries. But once the Explorers were asked to draw a picture of the Salmon Berries leaves from memory, there was a pause and immediate realization that they couldn’t quite recall its three leaflets, toothed edges, and resemblance of a butterfly if the top leaflet is folded back. The mentors reminded the boys of the utmost necessity of making a confident identification before consuming any wild edible even if you think you know what the plant is. It is always worth it to take your time when your life is on the line. We also took some time to try journaling one of our most common feathered friends, the American Robin. Just like the Salmon Berry, most of the boys were stumped when it came to recalling any of the identifying characteristics beyond the red breast and dark brown/black back. Taking full advantage of our field guides, the boys rediscovered the robins yellow beak and white ring around its eye.

Enough of the natural history, and on to the rest of the outing. It was time to get moving, so we headed to the north east of the drop off location, admiring the beautiful trout in the hatchery along the way and finally stopping to rest beside Derby Pond. Here the mentors posed some questions about what the DDC want to do for their upcoming Fall Season. Answers varied from exploring the expansive mud flats, to traversing greater distances in the mountains, and perhaps even the opportunity to put their shelter building skills to the test on a primitive overnight. But the boys quickly lost interest in this subject and wanted to go play in the woods! Who could blame them on such a gorgeous day, in such a gorgeous location?

Before we could get exploring and playing, the mentors reminded the boys of the importance of group collaboration and decision making when it comes to planning an outing. Given the age of this group, the mentors thought it was time to take the training wheels off and let them decide what to do on their own. Stepping aside from the circle the mentors relaxed beside the creek observing the bobbing motions of an American Dipper as it foraged beside a small waterfall. Surprisingly quickly the boys made a plan and were eager to hit the trail in search of a location to play a game of Spider’s Web. But in only a matter of minutes half the group was scampering across rocks in the middle of the creek while the other half was anxious to head down the trail. It became apparent that the Explorers had not come to a true consensus, and when asked how they decided what to do, they admitted to merely taking a vote and going with the majority. This, as all Explorers know (or should know) is not how to properly collaborate and compromise to generate a group consensus. After getting side tracked by some un-Explorer like behavior in regards to a glass bottle that was discovered in the stream, and a stern talking to by the mentors. The boys were tasked with trying again to come up with a consensus for what to do with our outing.

Alas, the boys managed to collaborate and compromise, and we were off again. Crossing the large stone bridge and skirting a side trail on our way to a Spider’s Web spot, we stopped only for a few games of Hide and to watch the teenagers at the falls exhibit incredibly poor risk management in an attempt to impress members of the opposite gender. Getting off the beaten path, we found ourselves primed for some more natural history before getting to our games. Noticing a clear divide in the group in terms of which boys were hanging out with whom, the mentors paired up Explorers in order to break down this divide and allow for greater interaction with group members that the Explorers may not know as well as some of the others. With some obvious apprehension at first, the boys settled in to a fantastic session of natural history journaling utilizing a plethora of field guides, journaling templates, and colored pencils. Be it a Gray Wolf or a Mountain Bluebird, each Explorer illustrated the species, identified its name, Latin name, range, and any other pertinent or interesting information. It was great to see the majority of the boys express a deep focus and impressive drawing ability to produce a quality journal entry on their species.

Finally it was time for Spider’s Web! Getting ready to get lost in play, we discovered that half of the group did not want to stick with their original agreement and instead go play in the stream. With time running out on our last outing of the season, the mentors discussed the importance of integrity and sticking to an agreement that was made. However, it was also pointed out that it is important to take into account the ever evolving contexts of one’s environment, social dynamics, and a myriad of other factors that could lead one to amend a previous agreement. It was a powerful discussion and the mentors even did a bit of role playing to exemplify how to revisit a previous agreement and once again collaborate and compromise. With some help from the mentors the boys efficiently came to a group consensus. This was a powerful topic that we will most definitely revisit in the Fall, but just as the length of this blog is calling for a conclusion, the time of the outing was calling for a game of Spider’s Web.

We hustled up to a tried and true location that has seen many a game of Spider’s Web. The boys quickly set up the game, and were sneaking through the sword ferns and getting lost in the present; such are the powers of play. Wrapping up our game we trekked to the rocks just above the stone bridge and waterfall to have a quick session of splashing in the creek and conclude our outings as we always do with a closing circle. After sharing our gratitude for Whatcom Falls, the birds, the water, the sunshine, the apples we were munching on, and much more, we got our packs and hurried to the parking lot just in time for pick up. It was an outing of growth for these boys. Although taking their group decision making training wheels off led to a bit of a bumpy outing, it is through such trials that these boys will develop the social skills, confidence, independence and responsibility they will need as they embark on the adventures of adolescence.

Check out the rest of the photos from our outing at the Daredevils Club Photo Gallery!