By Anna Silver
Just a few hours into my fifth WTA youth volunteer vacation, I was huddled under the nylon walls of a tent in a meadow eleven miles from civilization as a thunderstorm closed in overhead, providing a soundtrack of thick gushes of rain hitting the ground and booming claps of thunder.
That morning, under an innocently sunny sky, I had surged straight into the wilderness with a group of willing teenagers and two awesome leaders. We were headed to White Pass for what would soon become one of the most enjoyable, and undoubtedly the most beautiful WTA work party I have been on.
The Calm After the Storm
After the dousing our first night, we awoke the following morning to placid weather and, as we emerged sleepy-eyed from our tents, took a good look around for the first time. We were camped in a small bowl just below the ridgeline of a mountain in a high alpine meadow. Green grass covered in purple and white wildflowers surrounded us, and a network of creeks laced their way through the campsite. Looking out, a wide expanse of the Cascades stretched out before us, tree-covered and snow-capped, their peaks fading from deep to light blue in the distance.
For work, we removed berm, or a raised section of dirt on the downhill side of the trail that prevents drainage, and tried not to get distracted by the view.
To entertain ourselves while we dug, we exchanged riddles and stories, and my personal favorite, sang. On one day, myself and another volunteer, Frida, spent the entire workday belting out the lyrics to every song we could think of in horribly off-key voices. Doing so, we had a ridiculously fun time hacking away at the mounds of dirt, rock, and roots with our grub hoes and pulaskis.
- On our day off, our group hiked to a glacier and an alpine lake. A few of us scrambled up the tallest ridge that was close by, where we encountered yet another incredible view and ate a lunch of delicious leftover curry while overlooking the valley and river below.
- There were marmots everywhere, and they are adorable. Marmots are fluffy, fat small mammals that scamper around, burrow underground, and whistle. Once, while walking to my tent with one of my leaders, a marmot only a few yards in front of us stood up on its hind legs, looked at us, and let out a piercing whistle-scream, sending us both jumping backwards and laughing in surprise.
- One of our leaders, Austin, forgot his sunscreen. So, in exchange for using some of mine, he let me and Frida braid his hair. We gave him several French braids, topped it off with a braided grass and flower garland, and made him skip through the meadow.
- The view from the latrine, which was stupendous. (see photo)
...And Making Friends
Throughout the week, I had an amazing time chatting with and getting to know the other volunteers. I love spending time with a group of people who are from all over Washington, both urban and rural, who go to different schools and have different stories to share. Each WTA group I find myself with is eclectic, goofy, and caring in its own way and getting to know each member is consistently one of my favorite parts of these trips (besides the delicious food, that is).
On our last night, we gathered in the meadow overlooking the mountains where Austin read us a Max Ehrmann prose poem called “Desiderata.” I sipped a cup of hot tea, listened to the musical trickle of the creek in the background, and felt the cool wind tousle my hair as it wound its way through the mountains.
In the serenity of that moment, I silently thanked WTA for giving me the opportunity to journey into the heart of the Cascades. It had been yet another week of rewarding work improving trails with others eager to trade their iPods for flowing creeks and hike into the wilderness.
From youth leaders to volunteer crews to the launch of our brand new Outdoor Leadership Training program, celebrate some of the our favorite youth moments on trail this year.
You can see which trails we worked on and see all of WTA's accomplishments in 2013.
Good friends: 23 community partners volunteered all year long
With a growing number of community partners more and more youth are getting outdoors and giving back to trails. In 2013, WTA led at least one youth group each month throughout the year. WTA thanks the 23 youth programs who partnered on more than 50 youth trail work parties.
Helping each other get outside: a thriving community of hiking families
YOWZA! More than 650 trip reports were submitted so far this year marked as Hiked by Kids. Check out this great list of trip reports hiked by kids. Additionally several other resources are being shared on the Families Go Hiking Pinterest board and newsletter. This year the number of Families Go Hiking newsletter subscribers has grown four fold.
