Mother of Rivers: the Mountains of Georgia’s Caucasus Range

The massive relief of the Caucuses Range in the the Republic of Georgia’s Sveneti Region are staggering in their own right for their sheer natural beauty. Though much less well known then the Alps in western Europe, the Causcuses, straddling the southern border between Europe and Asia are the highest mountain range in Europe.

During the first part of my recent trip to the region, I spent several days trekking around Mount Ushba, one of the most striking mountains I have ever encountered. Like most of the highest peaks in Georgia, it sits along the international border with Russia.

Though not the highest peak in the range, at 4,710 m (15,453 ft), Mount Ushba is a massive peak and generally considered the most challenging mountaineering objective in the range. Seen hear at sunset with a steady stream of clouds forming and streaming off of the lee side of the summit. Though not the highest peak in the range, at 4,710 m (15,453 ft), Mount Ushba is a massive peak and generally considered the most challenging mountaineering objective in the range. Seen hear at sunset with a steady stream of clouds forming and streaming off of the lee side of the summit.
Mount Ushba (left), neighboring Mazerie Peak, and the massive rock covered lower portion of the Ushba Glacier photographed via moon and starlight.
Murky waters pour out of the snout of the Ushba Glacier, one of the headwaters of the Inguri River, one of the largest and economically most important river in Georgia.
Intrepid traveler crossing the ragging glacial outflow several miles downstream from the snout of the Ushba glacier in the Republic of Georgia’s Sveneti region.
The torrent of water pouring over the glacier carved cliffs bellow Mount Ushba have carved out a deep ravine into the landscape. Svaneti Region, Republic of Georgia.

The Shkhara massif sits south and east of Mount Ushba and includes Mount Shkhara and several other 5000+ meter peaks, the highest part of the Caucuses in Georgia. Fall temperatures had turned the mountain ash red on the alpine mountain slopes and dusted the ridgetops, peaks, and glaciers with fresh snow.

The massive bulk of Jhanga peak and Mount Shkhara from the west, drapped in ice and fresh snow, give birth to another tributary to the Inguri River. Sveneti Region, Republic of Georgia.
A rainbow straddles the mountain valley and snout of the valley glacier flowing off of the Shkhara massif. Georgian Caucuses Mountains.
Mountain ash’s brilliant red-orange after the onset of fall temperatures above the glacier fed river leading down to the tiny and remote village of Adishi. Sveneti Region, Republic of Georgia.
The Lamaria Church, near the town of Ushguli, with the southern face of Mount Shkhara, 5,193 m (17,040 ft), in the background.
Downstream, the impacts of primitive sewage systems, unbelievable garbage disposal practices, unfettered livestock access, old mining activity, and a massive hydroelectric dam take their toll on the Inguri River, but here at its headwaters it flows free and beautiful off of some of the highest peaks in the world.

North Cascades National Park Wildlife Tracking Certification

In mid-June North Cascades Institute hosted the first Wildlife Tracking Certification Event in North Cascades National Park. Besides a diversity of tracks and signs some challenging field conditions including some classic North Cascades rain and multi-element bushwacking/wading added to the experience for myself as the evaluator and for participants! Here are a few of the highlights from the Evaluation.

The right front foot of a mink (Neovison vison) in fine glacial silt found close to the mouth of Thunder Creek.
These tracks of a Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) were found just down the shore from the mink.
This unusual sign of a beaver (Castor canadensis) in the riparian forest along Thunder Creek stumped many.
Roger Bean, who earned a Level III Track and Sign Certification contemplates the beaver feeding sign during the evaluation.
The weathered track of a black bear (Ursus americanus).
Terry Kem, founder of Deerdance, earned a Level III Cerftication as well on the evaluation, seen here photographing a sign post tree well used by black bears along Thunder Creek.
Moose (Alces alces) are rarely sighted in western portion of the North Cascades, but these pellets indicate one had passed by the Easy Pass Trailhead along the North Cascades Scenic Highway.
Scat from a bushytailed woodrat (left, Neotoma cinerea) and a pika (Ochotona princeps) were both discovered in a large talus field.
Susan Brown, a graduate student in the North Cascades Institutes Masters of Education program, assisted with the evaluation. Pictured here by a powerline pole that had been bitten and rubbed on by black bears.


Congratulations to everyone who participated in the Evaluation. Of 10 participants, 3 Level III , 3 Level II , and one Level I certificates were awarded. For a list of certified trackers in North America click here.

Alpine Skills Training at Northwest Outward Bound School

mg_4933.jpg?w=300 Outward Bound Instructor Sam Ecenia dives into Alpine Skills Training on Mount Hood to start of the summer field season for Northwest Outward Bound School’s summer season.

