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Skiing to a Forest Service Lookout

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A winter storm, but next to a warm fire

Clear Lake Butte Lookout sits high atop a peak just south of Oregon's highest point- Mount Hood.  The views are fabulous - when it's not snowing.  And snowing it was throughout the entire two day adventure shared by six Upper School students and two leaders.  The group skied the old Forest Service road from US Highway 26 for about four miles.  The snow piled up in glorious weightless drifts, decorating the trees like a Currier and Ives painting.  It took about two hours to ski to the lookout.  After setting things up inside the group went out to practice their technique in the perfect powder snow.  Even after an hour or two the technique remained unperfected, but darkness arrived.  With a little Italian flair the group prepared a massive spaghetti dinner, followed by homemade chocolate chips cookies baked on the woodstove.  Everyone in the group agreed to take on the challenge of trying to build a fire outdoors.  It took a little over two hours, but the group was successful in getting a fire going in the snow! 

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!



Oregon's Greatest Landscape

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Upper Schoolers travel to Hart Mountain on a beautiful weekend

What could be better than wandering across breathtaking open grasslands, exploring abandoned homesteads and descending through ancient canyons on a rainy Portland  weekend?  Seven students and three leaders from Catlin's Upper School made the trip to Southeast Oregon in a couple of spiffy rental SUVs the weekend before Thanksgiving. 


The drive took us first to The Dalles, and south on US 197  (to avoid frantic skiers racing to $74 downhill skiing at Mt. Hood).  The rain that was soaking western Oregon ended soon enough and we broke into sunshine around Bend.  The drive through La Pine, Fort Rock, Silver Lake and Summar Lake was magnificent.  The incredible beauty of the endless vistas had the students in awe most of the time.  We stopped in Silver Lake to visit the memorial to the victims of the Christmas Eve fire that killed scores of children and adults there over a hundred years ago. 

We reached our destination of Plush in the afternoon and spent time visiting some ancient pictographs and petroglyphs along the shores of a nearby lake.  That evening we spent a warm night in a cabin donated for our use by a local resident.

On Sunday we were off early and drove up to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge Headquarters.  From there we headed south to our trailhead near Blue Sky.  We had arranged for a couple of helpful Plush resident to shuttle our vehicles for us - allowing us to make the 17 mile hike in just a single (downhill) direction.

We were following a track recommended to us by the Oregon Natural Desert Association as being spectacular, untravelled and good for winter travel.  They were right on all counts.  The initial few miles of the hike took us along old abandoned jeep roads through beautiful grasslands.  Now that grazing has been suspended on the Refuge, the students were able to see the area in its full beauty of luxuriant grass and wildflowers.  We came across dozens and dozens of animal tracks in the fresh snow as we walked.  A herd of pronghorn antelope grazed not far from where we walked.  The students were excited to see a small herd of wild horses cross our trail not more than a quarter mile from us.  We visited an abandoned homestead and then crossed a few small passes before finding a nice location to spend the night.

Monday saw us travel south over a few more passes and across the heads of several canyons.  On top of one pass we were treated to a truly specacular view of the canyons and escarpments of the area that extended all the way south to California.  Several students said it was the most magnificent view they had ever seen.  The group came upon Wool Lake, and found it completely frozen over.  We discovered a number of pictographs on an obscure cliff face that may never have been seen before (who knows?).  A short time later we came across a carving from early pioneers that was dated from 1897.  What a great way for students to learn history!

We descended Fischer Canyon that afternoon and ended up camping at a hot springs.  Lucky for us the water was indeed hot and we spent several hours soaking while dinner was prepared.  The next day we boarded our SUVs for the ride home-- the students were enchanted by the landscape and we stopped many times to take photos and look at the scenery before we arrived at school before dinner.

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!


Biking along the Deschutes River

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What a fantastic day!

Golden wheat fields, quaint towns, quiet streams, booming waterfalls.  Fifteen of Catlin finest spent the day biking along the deserted roads of the highlands above Maupin on a perfect fall day.  The group met at Catlin at 8am and drove over Government Camp to a remote highway junction past Pine Grove.  All the bikes were unloaded, tires pumped up and water distributed before everyone headed north toward the town of Tygh Valley.  We toured the small town and then headed east over some rolling hills to White River Falls State Park.  The Park is a little known grassy sward overlooking the dramatic triple falls of the White River-  a river that begins its journey high on the eastern slopes of Mount Hood.  We all had lunch there before hiking down to the abandoned power station.  A few of our number waded into the chilly river.