Youth volunteers: a summer full of adventure and stewardship
Teens age 14-18 participated on 16 youth volunteer vacations in some spectacular locations all across Washington, including North Cascades National Park.
It was an amazing summer of youth volunteering in two State Parks, two National Parks and eight different National Forest Service Ranger Districts.
Hike-a-Thon: young hikers made their (696) miles count
Twenty-one youth hiked 696 miles in the month of August to support the 10th Annual Hike-a-Thon. That's the highest number of youth participants and miles hiked by youth ever. They made all those miles count and raised more than $2,100 for WTA. Thanks to all the youth and families who participated.
Launching a new program: getting more youth on trail
WTA's Outdoor Leadership Training program launched this fall. It will support and empower youth development professionals and teachers to get more kids outside. The training workshops, gear lending library, funding assistance and supportive community were designed to engage community leaders and help kids have access to the outdoors.
A special thanks to Columbia Sportswear and Timbuk2 for their generous donations to the new gear lending library.
Outdoor leaders: youth volunteers share their perspective
Our first team of Youth Ambassadors visited 12 local schools and shared their experiences about volunteering with WTA with more than 700 students. A special thanks to Helen and Tzuria for participating on the 2012-13 Youth Advisory Committee.
Stuck on what to get a certain young one for the holiday season? Get the budding outdoor enthusiasts in your life something on our list and you're sure to hear about how cool it is all next hiking season.
The Eleventh Essential(s)
Budding backpackers will love these lightweight treats to add to their daily packs.
This headlamp comes in three colors, suitable for boys and girls, and has kid-friendly safety features. For its compact size it puts out a surprising amount of LED light—perfect for those nighttime prowls and campfire snipe hunts. $19
Bison Designs has taken the popular paracord bracelet to the next level by incorporating a high-output LED light on the BukaLite buckle. The surprisingly bright light comes in handy around camp and in everyday situations. Plus it makes a pretty cool bracelet. $20*
TWEET! TWEET! This whistle packs a compass, thermometer, magnifying glass, mirror and an LED light—along with the whistle! An ideal accessory for young hikers learning the art of orienteering. $12
Fashion Forward Hikers
Give them something stylish to wear on the trail, in camp, even at school!
Not all hats are created equal. The Beatrice Beanie has a great fitted look for women without all the bagginess of unisex styles. Made from soft merino wool with a fleece liner, it will keep the lady on your list looking sleek and staying warm. $39
Soooo soft and pretty! The Bella Scarf is made of 100% wool and has a gorgeous printed design that would work for the stylish hiker on your list. It comes in many color combos, but we especially love the green and turquoise palette. $50
Treats for Techies
Know someone who just can't leave their iPhone at home? These goodies will keep their trail tech safe and usable in the great out of doors.
Do they enjoy listening to their favorite tunes on their hikes and workout runs, but always complain about their buds falling out? They'll complain no more with a pair of these revolutionary earbuds. Specially designed for active outdoor enthusiasts, these ergonomic twist-lock buds stay in place while being water- and tangle-resistant. $80
This heavy-duty case will protect their iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S from whatever falls, water, wind, dirt and dust they put it through. Perfect for the hardcore adventure-seeker—or that not-so-coordinated person you know—so they can go the extra mile knowing that this case has their back. $80*
Enhance their next camping experience with one of these items that keep in-camp downtime entertaining.
