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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Swamp Mountain, July, 2011

Swamp Mountain: Perspectives on the Skagit River: source of Northwest life, livelihood and quality of life

When I plan my big trip of the summer, I usually have a goal in mind as early as January and certainly by April for a climb in the high North Cascades. This year was different-- I didn't choose Porcupine Peak until mid-May. As with the past few years, my destination is influenced by conservation work, in this case American Alps Legacy ( I wanted to get right to the heart of the area that is currently unrecognized as anything more than a scenic highway. I should hope you'll find these pictures and wrds show something more than a strip of pavement.

[photo: confluence of Swamp Creek--flowing from right to left and Granite Arm, Skagit River--flowing left to right. Headwaters of the Skagit River in the Unites States]

[photo: Porcupine Creek flows to Granite Arm, Skagit River. Next stop for this snow is the San Juan Islands.]

May is late to select a destination, because much study of maps and consideration of route, climb and variables, not to mention a healthy dose of excitement/anticipation, go in to the pre-trip planning. As it turned out, I didn't make the final call on approach/route until the night before I left. And I scored a direct hit! Instead of going for the overland, no-trail route to a set of steep 200' pitches to reach base camp on a narrow ridge, I went with a more relaxed approach up Cutthroat trail, acknowledging my true climbing days are coming t an end, and I wasn't going to summit Porcupine Peak. I was going to (be in) a place to live and experience over the course of days--a mountaineering concept I've always embraced. That place is an unnamed ridge/mountain I've taken to calling "Swamp Mountain", as this 7,500’ running ridge defines and is defned by Swamp Creek and Porcupine Creek--the true headwaters of the Skagit River, the third largest river on the west side of the contiguous 48 states, and home to some of the largest runs of wild salmon remaining in the lower 48.
Even without a summit, there was so much snow that "the trail route" was no picnic. Here the mountains are much larger, much more challenging, and far less visited, at least with the healthy snowpack, so that I didn’t see another person for three days. Above Cutthroat Lake there were failing footprints leading to trackless snowy forest. Route-finding is key to any mission, and while not lost, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable as I wandered through the forest trying to pick my way--I had not studied this approach for months and have only hiked it once in my life. But using cues from surrounding peaks and a few goat tracks, I quickly got my bearings and had a wonderful ascent directly to the place I had hope to be--a lovely flat spot on a ridge close to the summit of Swamp Mountain (7,552').
Not even I, the Cornice Camp Kid, could imagine how great this camp would be. A double-cornice was waiting for me. On one side, the cornice was some 4 meters high/thick, overhanging 130 meters of free air above Swamp Creek. On the other side was a 35-degree snow slope for about 30 meters; both sides sculpted by winter/spring winds to make for a flat spot I didn't need to groom at all. Awesome.

The snow conditions were the best I've ever seen: firm and consistent throughout all elevations. I only punched through a few times down low in the forest, and up high, I used crampons until noon each day. I celebrate what many view as a constraint. No bugs, plenty of water, and a nice flat camp.
I counted more than 150 named peaks while on the summit, a narrow ridge with a billowing double-cornice that I kept well clear of other than to scoop out some snow for drinking water.
Living up there for three days and getting to know the landscape, it was hard for me to grasp that nothing I was looking at in the proximate area, or even the middle distance is recognized on a federal level as National Park or Wilderness. These mountains and valleys are key to the largest rivers in the region--the true source of life, livelihoods, and quality of life for everyone from fruit farmers on the arid east side of the Cascade crest to sport fisherman on the west side.
Many of my friends and colleagues on the NCCC board lament they can't do what I can do--they're in their 70s, 80s or older. Still, they stay engaged and work as hard for these summits as they ever have, trying to secure the proper protection and recognition so suitable for this incredible landscape. I am thankful that I’m still able to do as much backcountry travel as I do, and hope to never lose my sense of wonder and desire for exploration. I appreciate and am fortunate for the perspective my fellow NCCC board members provide—we recognize that our abilities diminish and accept it as a fact of life. I suspect it will not make us more inclined to call for trams or roads to summits.
I hope you’ll stay interested, too, for while you may not camp or climb these crags, they do contribute to your everyday life if you live in the state of Washington. Become involved, join the North Cascades Conservation Council, and help us in recognizing these lands.