From here we biked down the glorious road all the way to the Deschutes River itself.  A few Native Americans were trying their luck at gathering in the fall run of salmon at Sherar's Falls.  The route from here took us along the Deschutes for eight miles before we arrived in Maupin.  Ice cream, both vanilla and chocolate, were provided to all deserving hands as we passed through Rhododendron on the way home.


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.

Cascade Foothills Hiking, Rivers, and Poetry...

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...on a Mellow Fall Weekend

Four high school students, English teacher Brett Mathes, and outdoor ed teacher Erin Goodling spent the weekend hiking along the banks of the Clackamas River, enjoying views of raging waterfalls, wading in Fish Creek, and discussing poetry until the wee hours of the morning around the campfire. Even the drizzle on Saturday night and Sunday morning wasn't able to keep their spirits at bay. These haikus appropriately sum up the weekend for this great group:


Black rose, gift of love

Marshmallows, peanut butter

Clackamas River


Artistic photos

On the banks of the river

Model on a rock


Puddle in my tent

Should’ve placed the tarp better

Thank god for coffee!


Hiking in the woods.

Swimming in the cold water.

Sitting 'round the fire.


There’s something so nice

about wool hiking socks, and

hip-hop on the bus


We arrive early.

Hanging dripping tents and tarps.

Hooray for field day!


Climbing in the sun at Smith Rock

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A wonderful September weekend

A large group of 26 Catlin Gabel students spent a sunny weekend at Smith Rock State Park climbing on the rocks and towers of central Oregon. On the first day about half the students spent the day at a rock school, where they learned climbing techniques, commands, rappelling, and knots. The other half of the group split into smaller groups and ventured off to climb routes rated from 5.7 to 5.11. Following a full day of activity we headed off to a Chinese resturant in nearby Redmond for a huge meal. The night was spent at Skull Hollow Campground about seven miles from Smith Rock.


On Sunday we all divided into four groups and scattered to various locations to set up climbing operations. The sun was out, and it was quite warm in the sun. We all gathered up at the big yellow bus at 2:00 p.m. and headed back to our homes in Portland.


Rock climbing on beautiful granite in Idaho

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Sunny weather and a fun group make for a special week

Three van loads of Catlin Gabel students and half a dozen students from other Portland schools spent a week in (mostly) sunny Idaho in June. City of Rocks National Reserve provides some of the best sport climbing in the world--on quality, clean granite. The camping is fantastic and the surroundings beautiful. This year we had 22 students and six advisors for the excursion. It took an entire day to make the drive, highlighted by pizza on very thin crust in Burley, Idaho. The second day saw us up at the Breadloaves climbing area in fine sunshine. Despite the irreverently named climbs, everyone tried their hands at routs rated from 5.7 to 5.11b. By mid afternoon some clouds had rolled in and people were getting nervous, so we packed up the ropes and headed back to camp, arriving just before a major rain shower.   













Being true Oregonians, the team was unphased and were able to stay dry for the most part. The next morning the drizzle continued, but cleared off pretty quickly. On this day we split into three groups. Two of the groups went up toward the Breadloaves area, while one went to the backside of Breakfast Rock and then to Morning Glory Spire. The climbing was fantastic in the warm sunshine. That evening we packed up our tents and walked down the road to the "great campsite" which had come open just for our use. The third day of climbing was highlighted by the takeover of Elephant Rock by our intrepid and mostly brave group. Practicing their language skills, the students were able to comvince other parties of the necessity of our group completing various climbs. By the end of the day just about everyone had had their fill of the great routes. Our fourth day of climbing was spent on the beautiful rocks that surrounded our camp. By this time the temperature was getting a bit warm for rock climbing, so students chose climbs featuring shade. On this, the final, night all the students put together acts for a brilliant talent show. Laughter filled the night air, and continued in the vans on the ride home the following day.