Camping doesn’t have to be a dirty affair! Get the chic woman on your list the book Glamping with MaryJane: Glamour + Camping. Now she can still be totally fabulous while roughing it in Washington's wild places. $17*
Do you have a budding Bear Grylls you can't tear away from Man Vs. Wild? This knife might be just thing thing for him or her. Survivalists talk about their knives with reverence because they can be life-saving tools in the wilderness. At just 3.7 ounces, the knife has a 3.5-inch blade, safety lock and reversible belt clip for easy carrying—and is made right here in Washington. $100*
Remember snipe hunting? It’s back—and this time they're real! Send the kids searching in the back yard or in the woods with the Snipe Hunt Game. This fun iteration on the classic prank will keep young ones entertained for hours in camp. $25*
Bacon. One word that puts a smile on the faces of hikers everywhere. Oberto Bacon Jerky is lightweight and shelf-stable, makes freeze-dried eggs more palatable and is a tasty addition to mac and cheese. A real trail treat! $6
Share with us
If you're still stumped, we have plenty of other options in our 2013 Holiday Gift Guide. But it if we missed anything, or you have a foolproof gift for the hiker on your list, let us know in the comments!
With each purchase made through WTA's holiday gear gift guide, 7-10 percent of sales on some items is returned directly to WTA's programs thanks to our retail affiliates, helping to keep the trails you love open and accessible for you and for hikers across the state. (*Items marked with an asterisk excepted.)
By Tami Asars
Bird: Varied Thrush
If you set out for a forested hike this winter, you may see what you think are American robins. Before you dance a little jig that spring is just around the corner, take a closer look. What you’re seeing is likely a varied thrush.
While similar in size and coloration to the American robin, varied thrush primarily live deep in forest canopies, have an orange band over the eye and a dark horizontal band on their rust-colored chest. Their simple, single note often echoes through the wet understory, and many a hiker has been unknowingly serenaded by one of these small, feathered creatures.
Look for this forest friend year-round on trails throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Beast: Douglas Squirrel
Have you ever been scolded by a squirrel when hiking? If so, the chattering tantrum was most likely the work of a rust-bellied Douglas squirrel upset about you hiking too close to its nest or food supply.
Native to the Northwest, the Douglas squirrel is active year-round and spends its winter sleeping in tree holes and eating stored pinecones. Mating occurs in February and March, and the gestation of four weeks gives way to four to six tiny kits.
Their scurrying feet and noisy vocals are part of what makes our forest come alive and a delight to young and old hikers alike.
Look for Douglas squirrels in old-growth or second-growth coniferous forests throughout the Northwest.
Bloom: Tall Oregon Grape
Hillsides of it abound! Oregon grape is found in two varieties: one which stays as an evergreen ground cover, and its higher sibling (up to 8 feet, hence the name), the tall Oregon grape.
Found along trailsides in a wide variety of soils, tall Oregon grape is easily identified by its holly-like leaves and its yellow spring flowers.
In early fall, it produces dark blue berries that are irresistible to flitting forest birds, such as rufous-sided towhees, dark eyed juncos, cedar waxwings and woodpeckers.
The berries are a culinary delight for humans as well. Although they’re puckeringly tart directly from the vine, they can be cooked into a jelly with sugar, that’s delightful on warm scones.
This year's tree comes from the Colville National Forest.The People's Tree will be lit December 3.Photo by Architect of the Capitol
Christmas has arrived in our nation's capitol, having traveled all the way from Washington state. No, Santa did not relocated to the Evergreen State in search of great hiking.This year's Capitol Christmas Tree came from our very own Colville National Forest. The 88-foot tall Engelmann spruce will serve as the holiday focal point on the lawn at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The tradition of "The People's Tree," started in 1964, with the U.S. Forest Service providing a Christmas tree for the U.S. Capitol Building. Every year a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide this holiday centerpiece.
This is the second time that Washington state has provided the Capitol Christmas Tree. The other time was in 2006, when a Pacific silver fir was selected from the Olympic National Forest.
If you can't make it D.C. to see this piece of Washington decked out in more than 10,000 lights, consider a trip to its originating forest instead.
Spotlight on Washington's Colville, a hiking and winter wonder
The Colville National Forest, located in northeast Washington, is a unique and beautiful backcountry made up of three mountain ranges with nearly 500 miles for hiking trails begging to be explored. The forest is home to some exciting wildlife such as the grizzly and black bears, cougars, bald eagles and the last remaining herd of caribou in the United States.
