Lander Valley High School and NOLS team up for incoming freshmen orientation
On August 12th and 13th NOLS teamed up with Lander Valley High School to provide a taste of outdoor recreation to the freshmen orientation. This is the second year that NOLS has helped out with the freshmen orientation and NOLS hopes to make it an annual event for years to come.
Lander Valley High School is located at the foothills of the Wind River Mountains in the small, tight knit, and active community of Lander, Wyoming, NOLS’ original home and headquarters. Kids spend their time cruising around on bikes, playing video games, joining high school sports teams, and goofing off like kids should. Many families take their kids out into the Winds for family trips and some parents take their kids rock climbing or backcountry skiing. These kids are so lucky to have so many unique opportunities for recreation, and many don’t realize how special of a place they live in.
This past week, NOLS ran a special course for students at the local high school who are going into their senior year. They took students who agreed to be “senior mentors” out to the Winds where they got to spend a week backpacking with instructors Thea Sittler and Jonathan Brooks.
The course almost summited Wind River Peak but got to witness some extreme weather instead, including an impressive hail storm! They got to experience greeting a day with a pre-breakfast sunrise hike and they got to see some alpine wildlife. They learned how to cook in the backcountry and learned how to work as a well-oiled machine. They were allowed to make mistakes and help each other out and, like on any NOLS course, they learned how much fun simply hanging out around a whisper lite stove without life’s usual distractions can be. All the while, these students got the added bonus of being able to say they were hanging out in their home mountain range.
City Kids Wilderness Project and the WRMC
The Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) unites hundreds of the nation’s leading outdoor organizations, schools, and businesses annually in an effort to “offer an outstanding educational experience to help mitigate the risks inherent in exploring, working, teaching, and recreating in wild places.” WRMC attendees absorb and learn a lot from one another through workshops, exercises, structured networking sessions, and much more.
We want to highlight some of the organizations that continually come the WRMC and find out why they attend and how the WRMC has influenced their risk management practices. Recently, we interviewed Colleen McHugh, the program director of City Kids Wilderness Project (CKWP), an outstanding nonprofit youth organization that has been returning annually to the WRMC.
Montana Conservation Corps & the WRMC
In this installment of the Wilderness Risk Management Conference blog series, we are focusing our attention on the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC). This nonprofit development program for young adults has been following in the footsteps of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, using conservation projects to foster citizenship and personal growth in its members. WRMC staff caught up with Montana Conservation Corps Program Director Lee Gault, who represented MCC at the WRMC 10 years ago, and asked him about the dynamic relationship that has been evolving between MCC and the WRMC for over a decade.
In the span of one year, the MCC, as a single branch, is able to train 300-400 participants of varying age groups and backgrounds. The different programs offered at MCC also vary greatly. One program in particular, the Veterans Green Corps, serves American military veterans who are “transitioning from military to civilian life” and “range in age from 24-35” said Gault. Using the training and exposure that the MCC program provides, many American veterans who are MCC alumni are able to transition into civilian positions and go on to work with the national parks service and the national forest service.
Thoughts From the Field: Rediscovering My Calling
The NOLS Winter/Spring Course Catalog will be available soon! Following is a sneak preview of one of the insightful stories shared by NOLS grads in the newest catalog.
Thoughts From the Field: Rediscovering My Calling
By Scott Taylor, 2013 Spring Semester in Australia
Before my NOLS course, I had taken a break from the university of Vermont because my priorities had become unhinged. I saw NOLS as a way to get my feet wet in an untraditional educational arena as well as embark on the coolest adventure I have ever done.
On the plane from Boston to Western Australia, the contrasting emotions of apprehension and excitement pulsed through me. upon our arrival at NOLS Australia, my coursemates, instructors, and I divvied up 75 days worth of food and medical rations for 16 college-aged students from the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands.
In the frontcountry, civilization and infrastructure allow us to live a convenient but hectic existence. In the backcountry, wilderness tested our physical ability, emotions, and decision-making abilities. Each day, two students were scheduled to be Leader of the Day, which entailed safely scouting and navigating rapids, keeping the convoy of canoes in a tight formation, managing breaks, and selecting campsites. During the river section of the semester, we also each researched and taught two short classes.
The emphasis on the hiking section was on map reading and route- planning. As we progressed as a group and individually, the instructors’ role in decision making became less prevalent, and they eventually stopped traveling with us during the day. Each afternoon, we rejoined them in time for class. We were also required to teach another class, write two essays, and keep a species list. As our navigation and risk management skills grew, we earned the privilege of spending the last week traveling in the absence of the instructors entirely.