An Attempt on Mt. Hood

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Students test their endurance in poor weather

Often June provides good weather for an attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Hood. This spring was quite an exception. A group of 8 students and 3 adult leaders spent a pleasant Sunday just after school let out learning skills needed for glacier climbing. Once everyone felt comfortable that they knew what they needed to know, we all travelled down the mountain and stayed at the Mazamas Lodge. We had a fine dinner and early breakfast prepared for us before we stepped out the door into the rain at 1:00 am. Thinking we could rise above the rain we headed up the Timberline Road, but, alas, the rain continued up at 6000 feet. There was little wind and the students weren't cold, so they insisted that we at least give it a try. The group hiked up the hill near the chairlift to the Silcox Shelter, where we all reassessed. The group was doing well, staying warm and fairly dry in the rain. We continued the ascent all the way to the top of the Palmer snowfield. Once here the group consensus was to head back down, as the weather was not improving--and leaving the relative safety of the ski slopes was not something we wanted to do in this poor weather. With everyone still in good spirits we headed down the hill where our bus driver was waiting for us. We loaded everyone up and returned in good spirits to Portland by noon.

Mountain to Mouth!

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Exploring the Hood River Watershed from Mt. Hood All the Way Down to the Columbia River

The inaugural Hood River Watershed Ecology trip, planned collaboratively with the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute, provided students with the unique opportunity to explore the land surrounding the Hood River, south of the Columbia River Gorge and southeast of Mt. Hood, from multiple perspectives.

In addition to classic outdoor trip highlights such as learning to use an ice axe and crampons for the first time, glissading down snow fields on Mt. Hood, camping in Elk Meadow surrounded by wildflowers and Mt. Hood smiling down, flying down hills on our bikes alongside small tributaries to the Hood River, making s’mores by the campfire, and paddling down Class III rapids in inflatable kayaks, trip participants also learned invaluable lessons about the complexity of the Hood River watershed’s ecosystem and the ways in which humans rely upon and interact with it.

Here are some snapshots of each day of the trip:

Day 1: Water Quality at the Source, Eliot Glacier, Climate Change and Mini-Snow School

We drove up to Cloud Cap early Monday morning and met Kelly Nokes from Columbia River Waterkeeper right away at the headwaters of the Tilly Jane Creek. She taught us how to measure pH, temperature, turbidity, and more, all of which indicate the health of the water and its capacity to sustain life.

We then hiked up onto Eliot Glacier with Darrel Lloyd, a glaciologist that has been photographing Eliot and surround glaciers for thirty years. He showed us photos of changes over time, and the shrinking ice astounded us. He also talked at length about the science and ecology of glaciers and their importance to the overall health of a watershed. For example, the more a glacier melts, the more rocks and debris slide down the mountain into rivers, thereby destroying habitat and fish spawning grounds.

Finally, George taught everyone how to safely walk with crampons, how to use ice axes for self-arrest, and how to glissade down the snow fields—a fun change from the serious academics earlier in the day. Many students said they definitely want to try climbing Mt. Hood when the chance arises later this year.

“Until this trip, I always though of Mt. Hood as just a place for snowboarding. That’s it. That’s all I did there. Now I have a whole new way to look at it…it’s where our water comes from, it’s a good place to hike, forest fires have come through there…there’s just a lot more to think about.” –Andrew

Day 2: Backpacking the Timberline Trail, Wildfire, Coniferous Forest, Alpine Wildflowers, Gnarl Ridge, Elk Meadow

On Tuesday we began the first leg of our backpacking trip, heading southeast and traversing the timberline of Mt. Hood’s northeast side. We quickly climbed above the timberline and looked down upon it for much of the day, with Mts. Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams behind us to the north.

We crossed countless snowfields and ridges, and eventually came to a good resting spot. Alan Horton, a thirty-year veteran of the US Forest Service, accompanied us on this portion of the backpacking trip so that he could help us to better understand wildfires and forest ecology. Peter and Andrew both read articles about wildfire in preparation for the trip, and they contributed good background information to the discussion.

“We sometimes think that whatever we do to stop forest fires is helping nature, when actually nature has its own way of stopping things and has a plan for how everything works, and we’re just interfering and usually making it worse.” –Peter

Alan spoke not only of the complexities of managing fires and forests, but also of the challenge of maintaining his conservationist philosophies in a system that often values economics above ecosystems. Four students cited conversation with Alan as the highlight of the day.

 “I come away from this very brief, touching experience with you all with a renewed hope in our future, because you are so attentive and you have such great attitudes. I know you’ve got some great ideas that are going to be good for the earth. Thank you for letting me part of your experience.” –Alan

After our discussion and some off-trail navigation due to higher-than-normal snow levels, we descended onto Gnarl Ridge just below Lamberston Butte and felt awed by the sweeping views of grey sediment and rock alternating with snow patches all the way down the gorge below the Newton-Clark Glacier. We ate lunch on top the ridge, and while eating heard what we mistook to be thunder…but without a cloud around! We turned around and saw a dramatic rock fall way up high near the summit of Mt. Hood, as clouds of dust plumed up into the sky.

