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NOLS Instructor Talks Leave No Trace Practices and Perspectives


image from a recent interview on Alaska Public Media's Outdoor Explorer program, NOLS Instructor Tre-C Dumais speaks about the ethics and practices of Leave No Trace (LNT). In addition to practical tips, listen in for a rich discussion about wild places and their role in our lives, wilderness ethics on a NOLS course, and the way we can all preserve the value wilderness for future generations. Enjoy!

Click here for current LNT courses offered through NOLS.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Pikla on Jul 11, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Curriculum, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Professional Training

Introduction to the new NOLS Yukon

Hello everyone, and welcome to the NOLS Yukon section of the NOLS blog! After a long hiatus, I’m finally going to be regularly updating this section for the remainder of the 2014 season. Here’s an overview of our new location, and I’ll be posting more shortly about our staff, our branch and, most importantly, the courses that have gone out. 

The NOLS Yukon branch has been located for the past 14 years in a warehouse near the Whitehorse airport. 

068The old NOLS Yukon warehouse - July 2013 

This past fall, however, the branch moved to a former retreat center about 30 minutes drive out of town. The new location is right next to the Takhini Hotsprings, and has facilities for the staff to live on-site. It’s located in a fantastic area, backing onto a hill that has a view across the entire Takhini valley.

IMG_0653Our new NOLS Yukon branch main building, before we started setting up - May 2014

Yukon_hill_panoramaThe view from the hill above the branch - June 2014

Starting in May, the 7 branch staff were all involved with making the branch ready for our first course, which arrived on June 16th. Though we’d never run a course out of this location, and three of our staff this year hadn’t worked for NOLS in the past, it went really smoothly, and the course (a hiking and canoeing combo) was able to leave by 6:00pm.

IMG_0966First course issue day - June 2014

Before the course, though, we had a visit from the NOLS Board of Trustees, who held one of their annual meetings up here in the Yukon for the first time in over a decade! 

Permalink | Posted by Nick Baggaley on Jul 10, 2014 in the following categories: Yukon

'An American Ascent' Screened Before a Sold-Out Audience

By Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, NOLS Diversity and Inclusion Manager and Expedition Denali Coordinator

After a year long tour in which the Expedition Denali team inspired over 8,000 young people across the nation with their story, the film documenting their historic journey was screened before an audience of over 300 in Washington D.C. in late June. Titled “An American Ascent,” Distill Productions' hourlong film narrated by well-known Yosemite National Park ranger Shelton Johnson told the story of the team’s fears and expectations before the climb, their expedition on the mountain, and how they felt when they had to turn back with the summit in sight due to an unprecedented lightning storm. Mountaineering icon Conrad Anker and author John Krakauer make guest appearances.

Watch a trailer for the film:

Expedition Denali Promo from Distill Productions on Vimeo.

Adventure films can be many things. They generally are entertaining, dramatic, adrenaline-inducing, and feature “sick” beats paired with action-packed scenes of the heroes dangling from dangerous precipices. This film stands out. It was many of the things that mountaineering films are. It was funny and it was inspiring. But it was also brutally honest. It was a true story of the team’s journey with no spin and no embellishments.

One mother of a young man who is deaf wrote in response to the film: “KiJuan ... has been told many times what he ‘can’t do’ and he has defied the odds every time. I knew this film would grab him and now he is very determined to do something similar.”

Another family brought two of their neighbors’ children who had previously not been exposed to camping.

“A team member made an interesting point that you can only choose ‘what I want to do when I grow up’ from the options that you know are available,” they wrote. “Now my two friends have a new option they didn’t know about before. If nothing else they now know they ‘have permission’ to use America’s parks just like everybody else. Thank you to NOLS for your courses and efforts, they are life-changing.”


Photo Courtesy of Rosemary Saal. (L to R) Expedition Denali members Scott Briscoe, Robby ReChord, Erica Wynn, Billy Long, Stephen DeBerry, Rosemary Saal, Stephen Shobe, and Ryan Mitchell at the film screening.

The film screening was a capstone event to two years of hard work by many people, but we cannot be complacent. Our expedition to change the face of the outdoors continues. Learn more about Expedition Denali here.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jul 9, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, In The News

NOLS Supports Cowboy Tough Adventure Race In its Second Year

The Cameco and City of Casper Cowboy Tough Expedition Race from Lander to Casper, Wyoming is back for a second year! Once again, NOLS is a major sponsor of this event.