The next week we spent with Aboriginals of the Bardi tribe. We learned about their cultural structure, built spears and fished for dinner, and took part in storytelling. I am truly grateful for the time they spent with us.
I learned a tremendous amount about myself, and I feel like for the first time in my life I am on the right track to further my education and pursue and explore my passion. NOLS reinforced my longstanding interest in the outdoors, and I immediately started building on that. I am now a natural resource management major and ecological restoration minor at Colorado State University. I attribute a large part of my current situation and progress in a field I am passionate about to my time in Australia with NOLS. I cannot praise the program enough.
The Australia Backpacking Course Back From the Bush
After 35 days out bush, our Backpacking Course students returned to Broome for their final pack up and graduation. Their backpacking section was quite an adventurous journey through the King Leopold Ranges. They experienced some of the true wonders of the Kimberley environment, hiking through open savannah grasslands with pockets of tropical rainforests. Some of their highlights included close encounters with the local wildlife, swimming under crystal clear waterfalls, exploring the Munboon Plateau, a 40 hour solo and a highly successful Small Group Expedition.
After the ABC completed their backpacking section, they traveled to the Jarlmadangah Burra aboriginal community to learn about local Indigenous culture. They camped in the center of the community, learned from guide, TJ, and played basketball with some of the local kids. It was interesting for the students to learn about the people who have lived sustainably on the land they had been travelling on for so long.
We farewell our amazing ABC students as they transition into their lives back home or continue onto new adventures. Keep posted for the NOLS Australia short film coming out later this year with some highlights of this awesome experience.
The Australia Combo Course Returns From the Sea
The ACS spent the first 26 days backpacking in Western Australia’s Kimberley region in the King Leopold Ranges. It's beautiful country to backpack through.
The days were hot, so they would start early to beat the intense heat of the day. They enjoyed cooling off in oasis watering holes and some had nice water falls.
A normal day consisted of waking by 5am and hiking by 6, then going for a few hours. The idea was to get to the next camp before 3pm, which was the hottest part of the day.
There would usually be a class in the afternoon. They cooked dinner early and got into their tents when it became dark. The students learned about personal care, basic camping techniques, leave no trace principles, basic and advanced navigation using a topographical map and compass, different leadership styles, and the flora and fauna of the area they ventured into.
After backpacking, the ACS switched to sea kayaking, which seemed like a welcomed change of pace. They paddled through the Dampier Archipelago, which is a beautiful place to paddle.
During that time, the students learned basic sea kayak skills, paddling efficiency, interpreting the charts for navigation, gauging sea state, weather patterns, how the moon affects the tide and how to fish out of a kayak.
The water was warm and the beaches were white, with smooth sandy landings that were wonderful places to camp and practice paddling techniques.
The students learned that leadership looks very different on the water versus on land.
And everyone had fun!
We wish our wonderful ACS students the very best in their journeys back to the 'real world' and welcome them back for more NOLS adventures in the future... Stay posted for the NOLS Australia short film coming out later this year, capturing the special memories from this trip of a lifetime!
In-Town Staff Value Out-of-Office Play
It's no secret that NOLS is a great place to work. Listed in Outside Magazine's "100 Best Places to Work" for the last six years, NOLS has been recognized nationally for its commitment to outdoor education and encouraging a good work-life balance. [Read more on this recognition here.]
NOLS employees are allowed to work flexible schedules so they can get outside and play. Many staff members at NOLS take advantage of this perk. With support from supervisors, employees can take time out of the workday to participate in community-wide lunchtime bike rides, climb at the local crag or complete individual training regimens.
The organization also takes that support a step further by encouraging staff to participate in races and multi-day events, even when these events take place on weekdays. NOLS employees are participating in outdoor ventures all over the world but are also playing roles in Wyoming’s growing adventure race scene.
For example, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute employees Kira Gilman, Jill Moeller, and Anna Horn entered and competed in the inaugural REV3 Casper Strong Full Day Adventure Race at their supervisor's urging.
The team members cheered each other through a series of unique and entertaining events in Casper, Wyoming. The Casper Strong race was a team effort and these three ladies bonded while tackling challenges along the course.
Gilman began the race for WMI’s team with a 12-mile trail run and then completed an archery section on top of Casper Mountain. Moeller then competed in the next leg of the race, mountain-biking and carrying a 50-pound salt block uphill. Finally, Horn tubed a whitewater section of the North Platte River to the finish line.
This winning team returned to the office with Casper Strong belt buckles and many stories to share.
"It was fun to have my supervisor encourage me to try something new and challenge myself. The push I receive from co-workers to pursue personal goals and well-being outside of the office is a huge part of what has made working in-town for NOLS sustainable for me," Horn reflected.
