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Middle Schoolers Climb in the Central Oregon Sun

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With spring teasing us in Portland, a group of middle school students and the Catlin outdoor program loaded up faithful bus #21 (back from a hiatus in the bus shop - thanks, Bubba!) to seek out some more dependable sun. Our destination: Central Oregon. Our goal: find some beautiful rock faces to climb! Upper School student Chris Reimann joined the middle school group to share some of his passion and knowledge about the sport of rock climbing.

Arriving at Smith Rock State Park, we were greeted by the very sun that we were out to find. This was the kind of sun that actually warms you when it hits your skin, and even the light wind was warm. We hiked down into the Crooked River canyon and hiked past all of the other climbers, packed into the dihedrals area. We marched past the hanging ropes and calls of fellow climber on the Phoenix Wall, and rounded the Southern Point of the magnificent Smith Rock group. Our hike ended at the base of the Waterfall Slab, where we set up for the day.  A basic rock lesson reinforced some of the fundamentals of the sport: fastening a harness, tying figure-8 follow-through knots, safety checks, and climbing commands. The rest of the day was filled with climbing laps on the Waterfall Slab and throwing rocks into the Crooked River. The late afternoon sun ignited the rock faces of the park as we made the final hike back to the bus (see above photo).

Sunday started with the frying of two cans of Spam over a homemade rocket stove, and Alon tasted the wonderful canned pork-product for the first time. We then headed out Cascade Lakes HIghway to the secret climbing spot of Meadow Camp. It was snowing when we arrived at the trailhead, and wind from the frozen peaks was funneling down the Deschutes River valley and the back of our necks. Nonetheless, we headed to the short cliffs just above the river to see what we would find. We were rewarded, as the sun broke through the gray and dried the rock around us. We climbed a series of "crack climbs," played some games of "camo," hiked along the river, and ate lunch in the sun before pushing ourselves to do one final climb each in the early afternoon. It was a fabulous weekend with a great group of people. I am grateful that we all had the opportunity to spend that kind of quality time together in the energizing, educational and inspiring landscapes of Central Oregon. Please enjoy some photos from our trip.

Winter Camping in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

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Yes, my friends...that is a homemade igloo, lit up under the clear night's sky by the eleven headlamps of our incredible group.

Due to a forecast for over two feet of fresh (but unstable) snow up on Mt. Rainier, we made a last minute change to our itinerary and headed up to the Trout Lake area at the base of Mt. Adams.  With the goal getting into the backcountry, and avoiding the presence of snowmobilers, we headed to the more obscure Snow King Sno-Park, donned our snowshoes and tromped up the unplowed road before turning off into the woods and meadows of the area.  Each spot looked better than the next as we scoured the landscape for a prime spot to build our winter camp.  We settled on a beautiful meadow and tucked our bags in the tree wells so that we could roll up our sleeves and start putting in the hours of work that would be required to build a snow empire.  Mike Wilson had brought his igloo maker, and the so-called "ICE BOX" was put into motion as we built a 12-foot diameter igloo from the ground up.  Meanwhile, our kitchen area was excavated and tents were erected.  The snow stopped for the evening, and that the stars came out in force.  All eleven us packed into the igloo for a spaghetti dinner before we started a campfire outside in the snow. 

We filled Sunday with an off-trail snowshoe excursion up to the top of a nearby butte, snowball fights, sweetened condensed milk (poured on every food item we had - winter camping requires high calorie input!), and burgers in the friendly cafe in Trout Lake before rolling back into Catlin.

Here are some photos from one of the program's classic winter trips.  Enjoy.

6th Grade Exploration of the Columbia River Gorge

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Water is a necessary ingredient for the verdant landscapes of the western Columbia River Gorge.  A group of intrepid 6th graders joined the Outdoor Program for a day of winter hiking, and water is what we found!  In our waterbottles, in the nearly dozen waterfalls we passed, in the form of snow on the side of the trail, dripping from the abundant mosses, and falling from the sky!  We didn't let a wet, Oregon storm stop us from completing the beautiful Triple Falls and Wahclella Falls hikes.  We ate lunch beside a raging creek, and warmed up with a whipped cream-topped cup of hot cocoa in Cascade Locks before heading back to Catlin.  Please enjoy some photos from our trip.