It is exciting to share a small token of the majesty of the Colville with the rest of the nation. WTA has hosted Volunteer Vacations and Backcountry Response Trips in this area for the past couple years, and we can attest to its beauty.
Three snowshoeing adventures in the Colville National Forest
- Sherman Pass Loop: This six mile loop offers views that stretch from Canada to the Columbia River Valley,including the Okanogan Highlands, and the Southern end of the Kettle Mountain Range.
- Columbia Mountain: This loop is described as one of the top snowshoe treks in the Columbia Highlands.
- Snow Peak Cabin: Rent this rustic cabin and explore this scenic area at your leisure.
Hike carefully this winter on snowy slopes. Granite Mountain can be notoriously dangerous in winter. Photo by Bburton
Do you know how to spot avalanche danger when snow covers a trail? We asked the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center's avalanche meteorologist Dennis D'Amico for some tips for those of you headed into the backcountry this season. See what he has to say before you head out on your next hike or snowshoe, and consider taking one of the upcoming avalanche safety awareness classes listed below.
WTA: How common are avalanches in Washington?
Dennis D'Amico: Very common; we have avalanches every winter and they can occur in the highest elevations any time of year given the right conditions. The type of avalanches differ in different snow climates.
The Cascades and Olympics have a maritime snow climate, meaning we have a deeper and warmer snowpack. This produces the greatest avalanche danger during and immediately following our intense storm cycles that come with fluctuating snow levels, periods of heavy snow and even rain at times.
This is a generalization of a maritime snowpack, and other avalanche problems do occur in our region.
How can someone spot an area that might slide easily?
The main giveaway is slope angle. Slopes between 30-45 degrees are the most likely to slide. A slope angle of 38 degrees is the prime avalanche slope angle.
If you see an avalanche path that cuts through dense trees at lower elevations, that's a definite sign that the slope has produced avalanches in the past. Depending on how new the vegetation is in the path -- no trees, saplings, or young trees -- you can take an educated guess at the last time there was a major slide.
If someone finds themselves in the path of an avalanche, what can they do to improve their chances of survival?
If your group hikes across an avalanche path, cross one at a time, leaving enough space that only one person is exposed to avalanche risk at a time.
Upcoming safety classes
Check out some free upcoming classes below, or check NWAC's calendar of events:
- REI Southcenter at 7:00 pm
- Evo Seattle at 7:30 pm
- Second Ascent Seattle @ 7:45 pm
- REI Southcenter at 7:00 pm
- REI Seattle at 7:00 pm
- Evo Seattle at 7:30 pm
If you are caught in an avalanche, try to cut away to the edge of the avalanche and dig into the bed surface. You want to let most of the avalanche pass by you; ending up in the toe of an avalanche will mean a deeper burial and a lower chance of survival.
If you can maintain an airspace during burial, your chances of survival will increase. But all of this advice is incredibly tough to implement if you are caught in a serious avalanche.
Where are the most severe avalanches in Washington?
That's a difficult question -- avalanches occur over a wide range of elevations throughout the mountains in Washington. Small avalanches can still kill people depending on the terrain. Some of the largest avalanches can occur high on the volcanoes in glaciated terrain.
Do you have any basic safety tips for hikers in avalanche terrain during winter?
Yes! Have the right gear: Avalanche Transceiver (beacon), shovel, probe and consider the new avalanche airbag packs.
Check the avalanche and mountain weather forecast from the Northwest Avalanche Center before heading out. Take time to check out the website and understand our new avalanche forecasts.
Take a free avalanche class. Some free upcoming classes are listed above, or check our calendar of events).
Finally -- be aware of your surroundings and remember a forecast is only the first step to being safe in avalanche terrain. Once you step into the backcountry, you are your own avalanche forecaster.
More winter skills resources
Step 1. Think about trails, and what they mean to you
Think back on the year. What are your favorite trail memories?