Photo album at

Friday, July 29, 2011

Our Superstar Lineup!

We're very proud of the newly expanded American Alps Advisory Committee! Check out our new web page of short profiles and quotes:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

American Alps status report, July 2011

Many of you have asked what is happening with the American Alps Legacy Project itself.  We’re happy to report that there is much more to the American Alps campaign than taking trips to the mountains and bringing back pretty photographs.

Hard work is taking place, both in Washington State, and Washington DC.  Local, state and federal elected officials have expressed a new level of interest, and most importantly, support for our efforts to recognize these spectacular lands as National Park.  Communities across the region have also expressed interest and support, as we have criss-crossed the North Cascades to engage citizens and hear their thoughts and gather local input.    

There is much more work to do, but be aware -- this thing is really moving, and success depends on all of you being directly engaged!

We need you to send letters of support to your elected officials, especially at the federal level, several of whom have recently expressed a high level of support for American Alps. 
As Harvey Manning once said in the original campaign for Park protection:  “Your head bone is connected to your letter-writing finger bones!" 
(That's Harvey above, ca. 1955, photo courtesy of Betty Manning)
Washington's Congressional contact info - click the links and tell them you support the American Alps Project! (Easier today than in Harvey's day, no envelopes or stamps needed):

Rick Larsen:

Sending our representatives to Washington DC, where these decisions are ultimately made, entails expenditures. Now is a crucial time to keep the ball rolling! Donations are welcome and easy to make at our website:

Thanks for your support—your energy and engagement are absolutely critical to our efforts!

Lee Mann passing

We saw Lee last at the Skagit Land Trust annual meeting in April, where he presented one of his last public slide shows. He will be missed. We honor his work in support of North Cascades National Park.

Skagit Herald photo

To listen to Lee tell the story of his career last April, download the mp3 recording of his presentation at:

It's about 17MB. We apologize for some of the audio quality.

The following excerpt will give you a feeling for his passion:
55 years ago Lee Mann climbed to Sahale Arm above Cascade Pass. He slept under the stars, and next morning hawks are soaring on the ridges, and one lands near him "...about 10 or 12 feet above my head. And he looked in my eyes, and we had this little exchange. I looked at him and he looked at me, and it seemed to go on for a long time. And finally he's seen enough, and he took to his wings. I thought "That's really amazing!" And I sat up, and here were these beautiful mountains all around, and it was a crystal morning, and a dew had settled overnight, and every blade of grass, every piece of heather was covered with millions and millions of diamonds. And I was sitting there in this wonderland with millions of diamonds around me! And here I was - I had it all to myself, it was all mine! And suddenly something in my heart just changed. And I knew that my life was going to be different from there on out. I knew that my life was going to have something to do with the mountains."

Story from the Skagit Hearld:

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 5:45 am
SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Longtime nature photographer and naturalist Lee Mann died Thursday after a short and sudden battle with cancer. He was 75.
Over more than 40 years in photography, Lee Mann operated four different storefronts, including one inside the Space Needle in Seattle.
His photography prompted him to support organizations like the Skagit Land Trust and the creation of the North Cascades National Park.
“He loved this valley and he loved the environment of the North Cascades,” son Bryce Mann said. “It was his greatest joy and his life’s work.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Conservation Can't Ignore Apex Species - Scientific value of predators like the gray wolf and grizzly bear

"Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth  Until recently, large apex consumers were ubiquitous across the globe and had been for millions of years. The loss of these animals may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature. Although such losses are widely viewed as an ethical and aesthetic problem, recent research reveals extensive cascading effects of their disappearance in marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems worldwide. This empirical work supports long-standing theory about the role of top-down forcing in ecosystems but also highlights the unanticipated impacts of trophic cascades on processes as diverse as the dynamics of disease, wildfire, carbon sequestration, invasive species, and biogeochemical cycles. These findings emphasize the urgent need for interdisciplinary research to forecast the effects of trophic downgrading on process, function, and resilience in global ecosystems."
-Abstract from Science 333, 301 (2011) used with permission.