Winter Arrives in Time for a MS Adventure to Clear Lake Butte Fire Lookout

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Light, perfect powder blanketed the flanks of Mt. Hood as the small school bus headed up to the Skyline Sno-Park for an overnight trip to an old, abandoned fire lookout.  Our group of seven middle school students and two leaders donned cross-country skis and glided up an un-plowed road before turning up Clear Lake Butte for a steep, but rewarding climb up to the fire lookout.  The learning curve for skiing is steep, but the Catlin middle schoolers picked up the technique with surprising speed.  As we climbed, the clouds that had deposited the beautiful new snow started to part and we enjoyed filtered sun through the trees at each of our rest breaks.  Skiing with a backpack is a significant challenge, and we all welcomed the sight of the 40 foot lookout tower.  A wood stove and panoramic views awaited us up above! 

We melted snow for tea water, stoked the stove, and prepared a large pasta dinner to enjoy by the fire.  Our cookie-baking experiment on the woodstove proved to be only somewhat successful, if you count appearances for something.  Nevertheless, they were delicious!  An elaborate pulley system outside of the lookout allowed us to raise snow (to melt for water) and firewood up to the cabin, and also allowed us to lower backpacks and large items.

Everyone enjoyed each other's company, and we were all happy to see the long-awaited snow.  You couldn't help but feel deeply relaxed in the cozy lookout.  An egg breakfast, warm-up ski and a snowball fight started the next morning.  After enjoying ourselves at the lookout, we put our (lighter!) packs on and started the ski back down to the bus.  There was some requisite falling and flailing, but everyone did extraordinarily well.  Many first-time skiiers reported that they couldn't wait to try it again in the near future.  We had a wonderful trip.  Please enjoy some photos from this overnight adventure.



Middle Schoolers Rock Central Oregon

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Climbing at Smith Rock State Park

On a glorious December weekend 13 students from Catlin Gabel's Middle School spent a weekend climbing at Smith Rock.  While most of them had been climbing indoors at the rock gym before, few had actually made the trek to one of America's sport climbing Meccas.  The group spent Saturday climbing in the Cinammon Slab area and Sunday in the Phonecall area.  Once the light had faded to dark on Saturday afternoon we all boarded the bus and headed in to town for pizza.  The night was spent in warm and comfortable yurts at Tumalo State Park.

First Snow at the Devil's Peak Lookout

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A hypothermic forecast forced us to abandon our original plan of descending an 8+ mile section of Opal Creek in the Willamette National Forest.  We put that plan (which would surely require some wading) on the shelf for a warmer weekend, and instead headed up above the freezing level for an amazing weekend in an old, abandoned fire lookout.  The Devil's Peak Lookout sits atop Hunchback Ridge outside of the small town of ZigZag on the flanks of Mt. Hood.  There is no particularly easy way to reach the lookout; one gradual path to the top requires miles of driving on rutted roads to reach the trailhead, while the other trail is easy to access but involves an unrelenting climb of over 3,200 vertical feet in under 4 miles once on the switchbacking trail.   This hearty group chose the short drive and steep trail.  We packed up our backs in the wet, old-growth forests off of the side of the road, and started UP!  We soon broke through into the snow.  A dusting turned into a few inches toward the top.  The footing was not the best, but the trail was easy to follow, and we were all pleased to be out of the city and in the peaceful quiet of the Cascades.  Once at the lookout, our boisterous group became task-oriented: gathering firewood for the stove, starting a fire, melting snow for drinking water, opening the heavy wooden shutters of the cabin, and preparing a massive and DELICIOUS dinner.  Hot drinks, cards, madlibs, stories and jokes filled the final hours before we filled every inch of floor space in the lookout for our night's sleep.  We awoke to views of Wy'East (Mt. Hood) in all of its sunlit glory.  We were so glad to have taken the forecast with a grain of salt and headed out into the woods, regardless.  A big breakfast, some more exploration, a speedy descent down the steep trail and some old-fashioned donoughts at Joe's wrapped up an outstanding weekend.  Please enjoy some photos from our trip!



A Misty Hike with Middle Schoolers

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We Love the Columbia River Gorge!

Despite typical fall Portland rains, ten middle school students and two leaders forged ahead and enjoyed a misty Saturday in the gorge while most Portlanders stayed indoors and missed out on this gorgeous day.