That dip in an alpine lake? Waking up at 3 am to catch the Perseid meteor shower from the foot of Mount Rainier before driving into work? Seeing your child take their first steps on a trail? Picking up a Pulaski for the first time on a trail work crew?
Step 2. Donate before midnight on Tuesday to double your impact
If you made a favorite memory on a Washington trail this year, then consider giving back on #GivingTuesday. A generous group of our members will match all gifts up to $5,000 made on Dec. 3 until midnight -- doubling your impact.
Step 3. Tell the world why you're protecting trails
When you double your impact with a gift to WTA on Giving Tuesday, you're telling the world how much the outdoors mean to you, how much you care about trails. It takes an incredible community to build and keep the kind of trails we have here in Washington, and you are part of that.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be the days for snagging gifts for friends and family. Become part of this national day of giving, and make Tuesday the day you give a gift to the trails you love.
Once you've made your gift to help us meet our $5,000 match, tell everyone how much you love trails. Spread the word, tag us in a #givingtuesday post on Twitter or Facebook, or post an #unselfie (a photo of yourself telling everyone why you give to trails).
What will your gift do?
The North Cascades Highway (SR 20) is closed due to avalanche danger caused by two feet of snow that fell in the North Cascades over the weekend. The road is closed between the Silver Star Gate at milepost 134 and Diablo Gate at milepost 17.
More snow is expected, and the Washington State Department of Transportation is waiting until Tuesday, Dec. 3 to see if the highway can reopen, or if additional fresh snow will mean the seasonal closure of this northernmost cross-Cascades route.
Update Dec. 3, 2013: After more snow, WSDOT officially closed the road for the season.
A way to travel the North Cascades Highway all winter long
You don't have to wait until next spring to see breathtaking views all along the scenic route.
Jack McLeod, a science teacher at Cascade High School in Everett, has written a beautiful book, The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America's Alps. Featuring gorgeous photos of the scenic route, the book includes a healthy smattering of roadside geology and history, as well as a helpful key for drivers to locate ideal photo opportunities.
Know before you go (back)
A book described by the author as "ideal for someone with ADD," the North Cascades Highway offers information on a new subject on every page, making it the perfect introduction to the area for amateur geologists, historians, and naturalists.
It's got a little bit of information for everyone, and reading it provides fascinating insight into the area's tumultuous formation from a seabed to peaks soaring thousands of feet in the air.
Identify peaks on your next road trip
Travelers will recognize the vistas in the book, but how many of their names do you know?
The photos are marked with peak identifiers, so when the highway opens back up, be sure to bring this with you. It's a great way to quickly find out the names of those imposing spires and crags that loom above the highway.
Can't find the view you're looking for? The key below appears on each page of the book that features a panorama. The star and mileage number indicate where along the route the view can be found. The P indicates whether or not there is safe parking, and the car graphic tells view seekers which way to look for a stellar photo.
A great gift for mountain-lovers
We featured the book (among others) in WTA's 2013 gift guide. It's the perfect gift for anyone who has whizzed past these sights, wishing to learn a little more about the area. Pick it up for a friend, an acquaintance, maybe even yourself! Don't worry, we won't tell if you decide to keep it once you've seen it.
Mountain pass updates all winter
So when will the highway open? That's up to Mother Nature. But in the past, Cayuse & Chinook passes usually open for the season in May, and the North Cascades Highway generally is plowed out by late April. You can see the historical dates here.
You can also follow the conditions on all major mountain passes throughout the winter at the Department of Washington's Department of Transportation website or Twitter feed.
The Washington Coast offers a great winter getaway. Copalis River Spit last December. Photo by Jon Stier.
The holiday season is rife with traditions, from annual Thanksgiving feasts to family gift-giving to New Year's resolutions. In my family, it's also a time to plan the next year of outdoor adventures -- and to take a few as well. I find that having annual trips and traditions helps motivate my family (and me) to turn off the screens, get out of the house and make memories outdoors.