Clearly, an eco-system isn't the same without it's apex predators. How appropriate that they say loss of wolves and grizzlies can have CASCADING effects! We would argue the findings also suggest the urgent need to restore these apex predators to their former ranges.

Discussion of the article can be read here:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Town of Index blog!

Just noticed our friends in the gateway community of Index, WA, have their own blog!

Check it out at 

Their slogan:

small town. big website.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

North Cascades Institute Honored By National Park Service | National Parks Traveler

N3C was a key player in the FERC re-licensing process of the Skagit Hydro Project, which mandated as mitigation for the environmental impact of the dams/reservoirs that an environmental learning center be built where a derelict old resort once stood on Diablo Lake...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cunning carnivores
We are a team of filmmakers, photographers and environmental journalists documenting National Park Service research projects in the Pacific Northwest for the North Coast and Cascades Science Learning Network...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Make your comments on the Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests Forest Plan Revision!

Here's your chance to comment on the (in our opinion) inadequate provison for new Wilderness in the OWNF Plan!

For example, for the Pasayten Rim roadless area (on p. 29) they recommend only 9400 acres out of 41,300 (23%) for Wilderness, with the exclusions based on "heli-ski permit landing spots, wildland urban interface, mining claims, and snowmobile use near Harts Pass."

Email comments to:

Or attend one of the meetings or webinars listed below!

Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests
Forest Plan Revision
Release Date:  July 8, 2011
Debbie Kelly, Forest Plan Revision Public Affairs Lead, 509-826-3275
Roland Giller, Okanogan-Wenatchee NF Public Affairs Officer, 509-664-9314 Franklin Pemberton, Colville National Forest Public Affairs Officer, 509-684-7177

Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests
Announce Plan Revision Public Scoping Meetings
The Forest Service has scheduled a series of public meetings in July and August to share information about the Draft Proposed Actions for Forest Plan Revision for the Colville and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests.  The Draft Proposed Actions were released on June 30, 2011, initiating a 60-day public comment period that ends August 29, 2011.  
The public meetings are intended to help the public become familiar with the proposed management of the Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forests, said Margaret Hartzell, Team Leader for the Forest Plan Revision Team.   “Our goal is to introduce people to the proposed action and help them understand the information so they can formulate their comments” Hartzell said. “These public meetings are an important part of the ongoing collaboration between the Forest Service and the public in the development of these forest plans.”
Forest Service representatives will provide a brief presentation about the proposed action and the public comment process, followed by a short question and answer session.  Before and after the presentation, tables will be set up in an open house format to provide an individual opportunity to learn more about specific topics of public interest, and to have one-on-one conversations with Forest Service representatives.  At the Colville, Okanogan and Wenatchee public meetings, small group discussion sessions will also be provided.
Topics highlighted during the open house include:  Vegetation Management, Access (including motorized and non-motorized recreation), Recommended Wilderness, Wildlife Habitat, and the Forest Planning Process. “While these public meetings are focused on providing information, we will accept written comments turned in during the meeting,” said Hartzell.

Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision
Public Meeting-Open House Schedule

Colville, WA, Saturday, July 16
9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Community College, Institute for Extended Learning Center, Colville Center, 985 South Elm, Colville, WA 99114

Republic, WA, Thursday, July 28
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Republic Elementary School Multi-purpose Room, 30306 E. Highway 20, Republic, WA

Okanogan, WA, Saturday, July 309:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Okanogan County Fairgrounds, Agriplex Building, 175 Rodeo Trail Road, Okanogan, WA 98840
Spokane, WA, Monday, August 1,5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.,  Spokane County Public Library, North Branch, 44 E. Hawthorne Rd
Spokane, WA 99218

Newport, WA, Tuesday, August 2,
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Newport High School Auditorium, 1400 West Fifth Street, Newport, WA 99156
Wenatchee, WA, Saturday, August 69:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Wenatchee Convention Center, 201 North Wenatchee Avenue, Wenatchee, WA 98801 (Next to the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel).
Yakima, WA Wednesday, August 10,
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Yakima Convention Center, 10 North 8th St, Yakima WA 98901-2515

