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Published: Saturday, August 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Adventure is easy at North Cascades learning center

You can hike, canoe and swim in the wonderland right outside your door

  • The view from the Diablo Lake Overlook on Highway 20.

    Katie Mayer / The Herald

    The view from the Diablo Lake Overlook on Highway 20.

  • The administration building at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

    Laura Swimmer / North Cascades Institute

    The administration building at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

  • Colonial Peak at sunset, as seen from the trail to Sourdough Falls on July 21.

    Katie Mayer / The Herald

    Colonial Peak at sunset, as seen from the trail to Sourdough Falls on July 21.

  • Canoers take in the view of Colonial Peak as they paddle on Diablo Lake on July 22.

    Katie Mayer / The Herald

    Canoers take in the view of Colonial Peak as they paddle on Diablo Lake on July 22.

Go on an adventure. Work up an appetite. Eat awesome food. Repeat.
That about sums up the Base Camp program at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.
The learning center on Diablo Lake offers classes and programs throughout the summer. When they're not booked up for one of those, you can rent a room.
Base Camp includes a room, meals and lots of chances to enjoy the amazing wild areas nearby.
I recently visited with a friend for a quick getaway. We showed up in the afternoon. We had enough time to settle into our room and wander a short trail to the lake before a quick orientation. The staff explained the plan for the next days, told us about the learning center and gave us a tour.
The center includes classrooms, many used for programs for school-aged kids. The library is heaven for any outdoor-minded person. Like all the other buildings, it lets in a ton of natural light and is filled with nature books of all types: reference books, natural history, essays, fiction, guidebooks, kids books.
Guests are welcome to wander in anytime. I could have curled up there for a week, but our guides for the day told us about dinner, and I followed them out the door.
Dinner was something to talk about. The center is devoted to local food. Most of the food comes from nearby farms and is fabulously fresh. We enjoyed wild rice pilaf; kale and tomatoes; beef; and mushrooms stuffed with quinoa. For dessert, there were raspberry cream tarts and angel food cake with fresh raspberries and fresh whipped cream.
After dinner, we joined the group for a hike to Sourdough Falls. On the way up, we paused to talk about the plants and animals of the area. One of the naturalists pointed out bear scratches on a tree.
He also described a fascinating growth habit of alders, showing us a collection of trees that had grown in a nearly perfect circle. When the trees grow like that, he said, you can bet they started in the rich surface of a decaying Douglas fir stump.
On the way up, we enjoyed the lovely glow on the surrounding peaks, including Pyramid and Colonial. Pyramid is smoothly rounded, while Colonial is rugged and jagged.
Long, long ago, when the whole valley was still under glaciers, our guides told us, Colonial stuck up above the ice, while Pyramid was just enough shorter that the glaciers smoothed its peak. I love fascinating tidbits like this.
Sourdough Falls was lovely. We took photos, being careful to stay out of the stream, where endangered frogs live.
The next morning, it was breakfast at 8 a.m., another delicious meal. Sandwich fixings were spread out to make sack lunches for those heading out for the day.
Next up, a canoe trip on the bright green lake with stunning views and a family of mergansers for companions. Once again, the guides filled us in with details about the area's history.
When we returned to shore, I jumped in the lake to confirm the rumors of how cold it is. Yup, it's cold -- breathtakingly so.
We ate lunch before heading back to civilization: an awesome carrot, coconut and maple soup.
We left reluctantly, making plans all the while to come back. After all, I had to leave before I could take the naturalist up on an offer to hunt for invertebrates in the stream.
If you go
Base Camp includes lodging, three meals a day and activities. The rooms have two sets of bunks, and the lodges have showers and toilets.
You can participate in activities with the staff or head out on your own. If you have a specific interest, the staffers will work hard to find an activity you will enjoy.
Families are welcome.
Rates range from $125 for a private room to $230 a night for a quad.
Base Camp is available only when the center isn't full with other classes and camps. Call 360-854-2599 or email nci@ncascades.org for details, including a schedule.
For more about the North Cascades Institute, see ncascades.org.
Story tags » HikingCampingWildlife Watching

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