We recently asked WTA's Facebook community what outdoor traditions they have, and combined with my own experience, we have created this primer for traditions you can start right now.
According to annual tradition, Facebooker John S climbed Mount Teneriffe today and Gwen T took her "Post Turkey Day Trot" at Wallace Falls, something both do every year. What better way to work off a feast than to take a hike the day after a major holiday. While the malls are filled with shoppers, the trails have a fraction of the people they do in the summer.
It may not be Black Friday any longer, but it's still the holiday season. Get some fresh air, work off the turkey and pie and choose a trail that you want to visit each year at the same time.
Where will you be on New Year's Eve?
Last year, my family started a new tradition. We took a short vacation to Ocean Shores for New Year's. With school vacation entering its second week, we were ready to get out of town and do something new. We were fortunate to find sun at the coast and enjoyed a hike at Copalis River Spit, snowy owls at Damon Point and a side trip to the rainy Quinault rainforest where we lunched at the iconic lodge on New Year's Eve. It was the best New Year's I've had in years, and my son is still talking about the owls and the wind he braved to see them.
Plan a milestone hike for yourself or with someone special
Around every corner of a winter hike is the opportunity to see Washington from a new perspective. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing are great ways to introduce little ones to the fun and beauty of winter. Even if you don't have snowshoes or skis, there are plenty of options that remain snow-free year round, so you can get out without having to save up.
But winter is cold! Ensure that your trip isn't cut short because of chilly toes or freezing fingers by reading our tips and tricks to enhance your winter hiking experience.
What to wear
Layers are your friend. Bundle up at the beginning to insulate cold muscles and extremities, and as you warm up, shed that big overcoat, keeping a mid- and baselayer on to fend off breezes or errant snowballs.
- Long underwear: Most hiking pants are loose-fitting enough to fit another layer underneath. A good first layer of long underwear will keep you warm, and still allow you lots of movement.
- Waterproof layer: You don't want your little one to be stuck with a wet, cold outer layer after a rousing snowball fight. Make sure they're kitted out in a waterproof coat and pants (ski pants work great for this). They'll love watching the droplets roll down the treated fabric. Science!
- Hot hands: Mittens keep little hands warmer than gloves do, and handwarmers add that extra heat that kids sometimes need. Plus, they're fun to activate.
- Top it off: Much of your body heat is lost from the top of your head. Keep that all in by donning a cozy knit cap. Older kids may be hiking fast enough that just a fleece headband will do.
- No cotton allowed. Because sweat can't escape as easily from cotton, it condenses and stays close to your skin, making you feel clammy and cold. You don't need brand new or fancy performance clothes on your kids, but stick to wool, fleece and other synthetic materials when you dress them. Bottom line: cotton clothes on winter hikes are bad news.
- Have extra clothes to change into waiting in the car. A winter adventure is fun, but sitting in wet clothes during the drive home? Not so much. Stow a cozy, dry fleece in the car for a comfortable car ride.
Eat well, stay happy
Calories are key! Eat hearty before going out on your winter adventure, and take plenty of snacks along.
- Soup's on!: It might take a little more planning ahead in the morning, but having soup on a winter hike makes lunch especially rejuvenating. Just be sure you bring it in a wide-mouth thermos so you can get all the good bits. If your kids are devoted to PB&J for lunch, bring a thermos of hot tea, coffee, cider or cocoa to sip on all day long.
- Eat hearty: Going for a longer hike? Bring your stove and treat your group to a luxurious meal at lunch.
Other great tips to keep it fun
- Apply sunscreen frequently, even if it's cloudy. Snow is highly reflective, and you might not feel the sunburn until you get home.
- Bring along a friend. Nothing keeps kids in high spirits like having a friend they can share an experience with. Or throw a snowball at.
- Bring a field guide. Tromping through snow can be slow going. Take advantage of the slower pace to notice your surroundings and teach kids about native species.