Cle Elum, WA Thursday, August 11

5:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m., Cle Elum Centennial Center, 719 E. 3rd Street, Cle Elum, WA 98922

Seattle, WA Saturday, August 13,
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Magnuson Park, Mountaineers Program Center, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle, WA 98115

Two Toll-Free “Lunch Time” Webinars
—will also be held Tuesday, August 9 and Thursday, August 18 from noon to 1:30 p.m. to provide an opportunity for those people who may not be able to attend one of the other public meetings, or would like to participate in another review opportunity.   More information will be announced via media release and posted on the project website when details become available.

Forest Plans provide broad direction to the Forest Service about how to manage the natural resources on national forest lands. “Much like county zoning plans, they allow certain activities and uses in certain areas and set the sideboards for those activities and uses,” explained Hartzell.  “Comments provided at this stage in the plan development will be used to help us determine the scope of the environmental analysis and to develop a range of alternatives,” she added.
Comments are most helpful if received by August 29, 2011. Written comments should be addressed to the Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision Team, Okanogan Valley Office, 1240 Second Ave. South, Okanogan, WA, 98840.   Comments can also be sent via email to:   Comments generated by the Draft Proposed Action are used to develop alternatives analyzed in an environmental impact statement.
To view or download the Draft Proposed Actions, and/or to access maps and other informational materials, visit the project website at: or call Debbie Kelly, Forest Plan Revision Team Public Affairs contact at (509) 826-3275.

Green Mountain Lookout -- comments worth reading

The Missoula Independent published an article saying it's OK to use any and all means, including illegal mechanized and motorized ones, to rebuild lookouts like the one on Green Mountain, inside Federally designated Wilderness Areas. The comments are the part that's worth reading - they state the case against such things eloquently!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Be a part of the Challenge. Learn more about what the North Cascades has to offer. Help protect this incredible wild place.

Announcing the American Alps Challenge!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Click on the logo at the top of our home page for all the info!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Okay, sorry this is a week late for those of you strongly desiring to know snowpack conditions.  Ridge/summit cornices are anywhere from 1 to 4 meters thick through 6,000' in the upper Stilly/western North Cascades.  Snow generally starts at 4000', lower on N slopes.  The snow is some of the best climbing snow I can remember:  firm from the get-go with a very narrow zone of punching through (minimal unpleasantness).
I went to Mount Dickerman as much to maintain physical and mountaineering chops as anything, though I knew I'd have the summit to myself if I spent the night, and the nice snowpack would afford a flat camp *right at the summit*.  How often has anyone ever spent the night literally at the top of a mountain?  I can assure you that in the North Cascades, most summits leave one gripping the rock, water ice or snow, aware that a single misstep can lead to a bad day.
I knew there'd be dozens of people there, thus making route-finding a non-issue.  As it worked out, there were no less than 30 people on the trail, and most made the summit.  Most from the Seattle area, and none aware this amazing place, the headwaters of a principal regional river, is unrecognized with any protective designation other than "roadless".  I'm sure you will find these pictures reflect something a bit more.
A number of us conservationists envision this area for inclusion in existing USFS Wilderness, and the sooner the better.
Funny anecdote:  a few people puzzled at why I would spend the night in the snow when it was so quick to descend and head on back to the comforts of the big city.  One guy I saw on my way out said  "Wow, they have camping at the summit now?".
I responded with something about not knowing of "they", but the snow had provided a wonderful flat area for the tent with about 30 seconds of grooming.  It's great to see people enjoying life in the PacNW, I just hope they recognize the biggest value of the land is the role it serves in water creation and distribution.
I would hope the reasons for spending the night are self-evident from the photos (and doesn't include another highlight, ISS brighter than I've ever seen, and I've seen it a hundred times or more--wonder if that's due to recent reboost).

Get out and explore your planet (maybe some others too).  I am so thankful for the opportunity and ability to do just that every day.