NOLS will support this event by providing WEMTs trained by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI). These WEMTs will join the medical crew and help support racers along the 330- to 400-mile race course. They’ll travel in cars scanning the course and using their training to provide medical attention racers need along the course.

Held in Wyoming’s backcountry, this one-of-a-kind adventure race challenges individuals and teams to test their limits. The race terrain is rugged and wild.

CT 2013-5

The race consists of multiple activities including trekking, mountain biking, paddling, white water rafting, ropes and additional team challenges.

Teams will start the three-and-a-half-day race in a genuine ghost town— South Pass City. Each day of the race is broken down into different sections that racers are given 16 to 24 hours to complete.

In this adventure race, there are mandatory checkpoints each day. For those who want a bit more out of the race, there are optional checkpoints to give elite racers an additional challenge. After feedback from last year, this year’s race was designed to be even more difficult.

Racers compete in two categories: competitive and those who just want to finish. For competitive racers, this event serves as a national qualifying race for the North American Adventure Racing Series (NAARS).   

CT 2013-2

Last year, NOLS sent a team to compete in the full race. This year, NOLS is sending a team of WMI representatives (Kira Gilman, Anna Horn and Jill Moeller) to the Casper Strong Adventure Race.

The Casper Strong Adventure Race is a separate event that will be held on July 19 at Crossroads Park. This day-long adventure race will include the following disciplines: trail run, archery, mountain biking and white-water tubing.

NOLS has been taking students into Wyoming’s backcountry for 50 years and is excited to support an event that encourages people to visit wild places.

This event also aligns with NOLS’ values of assessing risks, developing tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, and minimizing risks associated with recreational activities.

Permalink | Posted by Kim Freitas on Jul 1, 2014 in the following categories: In The News, Wilderness Medicine Institute

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Sustainable Roads

Forest Service roads provide outstanding access to a breadth of interests from recreation to research to commercial activities. Faced with limited resources to maintain the large network of roads in Western Washington, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Sustainable Roads Cadre united in 2013 to research how the public uses the roads in this National Forest. The groups hosted community meetings in the Puget Sound area that attracted 224 people to speak about the roads they value most. An additional 1800 people filled in the online questionnaire, providing the Mt. Baker Sustainable Roads team with plenty of data with which to make appropriate recreation and stewardship decisions for the future. The groups are hosting a further series of meetings to discuss the results of the research and are inviting interested members of the public to join them. Check out your local event listed below!

Capacity limits attendance to a first-come basis. Please RSVP to mbs_pao@fs.fedus.


JULY 10, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Bellingham Public Library

210 Central Ave 

Bellingham, WA 98227


JULY 17, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Park Place Middle School Commons

1408 W Main St. 

Monroe, WA 98272


JULY 24, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Issaquah Main Library

10 West Sunset Way 

Issaquah, 98027


JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.

The Mountaineers 

7700 Sand Point Way NE 

Seattle, WA 98115


JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Darrington Community Center

570 Sauk Avenue

Darrington, WA 98241

For more info check out the webiste at

Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jul 1, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest


This week saw our Backpackers kick off their course with a successful start. The 10 students travelled from all over the United States, to congregate in the tiny town of Broome. Most of the students had already met at their accommodation and started to form as a group, with some playful friendships developing.


The group spent their entire first day preparing to embark on an amazing journey into the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. In the morning they worked efficiently to bag their entire ration of food for 35 days, before they even had morning tea! 

IMG_2018 - Version 2



After lunch, students focused on personal and group equipment that they would need to carry for the expedition. With the assistance of their two fantastic Instructors, Ben and Karin, each student sorted through their equipment to make sure they had all they may need for this rugged adventure. A class on how to pack their packs was followed by a delicious dinner, the course orientation and a discussion on how to create a positive learning environment, then it was off to the caravan park for the night.








An early morning pick up by Garry, our favourite spice girl, saw the group head north towards the King Leopold Range Conservation Park. The group will be out hiking for the next 4 weeks, as they make their way through thickets of tropical rainforest, around spectacular waterfalls and across the open savannah grasslands. The Kimberley region of Western Australia boasts some of the most rugged, yet stunning scenery of this whole continent. It also plays host to many native species of plants and animals, some found only in this specific region of the tropics!