Our original plan was to hike to Elk Meadows, which we changed to Ramona Falls upon realizing that the stream crossing would likely be fairly intense with the fall rains. We then made another change the morning of the hike, however, because we received word that the bridge over the Sandy River heading to Ramona was already taken down for the winter. Armed with resolve to find a beautiful hike that involved a waterfall, we headed toward the Columbia River Gorge.


We met at the Cabell Center at 8:30 am, bright and early. After a quick get-to-know-each other game we boarded the bus and drove east. The sky lightened a bit as we drove, and we decided to seize the opportunity created by the early foul weather to do the well-known but usually-avoided hike (due to crowds) to Wahkeena and Multnomah Falls. We had the first three-fourths of the trail basically to ourselves, and it hardly rained!


After a few miles of switchbacks, we stopped for lunch at the highest elevation point. Students enjoyed the adventure of mini-stream crossings, and especially enjoyed allowing the mist from both Wahkeena and Multnomah Falls to land on them. The 5.2 miles of hiking whizzed by!


 This group of students proved to be emerging outdoor leaders. Not only did the chilly weather not stop them, but neither did the steep terrain. The four 8th grade boys all enthusiastically agreed they look forward to climbing St. Helens this year, and the five 6th grade boys and one 6th grade girl held their own keeping up with the swift pace of the older students.


We made it back to school by 3:00 and felt thankful that the shorter drive allowed for a longer hike. We can't wait until the next one!



6th Grade Farm Camp-Out with the Outdoor Program

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Hazelnuts, pumpkins, and pigs

A group of ten 6th grade students ventured west to the rolling farmland of Cornelius, Oregon, for a weekend of exploration, pumpkin carving, and fun. We all got to know each other better over the course of the two days while also learning new outdoor living skills!  

After setting up camp next to the berry fields of Duyck's Peachy Pig Farm, we set off to explore the 67-acre property on foot. We passed and identified many crops - berries, fruit and nut trees, and vegetables - before entering the hazelnut orchard.  Upper School students Siobhan and Annika joined the group and helped out with camp tasks. We took our time in the orchard, stopping for a good-hearted hazelnut war and hazelnut throwing contest before hiking up into the cedar grove at the top of the property. Our hike along the perimeter of the farm ended in the pumpkin patch, where we each picked a pumpkin that called out to us. After carving them up, we played games and harvested fresh vegetables for a primavera sauce that would accompany our big pasta dinner. The feast was delicious, and we ended the night with a nice campfire in the woods before turning into bed in our tents. Sunday held more games, fresh food, and a visit to the farm's namesake pigs before loading up the bus and heading back to Catlin Gabel. The sun shone on us the entire weekend, and inspired us all to look forward to the next time that we can spend time together in the outdoors!

Cruising on the Banks-Vernonia Trail

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A beautiful fall bike ride

A group of Middle School student joined the outdoor program for a sunny 20-mile ride on the Banks-Vernonia trail on the flanks of the Coast Range. The Banks-Vernonia trail was once an old railroad that has been converted to a multi-use trail. In addition to the abundant ferns, streams, and woods that we rode past, we also cycled by historic railroad bridges and ended our ride at a lake in the small town of Vernonia. We stopped multiple times to share food, explore an old, abandoned fuel house from a defunct mill, and play capture the flag and frisbee in a park. We were all happy to be out of the city and enjoying a true Oregon fall day! Please enjoy some photos from our ride!

Annual descent of the Deschutes River

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Three days in Oregon's high desert

Deschutes Descent
October 14-16, 2011
Report by Bob Sauer

We gathered in the parking lot at Catlin Gabel early on Friday morning. We quickly stashed our gear in the bus, and Pat drove us out to our put-in on the Deschutes River on Hwy 26 near Warm Springs. Silas and Travis were waiting at the launch spot with our All Star rafts and gear. We stuffed dry bags with gear, filled three coolers with food, donned splash jackets and neoprene booties, and discussed and demonstrated safety and rafting procedures. The voluminous gear was strapped into the gear raft, and the 12 students boarded the other two rafts to begin our descent. We floated under the highway bridge and into adventure.

The first day was fairly calm, river-wise. That gave us time to coalesce as crews and to appreciate our beautiful surroundings. There was plentiful birdlife – many great blue herons, neat, white collared king fishers, and little groups of mergansers in the eddies. The banks teemed with fishermen, casting, casting, casting but never catching anything that we could see. 

