Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Cave Dwellers old growth immersion 5/20/18

We never did see the top of the Douglas Fir…or of several other old growth trees. It’s not that they’re so tall the tops aren’t visible; rather, the canopy blocks your view of the treetops, and of the sky, for that matter, to a large extent. 
We were able to take some measurements that will give you a sense of the size of that particular tree, though. We had a 25’ tape measure which made it MOST of the way around the fir’s base. So we added an Explorer’s 5+ foot wingspan and were able to touch. We estimated the tree’s girth at 29.5’! For you football fans, that’s 6” short of a first down! Know someone who’s 6’ tall? Lay 5 of that person end to end and you can wrap her/him/them around the tree (please don’t try this at home…).
Circumference - 29.5', divided by 3.14 (pi) = 9.4' diameter

I tried to engage the math fans in the group to estimate the tree’s height but I was competing against something more elemental, something visceral. They mostly wanted to climb onto fallen logs (some of which were much taller, on their sides, than the tallest among us, 6’ tall mentor Adam). A few of these Explorers have been known to modify popular children’s songs with math-related lyrics, their interest is so strong, but the one Explorer I could entice to measure the tree was clearly drawn to his peer’s log climbing while stretched around the fir.
We didn't measure the diameter on this behemoth, but....
The preferred route...to wherever

Ain't that great! Upon "de-bussing", he, and they, were immediately “beamed” to that place where nature connection is unavoidable. The mentors had planned a few structured activities, such as the tree measurement, but we quickly realized the action was waiting for us in this precious, preserved old-growth place. So we encouraged the climbing, log walking, and general unstructured immersion. 

That's the kind of attention for which we're striving!

Adam and I observed an interesting phenomenon related to two structured activities we offered the Explorers: an ecology quiz and an ecological scavenger hunt. The boys did well on the quiz, which required recall of science material from school. They were somewhat less authentic in their approach to the scavenger hunt, however. We asked them to search, in pairs, for examples of a single organism, a photosynthetic autotroph, evidence of plant disease or insect damage, and more (5 items from a list of about 25). They mostly were stationary and again used recall rather than walking around to observe. My challenge with subsequent groups at this unique place is to better bridge the intellectual and experiential!
Well, that outing marks the end of the Cave Dwellers’ 2017-18 year. The boys have coalesced into a high-functioning cohort as we hope all groups will. Next year, we stretch their edges further with higher level skills and more physically demanding outings. Have a great summer…see you in the fall.
Photo gallery.

Friday, March 23, 2018

CD dig it at Mount Baker 3/18/18

After multiple Explorers Club Mt. Baker outings had to be cancelled due to crazy mountain weather this winter, including our originally scheduled visit, we found the right day on Sunday. It was cloudy and in the 30s with little wind as we unloaded from the bus and geared up for a day on the snow.

Speaking of the snow, it was nice and stable where we planned to dig, thanks to calm, somewhat dry weather the few days preceding our outing. This is a key element to which we pay attention when planning to venture into the back country where avalanches are a prime concern. So, our opening circle focused on avalanches — what they are, how they’re triggered, what to watch for. Our location for the day was not on an avalanche-prone slope; ask your Explorer what slope range is of concern for slides.

Off to learn about snow caves by attempting to dig one! The initial excitement and energy — it’s fun to dig in the snow — faded just a bit as the realization set in that it’s a lot of work when done properly. Fortunately, we had plenty of tools (thanks for providing so many shovels). In fact, before long, 4 caves were in various stages of development. Feel free to ask your boy about design elements of an effective snow cave — here’s a cheat sheet for you. 

Eventually, two of the caves morphed into a tunnel, so at the end of the project, we had two caves and a tunnel, evidence of all the work and focus the Cave Dwellers brought to their project. Oh, and Cave Dwellers taking a break from digging could be seen configuring a sledding hill nearby. 

Which is where we turned our attention as we got into the afternoon. Impromptu “Olympic” style events, with shovels and a sit pad (or nothing at all) as sleds, were quickly organized and executed. This sort of free, unstructured play, with rules and competitors put together on the fly, is very beneficial and occurs often and easily in natural settings. I’m reminded of the Explorers Club motto - Lose your mind and come to your senses.

Throughout, the Cave Dwellers were focused, diligent and considerate or their peers and mentors. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating; this group has coalesced over the past 12-18 months into the type of cohort we strive for in Explorers Club. I look forward to their camaraderie and engagement at each outing.