We then continued to descend into the coniferous forest and eventually made our way to the spectacular Elk Meadow, with all its wildflowers and small creeks. We sketched the mountain, wrote journal entries, napped, feasted on macaroni and cheese, and fell asleep on the edge of the meadow.

Day 3: Backpacking the Cold Spring Creek Trail, Salmon Habitat and Lifecycle, Old Growth Forest

We awoke to a layer of frost on our sleeping bags and tarps on Wednesday morning—a reminder of our relatively high elevation (around 5300 feet) sleeping in the meadow. The Cold Spring Creek Trail, running alongside its namesake through a second-growth forest, proved much easier to navigate than the previous day’s Timberline Trail.

At one point we sat down on the side of the trail and learned from Genevieve and Emily about old growth forest, climax forests, the spotted owl debate, and other interesting ecological tidbits. We felt lucky to have such resident experts! We made good time on the eight or so miles to Tamanawas Falls, where we ate lunch under the mist of the waterfall.

“Little things, such as species becoming endangered, are really indicators of a larger problem, and we should look at it from a larger perspective—which can be frustrating for people in their own [non-interdisciplinary] careers sometimes.” –Genevieve

We then hiked about two miles down to Cold Spring Creek’s confluence with the East Fork of the Hood River, where we talked with Emily about salmon and salmon habitat. Soon we were joined by where we met Jurgen Hess, an alpine ecologist and retired Forest Service employee. We talked more about wildfire, old growth forest, and salmon habitat, and then hiked the rest of the way to the Tamanawas  Falls Trailhead. We camped in Nottingham campground that night, alongside the east bank of the raging East Fork of the Hood River.

 “I learned a lot about nature in Oregon since I just moved here [two weeks ago], and how it’s different from the East Coast. It’s bigger.” -Lucy

Day 4: Farming, Irrigation, Salmon, Wendell Berry, Biking the Back Roads North of Hood River, Interdisciplinary Innovation

We began our day at Tollbridge Park, where we met our bikes and Jerry Bryan and Jer Camarata from the Farmer’s Irrigation District. Jerry’s introduction left us a little confused, but undeniably curious. As we rode away from his recitation of Wendell Berry’s poem, “A Farmer’s Manifesto,” we wondered how such an outspoken, almost-retired, theology degree-holding atheist could possibly be doing anything useful for salmon and farmers alike.

“I liked what Wendell Berry said about how everything is connected and some people don’t realize that. If something [a fish] dies, people don’t realize that the fish are connected to the forest [for nutrients].” –Libby

We kept Jerry and Jer in our minds as we biked through perfectly manicured orchards of cherry, pear, and apple trees, with Mt. Hood looming over us the whole time. We eventually made our way to a fish hatchery operated in cooperation between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Warm Springs Confederated Tribe. Albert, the hatchery assistant manager and a tribal member, and Jim, the hatchery manager, gave us a tour of the facility and helped us to understand the role of fish hatcheries in the broader context of managing the watershed and maintaining the health of Columbia River Gorge salmon populations.

Our next stop was Punchbowl Falls, as the confluence of the East, West, and Middle Forks of the Hood River. We ate lunch above the water, and afterward watched several salmon attempt to jump up a smaller nearby waterfall. None made it while we stood nearby.

We hopped back on our bikes and once again met up with Jerry and Jer. We followed them down a little-used gravel road to one of the Irrigation District’s innovative horizontal water diversion fish screens. We learned that the Irrigation District, whose job is to provide irrigation water for over 5,000 acres of Hood River farmland, hired Jerry twenty-five years ago because of his experience advocating for fish. Over the course of his tenure with the District, Jerry developed a knack for figuring out ways to satisfy the needs of both fish and farmers. He said, “I’m the guy they [farmers] love to hate!...As soon as we started thinking from the point of view of the fish, we actually figured out ways make the farmers more money than they’d made before, when they were ignoring fish health and habitat.” He helped develop an innovative screen that allows water to be diverted for irrigation without harming fish. People have come from all over the world to learn about this invention:

“The Farmers Irrigation District developed a screen technology that keeps fish from entering irrigation and hydroelectric canals. The Farmers Screen is a horizontal, flat-plate diversion screen that harmlessly moves fish over the screen and back to the river while safely diverting water for irrigation and hydroelectric use.”