A brief outline of the group’s schedule is provided below:

Backpacking section

26June – 25 July

Students will be resupplied by vehicle during their course

NO access to any outside communication devices is available during this time unless an emergency

Cultural section

25 July – 28 July

Students will be in Broome, for the final night of the course on July 28th

Pay phone access may be available.

On July 29th, students will graduate, celebrate and then get dropped at their accommodation for the evening.

For those wishing to send mail, students will only be able to receive it at the end of their course. Please be mindful that Broome is a long way off the beaten path, therefore, if you would like something to arrive before these dates, be sure to allow at least 2 weeks for delivery!

(Student Name) 
ABC 6/25/14
NOLS Australia 
PO Box 3472 
Broome 6725 WA


You are welcome to share this link with your friends and family

Cheers from the NOLS Australia crew!

Permalink | Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Australia

Australian backpacking and sea kayakers begin their outback experience

As the south of Australia shivers through winter, up here in the north our Australia Combo Course students have arrived to our tropical ‘dry’ season, complete with blue skies and daytime temperatures in the 80’s (°F). Our 8 intrepid explorers were all bright eyed and bushy tailed for an early morning pick up to get started on their NOLS adventure.


Day one was a busy start, with a welcome and introductions, then straight on to rations. After learning about what makes up a ration, it was then on to the task of weighing, bagging and packing their food for the entire 45 day adventure.  A very efficient group, with help from their Instructors and NOLS Australia in-town staff, meant the rations were done by midday. After a lunch break, it was on to their equipment. The students were briefed on gear and then instructors went through each student’s gear individually to determine what extra issue gear was needed. An afternoon and evening of briefings on positive learning environments, some safety components and a course orientation and delicious dinner! Then it was on to a local campground to set up tents, get some rest and an early start the next day.


Our intrepid group drove out into the Kimberley early Friday morning for their hiking section in the King Leopold Range Conservation Park.  Under the guidance of their excellent instructors Marcelo and Tom, the students will be learning about leadership, hiking, navigation, first aid, natural history, life skills, indigenous culture and a whole lot more as they explore remote areas in the Australian outback. Here’s a brief outline of their schedule…


Hiking section- King Leopold Range Conservation Park

20 June - 16 July

Students will be resupplied by road

No access to outside communication


Switch- Broome

16 July

Students will transfer through Broome between their hike and sea kayak section

Pay phone access may be available at the campground (evening only)

Mail can be delivered to students during the switch


Sea Kayak section- Dampier archipelago

17 July - 1 August

Students will be resupplied by vessel

No access to outside communication


End of course- Broome

2 August

Students will be in Broome, for the final night of the course on 1 August

Pay phone access may be available at the campground (evening only)

Any remaining mail will be given to the students


On August 2nd students will graduate, celebrate and then get dropped at their accommodation for the evening.

For those wishing to send mail, students will only be able to receive it at the switch on the 16th of July or at the end of the course on the 2nd of August. Please address any mail as follows:

(Student Name) 
ACS 19/6/14
NOLS Australia 
PO Box 3472 
Broome 6725 WA


Please be mindful that we are a long way from major cities in Australia, therefore, if you would like something to arrive before these dates, be sure to allow at least 2 weeks for delivery! 

Remember to check this Blog site for updates and photos around those contact dates. You are also welcome to share this link with your friends and family!

Cheers from the NOLS Australia crew (and our little friend in the shed)


Permalink | Posted by Sharon Ferguson on Jun 25, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Australia

NOLS’ New Lightning Field Book Stresses Risk Management

Lightning is a risk for those who spend time in the outdoors. NOLS wants to provide adventurers with information about how to manage the risks associated with lightning while in camp or out on the trail.

Based on over 15 years of research, the new book “NOLS Lightning” by NOLS Curriculum and Research Manager John Gookin explains lightning science with simple language and illustrations. Lightning weather, physics, and strike distribution are all covered.

9780811713641Just released this month, this guide arrives in time for the National Weather Service’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week June 22–28. Summer is the peak season for lightning strikes.

The book equips readers with a basic understanding of science to aid in recognizing events leading up to a lightning strike and take precautions to avoid being struck.