We have more photos for you. After outings on back to back weekends, and snow work/play at two of the last three, we need to wait for our final outing of the year. On Sunday, May 20, we’ll marvel at the old growth forest near mile marker 44 on the Mount Baker Highway. See you then.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

CD snow fun day! 2/24/18; Deming Eagle Park

The big trees, heavy with wet snow, waited patiently for our curious minds. When you’ve been standing there 500 years, give or take, what’s another hour? Notes a fact sheet from the Pacific Northwest Research Station, “No other forest has an entire group of tree species that equals the Pacific Northwest forest for their size and long lives.”

So much to look forward to as we motored along 542 in Merkel, one of Wild Whatcom’s trusty buses. We planned to try three ways to estimate the height of a tree; to study decomposition (see The Unseen World of the Fallen Tree, enclosed with Outing Report email); to examine the interrelationships among plants, mammals, birds, fungi, and more in the old growth ecosystem. Our day was to strike at the heart of Wild Whatcom’s purpose, “Connect and protect”.

“The best laid plans of mice and men…” 

As the sound of snow splashing up against Merkel’s underside grew more frequent, mentors Tim and Brian pulled the bus into a gas station to assess the risk of continuing east and decided, taking our cue from a few Boys Explorers Club mottos: “Safety first” and “Turn problems into possibilities” to double back to the Deming Homestead Eagle Preserve along the Nooksack for an impromptu day of snow play!

Among nature’s charms are its transformative simplicity and elegance. A few inches of fresh snow saw a cohort of Cave Dwellers and a few mentors morph into a scrum of snow fort-building, snowball-launching wild things. Strategies were devised and quickly abandoned; rules agreed and soon ignored; truces negotiated and reinterpreted. 

A break for lunch and then a game of Snootball (Snow-football), a testament to human ingenuity and childhood exuberance. Finally, hot chocolate and mini-marshmallows. 

We didn’t get to explore that special place but we were flexible and the boys enjoyed a dose of nature deficit disorder medicine — free time in the snow along our beloved Nooksack River.

Schedule notes:
  • We have a lot going on in March. We return to Connelly Creek for service on Sunday, the 11th. 
  • The following Sunday, March 18, will see us back on the bus to head up to Mt. Baker for our rescheduled snow cave outing.
  • For our last outing of the year, on Sunday, May 20, I’ve replaced our planned N. Galbraith Mountain outing with a second attempt to get out to the Old Growth patch along 542. I’m confident the trees will wait. It should be spectacular in May!

Photo gallery here. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The 3 match challenge: The Cave Dwellers learn about fire at N. Lake Samish 1/6/18

Change…or, more accurately, changes. This post is about changes. 

I don’t need to tell you that your Explorers are on the cusp of significant personal changes as they enter adolescence. My personal experience guiding 3 daughters through adolescence has taught me that, despite having read many articles and a book or two, when she or he acts like the kid in the Zits comic, it’s difficult to see past your child’s immediate behavior to the underlying changes he is navigating. So, I hope you’ll pardon my presumption as I offer another quick review of adolescence in this article. 

When Tim and I plan Cave Dweller outings, we try to remain aware of the possibilities this age offers and stretch their edge (motto) in ways both fun and in their learning zone. This year, that has meant getting away from the comfy confines of close-in parks to learn and practice wilderness travel skills. To that end, we’ve used topographical maps and a compass to find our way in the north Chuckanuts; we’ve used backcountry stoves to make tea and hot chocolate; we’ve harvested water and discussed how to purify it for safe consumption.

And last Saturday, with a capable assist from our Explorers Mentor's Apprentice (EMA) Lucas,

the Cave Dwellers started to learn about building and managing fires safely. 

After a heart-pumping ascent from the N. Lake Samish trailhead, we settled in among second-growth forest to learn about fires, play some games, and share hot chocolate. Mentor Tim rocked it with a thoughtful explanation of fire-starting tools (matches, flint-and-steel, Ferrocerium rod, lighter and more), gathering fuel to burn and cautions about safety. He then split the group into teams and challenged them to collect fuel for the “3-match challenge”.

After searching for dry kindling for 15 minutes, each group attempted, with 3 matches, to start a small fire. Given the very damp conditions, no one was surprised that a burning match was the biggest flame for each group. Then Tim set his kindling bundle, which he had carefully dried inside his coat since harvesting it on the hike up the hill, aflame. Lesson learned - in the wilderness, careful forethought can be the difference between a warm fire and a cold damp experience!

We’ll incorporate these skills into future Cave Dweller outings as a way to help your Explorers internalize learnings such as this one for their own hiking/camping/backpacking adventures.