Follow the link to watch live fish screen webcams and read more about it:

 “I’m going to take away knowledge about the horizontal fish screen process because…when they showed us the diagram and the movie and then we actually saw it, it brought to life how much thought goes into this whole process, with the physics of it all and it made me realize that you can pull different ideas from different fields to solve one problem, and that makes teamwork sound a lot more important.” –Margaret

After our inspiring final meeting with Jerry and Jer, we continued down towards Hood River through the farms. We stopped to buy some cherries and enjoy them under a tree, and then made our way to Tucker County Park—our last campsite of the trip. Students waded in the river and sunned on rocks before a final delicious Pad Thai dinner, marshmallows, an impromptu performance by a fellow nine year-old camper, and sleeping under the stars. 

Day 5: Inflatable Kayaks, the Hood and Columbia Rivers, the Former Powerdale Dam Site, Salmon Bake, Putting It All Together

Our final day of the trip proved to be the most refreshing and adrenaline-producing. Ben, Zack, and Sylus taught us how to safely navigate in inflatable kayaks, and we set off down the Hood River just below Tucker Park like a line of baby ducks. Students quickly adapted to paddling and adeptly maneuvered around rocks and rapids like veterans.

About two miles downstream, we pulled out to meet with Jeremy from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Steve Stampfli, who’s helping to manage the habitat restoration process after the local power company decided to tear down the Powerdale Dam last year. We saw photos of the habitat restoration process and learned about the complications of providing power for local residents while also paying attention to fish habitat, air quality, farming needs, forest health, water quality, and cost.

“There are complications behind complications—for example, the decision to let a forest fire burn out or to put it out. Also, taking out the [Powerdale] dam means that more people’s energy might come from coal, but if you leave it there the fish can’t get through. There are a lot of trade-offs.” –Siobhan

We ended our day and trip at the mouth of the Hood River as it meets the Columbia, where we cleaned up and loaded the kayaks, and then enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled salmon caught that morning by a local Native American, local greens, and watermelon. We invited all the stakeholders we met throughout the week, and though most were too busy with work obligations to come out, Alan and his wife, Sharon, joined our group for our final meal.

We spent several minutes reflecting on the week’s experiences:

“I learned so much…everything from the meaning of the word turbidity to the best way to get a kayak off a rock. There’s so much middle ground we covered…There’s a lot to think about.” –Walker

 “I’ll take away how connected everything is—much more so than I’d imagined. Every action has a reaction…If you take some fish out of a stream, that has a big impact.” –Alex

Siobhan and Genevieve ended with a closing poem that expressed our gratitude toward the salmon, our guests, and our experience of the week:

Once upon a time,

the sun swept slowly over Timberline.

The glacier slowly melted down in size,

As earth’s temperatures began to rise.

Extreme weather events increased

And glacial freezing began to cease.

Boulders and debris came down

Causing salmon to frown.

Thought the rivers’ health declined

And many forgot to keep fish in mind

People such as those gathered here

Worked hard to improve the earth’s atmosphere.

So hey there smoky salmon!

You have a future that’s worth saving.

We’re grateful for this meal we’ll take.

And thankful for all the fish for heaven’s sake.


The Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute plans to take local Hood River County students through a similar exploration next summer, and Catlin Gabel students may be back as well. Thanks to all the students, special guests, and leaders that took a risk and went for it this year--you are true ecological pioneers!


Our Life, Our Love, Our Lady: the Sea

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Tales of a San Juans Sea Kayaking Adventure

This fantastic week began with a 7:30 meeting time at Catlin on Sunday morning. We loaded the bus and drove up to Alder Creek’s Jantzen Beach shop where we met up with Chris and Paul to try out various kayaks and dry suits for fit on land. Once we all found our dream Michelin-man suits, booties, and vessels, we drove north across the Columbia for our Basic Skills Class on benign Vancouver Lake.