The first staff training of the year for Northwest Outward Bound School‘s Odin Falls Basecamp in Central Oregon was a great success. Myself and five participants headed out to eastside of Mount Hood. Blue skies and generally excellent weather made for five very productive days from a basecamp we established on a moraine to the south of the Elliot Glacier, culminating in a summit climb via the lovely Cooper Spur Route (see photos below). We also spent a day working on rescue skills and student management on the basalt cliffs by the school’s Bascamp along the Deschutes River at the end of the training.

Along with being an instructor and trainer for Northwest Outward Bound School, I recently joined the Board of Directors for the school. After months of being involved with all the many things that go on behind the scenes to help ensure that Outward Bound Instructors have the chance to deliver life changing experiences to our students in the field, spending a week in the field with this group of instructors  in the backcountry was a good reminder for me about why the work that Outward Bound does is so powerful for students and instructors alike.

mg_4893.jpg?w=300 Heading up towards our camp on Mount Hood.
mg_4909.jpg?w=300 We set up our camp at the end of this glacial moraine above the terminus of the Elliot Glacier.
mg_4992.jpg?w=300 Our camp on the moraine above the Elliot Glacier on Mount Hood
mg_4928.jpg?w=300 Six year Outward Bound veteran Jess Stuecklen practices her self arrest skills.
mg_4938.jpg?w=300 Outward Bound Instructor Sam Ecenia self arrests after a face first digger. Being able to stop yourself from sliding on steep snow is a fundamental alpine climbing skill.
mg_5017.jpg?w=300 Outward Bound Instructor John Rudolph practicing his crevasse rescue skills–building a snow anchor and transferring the weight of a fallen climber from his harness to the anchor.
mg_5037.jpg?w=300 Jess bounds in a snow anchor. Participants had 15 minutes to construct an anchor and transfer the “fallen climber” to it during this drill.
mg_4958.jpg?w=300 Outward Bound Instructor Molly Hayes relaxes in camp after a full day of skills practice.
mg_4963.jpg?w=300 Mount Hood as seen from our camp location.
img_0997.jpg?w=300 We left our camp at 2 am for our peak bid, arriving at the base of the steep terrain close to the summit just as the sun was about to rise


img_1029.jpg?w=200 Hard snow up to about 55 degrees made for fun and exciting climbing conditions on the way up.


img_1007.jpg?w=300 img_1007.jpg?w=300Sunrise over the Columbia River as seen from about 9000′ on the Cooper Spur route
img_1031.jpg?w=300 Laura Berglund and Sam Ecenia pause for a moment as we get into the steepest portion of the climb



img_1032.jpg?w=300 View from a belay close to the summit.


img_1036.jpg?w=300 Sam Ecenia constructing a snow anchor for the final pitch of the climb. One of the basic educational concepts of Outward Bound is to “Impell People into Value’s Forming Experiences”. In classic Outward Bound fashion participants in the training practice all of the components of the peak ascent on the days leading up to the climb and then were impelled to put the skills into use to ensure the safety and success of our team endeavor on the climb.


img_1049.jpg?w=300 After leading the final pitch of the climb, Jess Stuecklen belays Laura Berglund as she crests the summit of Mount Hood, the tallest peak in the Oregon Cascades.


img_1083.jpg?w=300 View of the final portion of the Cooper Spur route which ascends the wind sculpted lower slopes before weaving through the bands of rocks to reach the summit.
img_1089.jpg?w=225 John Rudolph demonstrates one of Outward Bounds educational tenets–craftsmanship–in the fine meal he prepared for us at the end of our summit day. Nothing says excellence in alpine cooking like long strands of gooey melted cheese!


img_1027.jpg?w=300 The Northwest Outward Bound School Mission is to conduct safe, adventure-based experiences structured to inspire self discovery, self reliance, compassion for others, and care for our environment.For more information about Northwest Outward Bound School, vist
mg_49981.jpg?w=300 The silhouettes of Mount Adams and Mount Rainer at sunrise as seen from the northeast side of Mount Hood. Northwest Outward Bound runs courses in some of the most stunning and wild places in the Pacific Northwest including mountaineering courses in the Oregon and Washington Cascades. To sign up for courses visit


Creeping Voles Exposed

While scouting for teaching locations for the Wildlife Tracking Intensive at the end of April, Alexia Allen and I spotted a small rodent moving through the leaf litter in a riparian forest close to the Hoh River on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. I quickly reached down and captured the little grey creature who was kind enough to pose for a few photographs!

mg_4522.jpg?w=200 Creeping voles are a relatively small species of Microtus, typically found in forests here in the Northwest.
mg_4637.jpg?w=300 Field marks which identify this as a creeping vole include its small size, short tail, and small ears which blend into it fur as well as its forest habitat.
mg_4588.jpg?w=300 Creeping vole (Microtus oregoni)
mg_4519.jpg?w=300 Alexia Allen carefully handles the vole by its ruff.