We next head up to Mt. Baker to build snow caves (Sunday, Jan. 29). Look for the usual reminder in the preceding week. In the meantime, check out the rest of the photos from Saturday’s outing.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Cave Dweller do some real wilderness travel along Smith Creek

Expect the unexpected! directs one of our Explorers Club mottos. The Cave Dwellers are certainly living that axiom recently. You might remember that our early November Chuckanut Ridge traverse was relocated to N. Chuckanut due to snow. Our day’s plan was then derailed by the Chuckanut Trail Marathon! Well, a week ago Sunday the Cave Dwellers had a smaller than expected turnout, encountered the Short Tailed Weasels (a slightly younger EC group) and learned last minute of an exciting new exploration easily accessed from the trailhead. 

We’re working this fall on wilderness travel with a focus on locating and purifying water, building tarp shelters, using backcountry stoves and the like. As it happens, one of the important learnings is the resourcefulness needed when things sometimes go sideways. We didn’t erect the tarp shelter at Stewart Mountain as planned, but we did once again practice adapting to the situation while staying safe and capitalizing of the wondrous possibilities nature has to offer.

The combined group first worked hard at the 4 C’s of group decision making - Circle/Collaborate/Compromise/Consensus (motto - collaborate and compromise). In this case, they chose to combine groups for an epic game of Spider’s Web, then part ways to pursue our respective plans for the day. For the Cave Dwellers, this meant exploring Smith Creek (runs under the bridge you cross just before you reach the N. Lake Whatcom trailhead) in search of, what else, a cool cave. One of the Short-Tailed Weasels’ mentors had taken a group up along the creek and discovered just such a site. Given the Cave Dwellers’ name and shared cave exploration experience, we couldn’t resist! This option also presented unknown and unplanned wilderness exploration potential (motto - stretch your edge). 

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch if there was a well-traveled trail to follow. Not to worry - much of what turned out to be a real short hike involved hopping from rock to rock amid white water. There was also some bushwhacking creekside. After a bit, we found a nice shelf about six feet above the creek for our base camp with a tantalizing view across the creek of what we suspect was our objective. Too much water, though. Exploration of that cave will have to await a future outing.

While several of us rested, Mentor Tim and a few Explorers searched for a return route that didn’t involve the real chance of falling into a cold, rushing creek. But no such luck. We’d need to return the way we came. So, we set up a few backcountry stoves and prepared hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows. This simple snack substituted for apples as our shared “meal” over which we gave thanks, as is our practice. 

As I imagine your realize, consistent groups and mentors is a constant goal of our program. We try to create the environment for groups to grow into a cohort of friends with a shared ethic of connection to nature. The Cave Dwellers seem to be well on their way to this sacred place. Tim and I are excited about the comradeship and maturity we see in this group. Great things are in the offing!

Next up: Saturday, January 6, 10:00AM-3:00PM EXPLORATION: North Lake Samish. Check out the rest of the photos from Sunday’s outing here.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Cave Dwellers navigate N. Chuckanut

We have several wonderful navigation tools at our disposal these days. Compasses, topographical maps and global positioning (GPS) technology have saved many lives over the past few decades. And we need to be conversant in their use as we venture into the backcountry.

However (‘fess up, you knew there was going to be a “but”), any tool is only as good as the awareness, the attention, the focus we bring to its use. We learned that early in our relocated, snow-enhanced, navigation-focused Cave Dweller outing on November 4. After an impromptu snowball fight in the parking lot...

A forest of white...spectacular!

we checked the trail map and decided to navigate (our skills emphasis for this outing) to EMS Checkpoint A, then B, then C and back to A. With this ambitious plan in place, we started up the trail and quickly got “lost”. Admittedly, the mentors hadn’t yet provided the map and compass we had in our packs, but a closer study of the trailhead map would certainly have helped us decide which way to go at that trail intersection. Mentors Tim and Brian couldn’t resist mentioning that, when trying to find your way in the backcountry (as in many situations in life), fast is slow and slow is fast (motto).

With that point made, we checked the topographical map and set a course toward checkpoint A. Our improved focus helped us decide our direction at the next junction, but didn’t help a whit when we soon encountered runners participating in the Bellingham Trail Marathon/Half Marathon. Note that the best GPS wouldn’t have helped either. While this was a risk free dilemma, it did provide a challenge similar to a washed out bridge or other unpleasant surprise that is all too possible when hiking in the backcountry. As we would do in the face of an actual backcountry surprise, we circled up and decided to abandon our checkpoint goals and head to a site away the marathon route to regroup and have lunch.