Though perfectly placid, within ten minutes on the lake at least four of us succumbed to the difficulties of balancing and maneuvering barely eighteen-inch wide boats across water, and capsized! Thankfully, our dry suits kept us warm and toasty. After learning the basic strokes and practicing our edging and turning (and a few more capsizes), we all dove in the water in order to practice rescuing each other. Students adapted quickly to the importance of good communication, emptying teammates’ boats of water after flipping, and “rafting up” in order to increase stability and make for easier re-entries. After a game of Sharks and Minnows, we pulled ashore, loaded boats on the trailer, and enjoyed a quick brown bag lunch in the park before moving further north toward Seattle.


As soon as the Space Needle emerged on the horizon, we knew that Chris Potts and the Seattle Bouldering Project loomed nearby. “If you want to start a business, expect that it will take roughly six times more time and seven times more money to get going than you think,” Chris warned as he gave us a tour of the sprawling complex that he and a buddy opened a month ago, just east of I-5. His time and investment clearly paid off, and we enjoyed two hours of world-class indoor bouldering—the next best thing to an actual trip to Squamish or the Valley. Though most of us reveled in the creative route-setting and steep walls, Ian, Hannah, and Henry spent most of their time wrestling with Chris on the pole-vault-landing-style padded floor. Chris won, hands down. Visiting and playing with Chris definitely makes the highlight list for this trip, and future Catlin groups should not hesitate to go out of their way for a stop at SBP!


We then continued our journey northward, and finally met up with Chris and Dave at Washington Park in Anacortes for our first night. After a hearty taco dinner in the dark, we settled into a night of sleep on soft pine needles under a thick canopy and clear skies.


After an early Monday breakfast of peanut butter, Nutella, honey, and banana sandwiches, we loaded the bus and caught the 8:30 am ferry to Guemes Island. We drove to our launch site at the far north end of the island and began the tedious process of packing gear into dry bags and cramming it into our long skinny hulls for our sea voyage to Cypress Island. We learned to pay attention to the balance of weight not only from the front to the back, but also side to side while packing our kayaks.



Once fully locked and loaded, the previous day’s Basic Skills Class proved to be a valuable learning experience that enabled our entire group to confidently and immediately hit the open-ish sea. A two-hour paddle on calm water propelled us past dramatic wildlife such as porpoises, seals, eagles, oyster catchers, and more to Pelican Beach on the north end of Cypress Island—our new home for the next three nights. And…everyone stayed dry! We set up camp, explored the woods and beach, napped, went for short hikes and runs through the trees, skipped rocks, threw rocks and logs, built forts and fires, ate delicious Pad Thai for dinner, read our fortunes to one another (at six cents a piece, you can’t beat WinCo’s fortune cookies for the ultimate conversation starters), and went to sleep to the sound of pebbles echoing against one another at the edge of the water.


On Tuesday, we paddled our longest stretch of the week along the cliffs of the west side of Cypress Island, down through Rosario Strait to Strawberry Island. Though somewhat of a misnomer (we found many more wild strawberries on Cypress than on Strawberry), the 200-yard long island became the perfect spot to stop for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Students explored the island’s rocks and meadows and consulted a field guide for information on wildflowers such as wild roses and yarrow. Three students decided to join Erin and Dave for a short paddle to the south side of Cypress Island and a three-mile hike, and the rest of the group sunned for another hour on Strawberry before heading back north to our base camp.


Highlights of the remaining days include rafting seven boats together and creating a makeshift sailboat with a hammock and paddles (it worked!); finding dozens of bones, shells, pebbles, feathers, and other treasures; hiking seven and a half miles up and down the highest peak on Cypress Island; Dutch oven apple pie and polenta lasagna; learning about the incredibly complex currents, tides, topography, ebb and flood patterns, and weather variables of the San Juans; building drift wood fires and roasting marshmallows; playing silly games such as “hit the stick” and “launch each other off the log” on the beach; a nighttime paddle amongst billions of phytoplankton all lit up; sunny, clear skies and temps in the 60s and 70s; sleeping under the stars; a mixed-age group of students working extremely well together; and a windy and rough but exciting and satisfying paddle on our return to Guemes Island at the end.


The drive home went smoothly thanks to a late lunch stop at Burgerville in Centralia. We listened to our theme song, “Brandy is a Fine Girl” by Looking Glass at LEAST six times on the way home, belting the lyrics out the windows. Our life, our love, and our lady, indeed, was the sea—at least for the last five days. Most students agreed that leaving the islands proved to be their principal “low” of the week. All agreed that they’d do this trip again, ideally for at least a full week. We will be back!


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.