Cybertracker Conservation Track and Sign Certification Event in the Swan Valley, Montana

Senior Tracker and Evaluator Mark Elbroch points out some of the finer details of a track during a discussion of one of the questions on the Evaluation.

Congratulations to all 11 folks who participated in the Track and Sign Certification Event in wild Swan Valley of northwestern Montana this past weekend, all of whom earned a certificate through Cybertracker Conservation!The event was hosted by Northwest Connections in the very quiet town of Condon. It was great getting to know more about this creative and inspiring organizaiton whose mission to “Integrate Science, Education and Community in the Conservation of Rural Working Landscapes”. I highly recommend any and all of the various educational opportunities they have to offer and hope to be back there soon! A special thanks also to Nick Sharp, Wildlife Conservation Society Biologist, and Doctoral student at the University of Montana, who organized the event (and put in a stellar performance on the Evaluation!)Over the course of the two days of the Evaluation, participants were given 70 different questions about tracks and signs discovered in the field. Species varied from voles to grizzly bears and the handiwork of everything from a bushytailed woodrat to a backhoe. Along with covering as diverse a set of tracks and signs as is possible over two days, the evaluation includes questions ranging from very simple (such as a clear deer track) to very challenging (such as interpreting the behavior of an elk which had scraped bark off of the trunk of an aspen with its incisors). For more information on Cybertracker Conservation Wildlife Tracking Evaluation methods click here.

mg_4329.jpg?w=200 Senior Tracker Brian McConnell, who assisted in delivering the evaluation, points out one of the questions, marks on an aspen tree to Adam Lieberg, Conservation Program Program Coordinator at Northwest Connections. Adam correctly interpreted them to be made by a black bear which had climbed the tree.

Here are photos of some of the things that were on the Evaluation and the questions about them. All questions are based on actual tracks and signs discovered in the field by evaluators during the Evaluation. After all of the participants have the opportunity to answer each question, the track or sign is discussed as a group and the evaluators carefully explain the correct answer and discuss why it could or could not be various other species, often using illustrations and other resources to help illustrate key features.

mg_41811.jpg?w=200 What species and which foot? Front and hind tracks of a red fox.
mg_4212.jpg?w=200 What species, which foot, and what was the sex of this animal? The left hind foot of a female mountain lion
mg_4248.jpg?w=200 What species (in regards to the lower tracks)? The front and hind foot of a wolf (above are the track of a whitetailed deer).
mg_4267.jpg?w=200 What happened to these shrubs? Tim Nelson inspects the work of a buck deer which left these marks on a serviceberry shrub with its antlers the previous fall, a marking behavior associated with courtship and breeding activities.
mg_4276.jpg?w=300 Who removed the bark from this burl on a lodgepole pine? From left to right, Track and Sign Specialist Matt Nelson, Mark Elbroch, Preston Taylor and Adam Lieberg discuss a contentious question, a burl on a lodgepole pine which had been debarked by a red squirrel.mg_4289.jpg?w=200
mg_4289.jpg?w=200 Who left this track? The weathered footprint of a grizzly bear.
mg_4325.jpg?w=200 Mark and Jenn Wolfe discuss one of the harder questions on the evaluation, the identity of a jawbone found in the field–in this case a wolf! Mandibles were not in short supply, and the striped skunk and black bear jawbone were also questions on the Evaluation.
mg_4349.jpg?w=300 Who made this hole? A foraging badger.
img_0838.jpg?w=300 Congratulations to everyone who participated and earned a certificate at the event!

Interested in participating in a Certification Event or hosting one? Find a list of future events I am running at Our North American website for all Tracking Certification events is currently underconstruction. Send me an email if you want to discuss details on hosting an event or links to Certification Events in other parts of the country!

Pulling Down At Frenchman Coulee

Thanks to Erin Smart and Forest McBrian for putting up with a lens in their direction during a beautiful couple of days  of climbing in Frenchman Coulee in Eastern Washington.

mg_39841.jpg?w=200 Mountain guide and photographer Erin Smart clips them on “Clip Em or Skip Em”, 5.8 on Sunshine Wall.
mg_39931.jpg?w=200 Soaring with the cliff swallows.


mg_4034.jpg?w=200 IFMGA certified Mountain guide Forest McBrian racks up for his next climb
mg_40462.jpg?w=200 Forest Mcbrian getting started on the Vantage classic “Air Guitar”, 5.10a, on Sunshine Wall.