Weather reporters would have you believe that it wasn’t snowing for our first several hours in the Chuckanuts, but we were consistently experiencing falling snow. Be it a scampering squirrel or the slightest breeze, the snow layered on almost every branch was liberated little by little to simulate the real thing. We ate lunch in this most beautiful of winter scenes, then teamed up with another Explorers Club group, the Sculpins, for an epic snowball fight.

While that was going on, a few Explorers made tea for the cold and wet combatants in a preview of another of the wilderness travel skills we’ll take on this year — the backcountry kitchen. Hot tea warming our bodies and souls, Mentor Tim taught the Cave Dwellers how to find a bearing using a compass. 

We’re a lot about skills this year. We took a pass at purifying water in September. Navigating was our focus on Saturday. Next will be shelter, then fire and finally cooking. We’ll layer the skills as we go along so that the Cave Dwellers will be better prepared for hiking/camping/backpacking come June. Along with these skills, we’re challenging them to lead their peers in building their self-reliance. A tall order, no doubt, but the Cave Dwellers are embracing these challenges with their usual humor.

Next outing: Sunday, December 3, 10:00AM-3:00PM; Stewart Mountain. Have a look at the rest of the photos from Saturday’s outing. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Cave Dwellers Traverse Up Whatcom Creek

The Cave Dwellers kicked off their 2017/18 year of Explorers Club with a traverse from Civic Field to Bloedel Donovan. Utilizing the tremendous Interurban Trail system we cruised along beside Whatcom Creek, following it upstream to Whatcom Falls Park. During the first part of our outing we paused at a bridge over the creek to discuss which creek we were following, where the headwaters were and where it ends, and what the significance of this creek was to the residents of Bellingham. We found a good location under a stand of spruce trees to hold opening circle and play a few games of HIDE. Another interesting thing we discovered in the early portion of our outing was at least four separate rodents that had presumably been run over by bikes. This seemed like a strange thing and was a good murder mystery for us to ponder while we walked along the trail (be warned the Cave Dwellers requested photographic evidence of the crime scenes so be prepared when you look at the photo album!).

Looking downstream above Whatcom Creek

Gathering for opening circle
Following Whatcom Creek we soon arrived in the ever magnificent Whatcom Falls Park. It is always astounding how such a beautiful expanse of forest is able to remain in the middle of a bustling city, but we are forever grateful for those who had the foresight to save this gem of nature for future generations. However, due to the proximity to urbanization, we continuously found ourselves stopping to take care of our jobs as Earth Keepers by picking up litter as we found it. Although we are careful to avoid any hazardous trash like broken glass, dog poop bags, etc. we still managed to fill two grocery bags full of trash and even then had to stop picking up garbage as we no longer had a way to carry it out. We did however figure out that the further we got away from roads, trails, and the perimeter of the park, we found substantially less trash. This was good news for us as it was time to play Spider’s Web!

A lone fly stuck on the web waiting to get waved off
Finding a nice valley full of Sword Ferns, Vine Maple, Red Huckleberry, and even a stand of Devil’s Club, we had the perfect arena for our game. Despite a strong effort from a predatory spider that cruised around the playing field relentlessly, the flies made a strong push to get the food source. As the game drew to an end, the flies got the food source back to within 50 yards of the web before the game clock ran out. This was an impressive feet for the flies, and a strong showing from the spider who tried to win instead of settle for a stalemate.

Taking a dip in the creek before heading to Bloedel for pick up
With our game out of the way we pushed along the trail to find a place to go for a swim. Despite the fall weather, this group was set on getting in the water. Luckily the sun came out and offered some warmer weather as we splashed around in the creek. Some of the group who decided not to go swimming took on the mission of catching a crayfish. After being unsure how to accomplish this, ingenuity and creativity prevailed as a spindly Snowberry branch with a bit of pepperoni stick tied on the end proved to be an effective crayfish catcher.

Gathering around to try and catch the crayfish


Time for a close up before letting the crayfish go back into the creek
Finally, with our time running short, we gathered for closing circle sharing thanks and apples. We had to hoof it back along the trail to make it to Bloedel. Despite being a bit late, parents were happy to see the Cave Dwellers return with smiles on their faces and plenty of fond memories from this day. Although we didn’t get to our Earth Skills focus of learning how to properly gather water and treat it for drinking, we managed to have a great time. It was great to see the Cave Dwellers get back into the rhythm of exploring together, playing games, and making the most of the opportunities presented to them. This was a strong beginning to the year and we are excited to see what else we have in store for the fall.

Make sure to check out the rest of our photos from the day here!