Sunday, September 13, 2009

Photography Summer Camp

After spending 3 days hiking mid-week in the Twisp area of the North Cascades, I packed up and headed over Washington Pass, stopping to take stunning photos at the lookout, of course, to the North Cascades Institute, an Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake within the National Park. Upon check-in, I received a name badge with a note inside to remind me of where my dorm was located: Fir 2, reminiscient of my mom pinning my gloves to my jacket when I was five. The campus has multiple buildings: the main office, classrooms, 2 dorms for weekend students and more for graduate students, a dining hall and areas for composting and maintenance.

The Outdoor Digital Photography class was housed in the Fir dorm while the Carnivores (they were studying them, not being them) were in the Cedar dorm. We had a schedule of activities like field trips and classroom editing (no Capture-the-Flag) and meals in the dining hall. Our instructor, Benj Drummond, is a photographer who specializes in Climate Change, something that has been recently adopted by the National Parks as a hot (no pun intended) issue. After introductions with my fellow classmates and an overview of the class with Benj and his assistant, Emily, we wasted no time by getting up and moving to the Dining Room. The food
at NCI ranks high in importance, unlike most summer camps that I have had experience with- No bug juice here!. The food they serve is sourced locally and organic, where possible, and included lots of vegetables and salad, pork, chicken and great desserts. I wouldn't go there just for the food, but you definitely won't go hungry.

We went out for some shooting behind the center, where there are trails through the trees, a photogenic stream and a shelter for instruction. It had beauty in its own ways, though the photo subjects weren't my regular materials, as I tend toward landscape photography in the mountains. But the importance is to find beauty everywhere and it wasn't hard to do in that setting.

That night, our instructor, Benj Drummond, showed two presentations. One
was from his personal project about Climate Change and how it affects people in different communities around the world, the other about a partnership between the North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park, and the National Parks Foundation that brought 19 high school students from all over the country to the North Cascades to experience climate change firsthand. Here's the link for more info: . His photos are amazing and the message is clear and informative.

We spent Saturday and Sunday hiking and walking in woods and to a lake (yes, I went swimming), finding more subjects for good photos. Here is a sampling of what I shot.

And, no, I was not homesick for even one moment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Assistant Trail Angel for a Day

After my mostly-berry-picking hike on Saturday, I headed toward the Pacific Crest Trail's north trailhead at Snoqualmie Pass so I could intersect with Chris' hike group because he and I had planned to go for a swim. (Yes, it was not ideal weather for a swim, being 50 degrees and moist air, but my swim addiction is strong and causes me to act irrationally at times). At the signpost for the trail, a couple sat eating and I figured they were one-way hikers waiting for a ride. We said hello, then I headed up the trail, running into Chris and his group a mere 15 minutes later. Upon returning to the trailhead, we struck up a conversation with the hike couple that were sitting there and their story soon unravelled. They were through-hikers on the PCT, having started in mid-April from Mexico and were recently discouraged by the heavy downpours and the impending closure and 20-mile detour north of Snoqualmie Pass due to forest fires burning in the area. They were waiting to find a ride to the Stevens Pass area so they could continue on their trek.

I really wanted to help them out, as I have read about so many accounts of through-hikers who were the recipients of people's generosity, usually being invited back to their house for a shower and a decent meal but also for being driven to nearby towns. This practice is known by through-hikers as Trail Angels. I was going to be heading over Blewett Pass, but not until Monday. Then Chris spoke up and mentioned that he would be leading a hike the next day to Tuck and Robin Lakes which branches off from Deception Pass where the trail intersects with the PCT. The PCT hikers' eyes lit up- what a great coincidence! And Chris lives at the Pass so he invited them over to spend the night. And I followed them back to his place.

They are Alicia and Alfredo, she from Portland, Oregon and he from Milan, Italy. Their story is unbelievable, as this journey on the PCT is only a fraction of their 13 years of adventures. Alicia started out from San Francisco on a sailboat with a (now previous) boyfriend with the goal of sailing around the world. Along the way, they met up with Alfredo, doing the same, yet solo. And, just as I have read of in many around-the-world sailing diaries, the two found each other, ditched the other guy, and continued traveling together all around the world. They have been together for 7 years, both in small quarters on the sailboat and on trails on all continents. Alicia mentioned places like Indonesia, the Seychelles, Vanuatu- she could teach a class in geography and hold every 5th-grader completely captivated by her stories, I am certain.

Chris and I finally went off to swim (or attempt to) and left Alicia and Alfredo to rest and relax. Our expedition wasn't quite as successful, as the lake we chose had a muddy bottom that sucked our feet in and required a long walk out into the water while we were exposed to wind and cold. I called it our "chicken swim" since we finally turned back, me clutching my arms around my chest, trying to keep warm. When we returned to the house, Chris re-introduced himself to his guests and I caught myself staring, trying to remember what the "before" picture had looked like. They had completely transformed from sweaty, dirty, trail-worn hikers to nice-looking people. We ate dinner, complete with Chris' homemade berry ice cream, which Alfredo beamed over and was given the bowl to finish and then it was off to bed for everyone.

In the morning, I didn't even have to ask how the hikers had slept; the look of a restful, good night of sleep in a soft, warm bed showed on their faces. After breakfast, we all packed up and met Chris' hike group outside. I gave Alicia and Alfredo my email address so they could get in touch with me if they came to Seattle and also to ask me for bike advice, since their next adventure was starting to sound like a bike tour across the US. As I drove toward home to get ready for my next adventure, I felt refueled with the fire of adventure travel and was grateful to Chris for letting me be a Trail Angel for a day, through him.