Wolf Tracking In Wisconsin

mg_33912.jpg?w=200 Front track of an adult Wisconsin wolf.

Just home from a week and a half of adventuring in northern Wisconsin where I participated in a collaboration between Teaching Drum Outdoor School and Wilderness Awareness School on Wisconsin Wolf Tracking Expedition, joined by former Wilderness Awareness School Instructor and founder of the Earth Native Wilderness School, David Scott. Teaching Drum hosted the program which was held very close to the School’s home base near the town of Three Lakes, Wisconsin.Despite unseasonably warm conditions on several of the days and a lack of fresh snow for the first half of the class, snow conditions allowed us to peice together some amazing stories about the wolves of the region and the other wildlife that share the North Woods with them.

mg_3410.jpg?w=300 My coinstructor, and founder of the Earth Native Wilderness School, David Scott, inspects the recent scent marking activity of a wolf under a large hemlock tree just off of a forest service road in the Nicolet National Forest.


img_00082.jpg?w=300 David Scott and Teaching Drum staff member Chris Bean discuss the home range of the Giant Pine Pack which the class spent several days tracking.
mg_3430.jpg?w=300 Prior to the start of the program, Teaching Drum founder Tamarack Song took David Scott and I out to visit the folks participating in the rigorous 11 month long Wilderness Guides Program.
mg_34402.jpg?w=300 The participants in the Wilderness Guides Program invited us into their sleeping shelter, where they are weathering the snow and subzero temperatures of northern Wisconsin in relative comfort.
mg_3448.jpg?w=300 The outside of their winter quarters.
mg_3480.jpg?w=300 Tamarack Song looks on as one of the Guides in training works an elk hide on the frozen lake by their winter camp.
mg_3548.jpg?w=200 Tracks of a fisher bounding into the forest. Fisher sign was relatively common in many of the locations I visited while in the area.
mg_3584.jpg?w=300 Participants in the Wolf Tracking Expedition inspect the scat left behind by a large fisher.
mg_3663.jpg?w=200 Front track of a wolf found on the program.
mg_3641.jpg?w=200 Conservation Biologist and wolf researcher Ron Schultz shared tracking tips and stories from his years of field work capturing and collaring wolves in the area.
mg_3653.jpg?w=200 Teaching Drum staff member Leah Moss inspects a set of fisher tracks.
mg_3596.jpg?w=300 Tracker Randell Westfall inspects the cavity created by an excavated cache of deer meat made by a wolf.
img_0497.jpg?w=300 Wilderness Awareness School meets Teaching Drum in the North Woods.


A Winter Day in Eastern Okanogan County

Went exploring in eastern Okanogan County a couple of days ago. A beautiful landscape and one hard to reconcile with Washington’s tag line-“the Evergreen State”.

mg_3176.jpg?w=300 Arid valley south of the town of Conconully.
mg_3369.jpg?w=300 Abandoned building close to the former town of Nighthawk on the Similkameen River.
mg_3200.jpg?w=300 Conconully Cemetery
mg_3190.jpg?w=300 Tattered flag flying in the Conconully Cemetery


mg_3226.jpg?w=300 Blue Lake, Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.


mg_3254.jpg?w=300 Sinlahekin Valley, Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.
mg_3280.jpg?w=300 Valley north of the town of Loomis, Washington.
mg_3286.jpg?w=300 Palmer Lake
mg_3298.jpg?w=300 Palmer Lake
mg_3308.jpg?w=300 Similkameen River and Chopaka Mountains.
mg_3318.jpg?w=200 Similkameen River.
mg_3344.jpg?w=300 Entertainment in the Similkameen River Valley.
mg_3360.jpg?w=300 Abandoned mine rigging and tailings pile close to the former town of Nighthawk, Washington.


Conservation Northwest Ocotober Newsletter


The October edition of the Conservation Northwest newsletter is available online and features a number of images from my wolf project along with excellent articles on related topics! Downloaded it at:


View all of Conservation Northwest’s Newsletters at: The September edition also features a number of my images and excellent related articles.

16-20: The aroma of rotting salmon

mg_2052.jpg?w=300 A black bear carries its prize back to shore for a late afternoon meal.

Spent 4 of the last 5 nights out in the field, attaining a sense of oneness with the river, the tides, the migrating salmon, the moss and lichen cloaked trees of the rainforest, the bloodthirsty blackflies, and the ever present aroma of rotting fish carcasses–the good life. Several interesting encounters with wolves  which I’m sure will make it into the book.Flying south tomorrow and home the day after. Now that all the field work is completed, I reckon I’ll be chained to my computer for the next month and half writing. Don’t think I’ll be posting daily updates.

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