We floated 20 miles down to Whiskey Dick, where we set up camp for the night.  The volunteer dinner crew put together the dinner: southwest fettuccine. The extra southwestern-ness contributed by the inadvertently burned onions gave a smoky flavor that didn’t add well to the overall taste. There was a lot left over. On the other hand, the salsa ensalada disappeared completely. Winter is on its way, and it was dark by 7:30. We were happy to head to our sleeping bags soon after that.

The next morning we were up at 7:00 and enjoyed a pancake breakfast. We broke camp, loaded the rafts, and were under way on the river by 9:30. Just downstream we stopped to scout the Class IV Whitehorse Rapids. We subsequently ran them without difficulty. We passed through areas of extensive grass fires that had burned earlier in the year. Entire slopes of the deep valley were dark brown and a bit forbidding. The black ash wasn’t visible except in the burned areas right along the river. On the higher slopes the dark basalt showed through the sparse ash and rendered the landscape brown rather than black. With the usual grass gone, the spectacular geology was even more in evidence than usual. Alluvial fans debouching from the steep, narrow side canyons showed their spread of rocks openly. The dark, burnt hillsides contrasted sharply with those unburnt, whose napped golden hue was the color of lightly cooked buttermilk pancakes. We stopped at Turtle Rock for some jumping off the high rock of the turtle’s beak into the deep eddy below. We pulled out at Buckskin Mary to camp for the night.

That evening we had build-your-own-burritos for dinner. There were plenty of trimmings to put in them, and everyone ate well. The early darkness again pushed us to turn in much earlier than we would at home. In the night there were several rain showers, fortunately light enough not to drench people or gear left outside. Some animal with sharp claws tried to get into the garbage bag inadvertently left hanging on the table, but it didn’t find much of interest. Another animal (or perhaps the same one) dragged some nesting material into the bottom of one of the empty dry bags. But by morning the animal was gone.

We had 18 river miles to cover the next day, and we had to meet the bus at Sandy Beach in the early afternoon. That meant an early start. We got up at 6:45, when it was still dark. The sky lightened as we packed our gear, and we didn’t need flashlights to eat breakfast. After we consumed muffins and cereal, packing up went efficiently, and we cast off by 8:40. We ran the exciting rapids at Wapinitia, Boxcar, and Oak Springs. Shortly before the takeout we stopped to let those who wanted to float through a rapid. No one had done this the day before at Buckskin Mary, despite the example of another high school group, most of whom floated through the rapid there while some of us watched. This time though, most of our group braved the cold waves to bounce through the rapids, some more than once. The rest of the muffins from breakfast and the leftover Oreos from lunch made a welcome energy boost to the chilled. From this rapid to the take-out was a quick 10-minute float.

With our practiced experience we quickly unloaded the rafts, organized the gear, and set off back to Portland, arriving at Catlin Gabel ahead of schedule. It had been a fun three days, filled with thrilling rapids, napping in the calm stretches, teamwork, camaraderie, and fine self-cooked food. Sign us up for another trip!


OLA Backpacking: Wahtum Lake to Eagle Creek

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In search of a bear-like animal with a horse's head

In her book, Hiking Oregon's Geology, Ellen Morris Bishop paints a pretty magical scene while describing the Eagle Creek drainage some 25 million years ago.  She says, "you would be strolling trhough a diverse forest of oaks, maples, gingkoes, sycamores, and sweet gum trees...The animals might look a bit odd.  They would include three types of two-toed horse about the size of a Great Dane, the camel Oxydactylus, and a plant-eating animal call a chalicothere that resembled a bear with a horse's head (Bishop, Ellen Morris. Hiking Oregon's Geology. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2004)."  While we didn't find any horse-headed grizzlies, and the ecosystem had changed quite a lot, we still found Eagle Creek to be as wonderful as ever.

As the backbone of the Outdoor Leadership and Adventure course, this weekend backpacking trip brought a lot of themes together from class.  It allowed us to come together as a group while putting to the test both the practical skills that we work on during the course (setting up a camp, lighting stoves, ecological appreciation, navigation, etc.).  the weekend also gave us a deeper context to explore some of the more abstract concepts that we throw around in OLA, such as leadership, communication, and grit.

We passed climbed a mountain, camped on a lakeshore, and passed many waterfalls (and even took some time to wade at the base of one!).  Please enjoy some photos from this wonderful weekend.

