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.