The safest place during a lightning storm is inside, but when traveling in the backcountry absolute safety is not obtainable. A risk management approach to lightning is essential for outdoor activities and expeditions. The techniques outlined in this book will help reduce risk of lightning injuries in the backcountry. Use this guide to develop your awareness and skills and share your lightning knowledge including:

• Identify conditions that lead to thunderstorms

• Anticipate where lightning tends to strike

• Know what actions to take if travel companions are injured by lightning

• Safety techniques for tent camping

The best thing outdoors people can do to minimize risks associated with lightning in the backcountry is developing awareness. Learn to stay tuned in to the weather. When ascending to high elevations, establish a turnaround time if thunderstorms are likely. Identify and move to safer terrain well before danger is near. Avoid conductors once lightning gets close. Get into the lightning position if lightning is striking nearby.

Watch a NOLS Mythbusters video below for more information on lightning!

The chapter on case studies with 12 examples of real lightning encounters in the backcountry is an excellent tool to better understand the techniques of recognizing storms, identifying dangerous and safer locations, and responding appropriately when simply stepping inside is not an option.

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding lightning, one of nature’s most dangerous natural phenomena, with 144 pages of advice about lightning from experts in the field. Click here to order the NOLS field guide to lightning!

Permalink | Posted by Kim Freitas on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Books, In The News

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation!

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) is an organization that provides opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to give back to conservation science. ASC pairs a network of outdoor volunteers with scientific agencies that are in need of data from hard to reach places. This is a fantastic opportunity for NOLS alumni to put their wilderness skills to use in aid of conservation science! For more info check out ASC’s web page here. A recent project in the Pacific Northwest placed volunteers on a 3-month long search for Pacific Marten in the Olympic National Forest. You can explore Olympic National Park, immediately to the west of the project area, on a Fall Semester in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Northwest Backpacking Adventure, or Pacific Northwest Backpacking course. Check out the video of the search for the Pacific Marten below (credit to ASC). 

A Marten Short: Searching for Pacific Marten on the Olympic Peninsula from Adventure Science on Vimeo.

Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

Get to Know NOLS Southwest

NOLS Southwest Director Lindsay Nohl made her way back to the computer after a weekend of mountain biking just in time to share her favorite aspects of operating in the American Southwest. Read what she had to say about the region below.

Brad_christensen_20121013_3646If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

Our NOLS Southwest staff is a group of caring, smart, and creative individuals who thrive on going above and beyond to create the best experience possible for our students. 

How long have you been NOLS Southwest Branch Director?

​Four and a half years​ as branch director. I also spent two years as assistant director (2006–2008) and two years working in three different positions operations assistant, rations manager, and outfitting manager (2003–2005).

How did it all begin for you?

“I knew I wanted to become a NOLS instructor from the first week in the field,” recalls Lindsay. “And, at the end of my course, I knew I wanted to give others a similar life-changing experience.”

In 2004, Lindsay’s dream became a reality. Read more from this previous interview with Lindsay here.

What is your favorite aspect of running courses in your part of the world?

I think that the desert is a magical place and I love being able to send students out to discover the beauty in the places that we operate. It makes me smile to think of a student climbing up a huge granite dome at Cochise Stronghold or walking through patches of sunlight in a deep rocky canyon of the Gila Wilderness.  

What unique or particularly appealing aspect of this branch do you think potential students should know about?

Students often tell me that coming back to the NOLS Southwest base "feels like coming back home" after they have been out in the backcountry. We have a beautiful 10-acre campus with an open-air ramada complete with an outdoor "living room" where our students hang out while they are in town. Our small in-town staff all live on-site and really get to know our students throughout their course experience. Our students are part of the NOLS Southwest community the minute they show up for their course.

What would you say most surprises students when they arrive or during their course in that part of the world?

The desert environment and the huge amount of plant and animal diversity they will experience as they travel through the desert "life zones" at different elevations. NOLS Southwest sits at 2,500 feet and is littered with huge Saguaro cactus, mesquite trees, and creosote bushes. Students see coyotes, javelina, and roadrunners on our school property. When they get up into some of the various mountain ranges like the Gila National Forest in New Mexico (7,000–10,000 feet), they will be hiking through spruce-fir, aspen, or ponderosa pine forests and may encounter deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, or wild turkeys. Elevation creates such a stark contrast in the desert.

Anything else you'd like me to include when we brag about your branch, staff, or part of the world?

I know I'm a tad biased, but the Southwest is home to the best sunsets on the planet.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Southwest

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