Rock climbing at Horsethief Butte

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A warm July day saw a dozen students board the shiny yellow bus for a trip over to the warm side of the mountains. We headed for Horsethief Butte State Park, just across the river from The Dalles. We parked in the new parking lot for the park, and paid the $10 parking fee before walking up to the crags that make up Horsethief Butte. Most of the students were new to rock climbing outdoors, but took to it like fish in water. We set up four different routes, and every student tried every route-- in fact, I think every student completed every route. In the early afternoon it got so warm that we headed over to Horsethief Lake and spent some time in the cool water adjacent to the Columbia River. During the drive home we stopped for ice cream in Cascade Locks, which added to the already exuberant feeling of accomplishment.

Extreme Ironing on the Summit of Mount St. Helens!

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Thirteen newly-graduated 8th Graders, one 7th grader, and one ironing board reach the top of a NW landmark.

"I've never been this tired in my life...not even when I stayed up to watch Harry Potter 7 on opening night!"

The words of this wise student summed up how we all felt after the nearly 12 hours of hiking that went into the powerful experience of standing on top of a Cascade volcano and peering down into the smoking crater.  All of us here in Portland orient ourselves by looking North to the snow-covered rise of Mount St. Helens, but few of us can claim to have been lucky enough to see the world from on top.  Thirteen excited and newly-graduated 8th graders joined the company of one dedicated 7th grader, four adult climb leaders, and an increasingly heavy ironing board to try their hand at reaching the summit.

As most of the group was new to the wonders of mountaineering, the greater portion of Saturday was spent in the sun, learning about the fundamentals of a safe and successful climb.  We talked about the essential clothing and personal equipment that one needs for an outing, as well as the importance of food, water, rest and paying attention to ones breathing and body.  We learned the basic skills needed on a mountain climb at a short Snow School (on a less than impressive snow slope!)  These techniques included the rest step, plunge step, walking with an ice axe, putting on and walking with crampons, and the theory behind a self-arrest.

Back at camp, we explored the edge of the lake, played some ridiculous games, and feasted on a "make-your-own burrito" spread.  There is nothing like chorizo to power you up a mountain.  We all went to bed early knowing that we would be awake again in only a few hours to start the climb.

By 4am everyone in the group was up and putting the final touches on their gear, and we were at the Marble Mountain trailhead and moving toward the mountain by 6:15.  Our first break all together came at timberline where the sun greeted us in full force.  The trail through the "Worm Flows" soon met up with Monitor Ridge, and the group worked its way up this prominent feature on the mountain.  The shortest route to the top of the mountain starts at a trailhead known as the "Climber's Bivouac," but due to the heavy snow this year, the bivouac had not yet melted out, forcing our group to take the longer approach from Marble Mountain.  The extra distance didn't slow us down, as our group easily kept pace with another Mazama party that was on the mountain that day.  

The group tired as we neared the top, and a bit of fog covered the summit, but everyone pushed on.  The first in our party reached the top at 1:11pm, and the rest of us trickled up to the rim before we all started the incredible glissade back to the forest.  As the fog cleared, we had unbelievable views north to Mt. Rainier, and down to the impressive, and smoking lava dome.  

The ironing board made it all the way up to the summit only for us to realize that somebody had forgotten the iron!  Please enjoy these photos from this incredible weekend.  It was an experience that we all will be able to draw from in many ways for years to come.

"Who forgot the iron?"


Outdoor Program Hike Up Dog Mountain

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The day dawned gray, with the promise of dampness ahead.  Nevertheless, the intrepid hikers, 11 students and 2 leaders, gathered at Catlin to set off to climb Dog Mountain.  All were present before the hour for departure, so the expedition left 5 minutes ahead of schedule.  Driving through the Gorge the clouds thickened, the moisture condensed, and the wipers came on.  In the distance much brighter clouds over Dog Mountain enticed us onwards.


As we approached the trailhead, the summit of our climb was shrouded in cloud.  The trail at the base was clear and dry, so after introductions all around, we set off up the first steep pitch in high spirits.  True to tradition, some students charged ahead, while others (and one leader) plodded up in the rear.  With stops at each junction to ensure that everyone went the same way, the group was never overly stretched out.  Despite the chilly, damp season we’ve had so far in the Northwest, the wildflowers were emerging colorfully.  Yellow Balsamroot, red Indian Paintbrush, and, higher up, lilac Phlox were to be seen, along with many others.

The wind rose and the temperature dropped as we neared the summit.  We were very glad of the extra layers and warm hats and gloves we’d brought along.  As we huddled in the flower fields at the top, a light rain began to fall as the view alternated between the damp inside of a cloud, fleeting views of snowy slopes on the Oregon side of the Gorge, and spectacular panoramas westward over Wind Mountain and down the Gorge towards Portland.  Living up to its name there were many dogs of all sizes on the trail.  One even sported a doggy rain poncho. 

The wet, windy and chilly weather didn’t dispose us to linger on the top, so we soon packed up our things and set off down the alternate route towards the base.  The lower we descended the warmer it got.  By the time we reached the trailhead the sun was out and it was a beautiful day.


The group came for many reasons: conditioning to climb Mt Hood or Mt St Helens, to build towards a summer of hiking, or just to have fun outdoors.  Since all made it to the summit, the goals were achieved.  We returned to Portland and Catlin 6 minutes ahead of schedule, tired but well satisfied with our efforts of the day.


Backpacking along the banks of Siouxon Creek

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Students of all grades of Catlin's Upper School ventured up the windy roads of the Mount St. Helens Volcanic Monument for a weekend of backpacking along the beautiful Siouxon Creek.  Three seniors took a break from their end-of-the-year, senior projects to join us on one of their last Outdoor Program trips.  After loading up our packs at the trailhead, we headed down the trail in perfect sunshine.  Mary quickly led the pack past multiple waterfalls and impressive rapids along the creek.  The trail crossed the full stream over bridges and we stopped multiple times to sit in the sun and enjoy being outside.  A long lunch at a rocky beach quickly turned into a rock throwing contest, with Max proving to be MVP.

The weathered turned around dinner time, and we cooked our food, played cards, and turned in for bed all while trying our best to stay dry.  After a long night's rest, we cooked our breakfast and packed up camp to start the pretty hike back to the bus.  We stopped at the Dollar Tree in Battle Ground, WA on the way home to pick up a random assortment of gifts for Peter Green who had to stay home for the weekend due to a knee surgery.

Please enjoy some photos from our weekend.

Hit the Road and Find that Vetch!

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MS and US Mt. Adams Biking and Service

Three Middle School students, eight Upper School students, and four faculty/staff members just returned from a fantastic weekend of biking and environmental service.

We left Portland at 9:30 on Saturday morning and arrived at Trout Lake-Guler County Campground at about 11:45. We ate a quick snack, pumped up bike tires and practiced our hand signals, and set out through the beautiful countryside. Mt. Adams and the sun both smiled down upon us as we rode across the flat back roads between Trout Lake and Glenwood, WA.

We started in Trout Lake, took Sunnyside Road for several miles, and eventually turned right on Warner Road. We encountered minimal traffic. We then turned right on Little Mountain Road instead of Hwy 141, which again helped us to avoid lots of cars. After a few miles on Little Mountain Road, we encountered the White Salmon River and a perfect spot to stop for our picnic lunch. Students ate, visited, and lay in the grass along the banks of the river. Some enjoyed throwing big rocks in the water to see who could make the biggest splash.

We then hopped back on our bikes and finished the rest of the leg back to Trout Lake, and decided to ride into the area behind the little “town” to see what else we might find. Eventually, we encountered seasonal Trout Lake itself, and took photos of Mt. Adams reflected into the water. A few raindrops finally began to fall at this point, so we headed back to our campground after our 20 mile bike ride.

Just as we began to pull our rain flies onto our tents, the big, sporadic drops turned into a pelting and sustained downfall. We donned raingear and hopped back on our bikes for the half-mile ride to Trout Lake’s Station Café and their world-famous huckleberry milkshakes. Thunder and lightning began to rumble outside, but thankfully we were inside, nice and warm. We decided to get on the bus and drive to Cheese Cave for some exploration—the best outdoor activity possible in heavy rains.

That night we cooked a mac-n-cheese dinner, played cards and Bananagrams, and sang to guitar music thanks to Andrew and Graham, and went to bed to the soothing rain.

The next morning, we headed out to the Conboy Lake Wildlife Refuge. Dan and Lisa showed us how to use GPS devices, and we spent a few hours combing the area for a rare type of vetch, marking any unusual findings on our observation sheet and using the GPS device to mark the location. No one found any vetch, which will help the refuge make the case that climate change is making it hard for pollinators to perpetuate the various plant species, including the vetch, which means it may become endangered or extinct.

We returned to school Sunday evening feeling refreshed and tired--a perfect combination.


Rafting the Grande Ronde River

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 The Nez Perce knew the Grande Ronde River as Welleweah, or "The River that Flows into the Far Beyond."  The Catlin Outdoor Program took a long weekend to explore the remote canyon that this beautiful river has carved in the far northeastern corner of the state.  Draining the Blue Mountains and the nearby Wallowas, the Grande Ronde sees few people over the 212 miles that it travels before spilling into the Snake River at Hell's Canyon.

This trip was a true adventure, as none of the participants, not even the leaders had been on the river before.  As we headed East toward Minam, the sunshine intensified and landscape changed dramatically from what we were used to.  While the views from the bus were beautiful, they couldn't compare to the steep canyons, clear creeks, sandy beaches, and rocky ridge tops that we would explore during our river trip.  We saw kingfisher, golden eagles, elk, and tons of deer along the way.  A pair of bear hunters were the only other people that we saw over our three days in the canyon.

Aside from the natural wonders, there were many other memories made over the weekend.  Puppies and baby goats at the Elgin Boot and Saddle shop, sharing riddles and jokes around the fire ring, the stinging of brambles against bare legs during an epic bushwhack, waiting for a new form of transportation from our take out at the Powwatka Bridge when our bus broke down......and Easter dinner at Denny's!

Please enjoy some photos from this adventure.  And, thank you to everyone in Eastern Oregon that helped us to get home on Sunday when things decided not to go as planned.  It all worked out in the end.  More photos to come.

6th Graders Kayak the Columbia

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Paddlers Unite!

We left Catlin early Saturday—7:45—and took the ferry at Cathlamat across the Columbia because of a landslide on Hwy 4 in Washington. We arrived at Skamokawa at about 10:30, got suited up, and drove to our put-in. Four students went in tandem boats, and three when in solos. We paddled about 5 miles downriver, stopping for lunch on a windy beach a little over half-way.


Mark and Katie, our guides, were fantastic. They wove in stories of ancient tsunamis that impacted the local ecosystem, talked about Native American traditions of the area, and explained the white settlement process. They also helped students identify several birds and insects and make sense of the tidal patterns.


One student kayaked for the first time in his life, and several had only tried it once or twice. All got the hang of it fairly quickly. Katie towed one student through a tricky section where it was a bit exposed and windy, but otherwise students were self-sufficient and adequately challenged and successful.


We finished kayaking around 3:00, cleaned up, and drove out to Cape Disappointment. We set up our tents and then headed to the beach. After a few hours building incredible drift wood forts on Waikiki Beach, we went back to our campsite and cooked burritos for dinner. We were in bed by 10:15.


Breakfast consisted of peanut butter, banana, nutella, and honey sandwiches, along with hot chocolate. We packed up the bus and drove to the trailhead to the park’s lighthouse. The two mile hike proved to be plenty in the rain and wind, and we then went to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. After lunch beside an “urban” lake park in Ilwaco, we headed over the Astoria Bridge and home along Hwy 26. 


Students agreed that this was the perfect introduction to kayaking, and many are already looking forward to convincing their families and friends to try it out!


Winter Camping and Snowshoe Trip to Elk Meadows

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Winter Comes Back to Mt. Hood

The winter finally came back to Oregon and blanketed Elk Meadows in two feet of fresh snow. A group of adventurous upper school students prepared themselves with snowshoes, warm sleeping bags, and winter camping gear and set off onto the flanks of Mt. Hood. We had beautiful clear skies, which made for impressive sunsets, stargazing (including a shooting star that shot all the way behind the mountain), and incredible views of the east side of the mountain. The group met its first challenge arriving at the crossing of Newton Creek. A couple of wood saws, some engineering genius, and an hour or so later, and our group had a sturdy bridge across the icy waters. It is hard work living in the snow for the weekend, but the group worked beautifully together, and created an impressive winter camp, complete with snow-benches, an ice-block windbreak, a snow-table, and snow-stairs. Deciding to test the insulating power of the snow, the whole group dug a big snow trench and slept through the night in the tarp-covered shelter. Sunday we hiked up towards Elk Mountain and took part in some phenomenal sledding. Please enjoy a few photos from this winter adventure.