NOLS is committed to continuing its support and encouragement of employee wellness—a key ingredient in what makes the school an awesome place to work!
Fremont the Backpack
By Kaybe Loughran
Fremont the backpack sat in a heap
Of bags, tents, and jackets, three feet deep
He waited there for a future cold weather snap
When Nate finally would have time to repair his strap
Fremont remembered his first trip out
He hadn’t an idea what the Winds were about
Back then he was Deuter pack 2602
And his nylon was shiny, factory new!
Johnny the student carried him over ridges and creeks
Together they scrambled over so many peaks
One day they hiked and hiked what felt like nonstop
Until they found themselves on Fremont peak, right at the top!
Johnny was so happy that he marked the event
By naming his trusty pack after their first mountain ascent.
Over the next few weeks, Fremont and Johnny traveled together
The land was so rugged and so was the weather
Fremont became less shiny and acquired more wear
His nylon was breaking and he needed repair
Johnny’s instructor taught them packs could be sewn
So that buying a new one could be postponed
He showed them his gaiters and other gear
Which he would probably keep using for many a year
“Take care of your things and repair them here!
You’ll eliminate work that NOLS staff must endure.”
Fremont came back into town with a little red patch,
A mark that adventure never comes without a scratch.
He hung out, rested, and became ready to spring
For the excitement the next course could bring
A few days later Fremont met Carrie Jean,
A young energetic girl of sixteen.
The first night at camp Carrie forgot
To put her snacks in the bear fence, and guess what they brought?
A little brown mouse who nibbled right through
Fremont’s fabric and into her shoe
“Eek!” she said in the light of the morning,
“My gulch crunch is gone and the ants are swarming!!”
Fremont was dragged across granite and mud
His zipper was dirty and could not be tugged
"Help" he cried, though only the tent could hear,
"Someone please teach this girl about gear!"
The tent sighed and let Fremont under his fly,
He could do little but at least he could keep Fremont dry.
So after three long weeks Fremont returned to the base
Bashed, bruised, and torn all over the place.
Kevin gave him one long look and shook his head
“Not back to the gear room, but the back pile instead!”
So that’s where Fremont is and that’s where he’ll stay
Until the base has a cold, slow, quiet day.
The staff at NOLS works hard to keep their gear in working order. Students are sent into the field with good quality stuff. Due to the nature of NOLS courses, gear never stays pristine, but NOLS instructors use these opportunities to teach students how to repair their own things. According to Kevin McGowan, who runs the gear room, whatever can be repaired in town can also be repaired in the field. Students are equipped with stove and tent repair kits as well as patch kits and a speedy stitcher for all sorts of gear. They learn repair techniques and important lessons about taking good care of their belongings. Students are often issued used gear with character and history. Puffy coats may be marked with small patches, but they are just as warm as any other jacket.
Amit puts a patch on a puffy coat that just came off of a course.
When gear comes back that needs extra special attention, like Fremont the backpack, it is usually out of commission during the busy summer months until the staff have time to work on it. The branch currently has a pile of gear to sort through, which will probably have to wait until winter. Some of this pile will end up getting sold at garage sales if it is beyond repair for extensive courses but still of use to someone else.
The pile of gear in need of repair grows steadily during the summer months.
The lifespan of a backpack is usually about two years, and a lead rope will last a few courses before it must become a top rope. Other gear has different expected lifespans, but gear ends up being approximately 18 percent of NOLS’ budget, a large part when you consider everything else that a NOLS course covers (travel, food, wages, etc.). The sustainability office is working on ways to minimize the amount of new gear NOLS purchases and maximize the amount that NOLS can repair. In general, sustainability is an integral part of NOLS’ mission, and as much as NOLS students and staff can reuse and repair, they will! NOLS instructors hope students come off courses with new drive to take care of their gear and purchase less.
Issue room staff Augustine works on sewing up a pair of pants.
Thanks for the Experience
Thank you for creating an atmosphere where we would find ourselves creating an annual tradition of sending staff to compete in such an exciting, intimidating, and demanding event as the Cowboy Tough Adventure Race.
Thank you for encouraging us to pursue our curiosity and interest in adventure racing, particularly when it passes right through our back yard: the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.
Casey Adams and Marina Fleming, part of a four-person team, prepare to start in South Pass City on July 17. Jeanne O'Brien photo
Thank you for educating us in leadership, tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, navigation, nutrition, and pack packing, all of which made our experience last week that much more “comfortable.”
Thank you for connecting us with preferred retailers like Deuter and Brooks so that our backs, feet, legs, and faces would be well-cared for out there—in addition to supplying us with assorted mandatory gear and epic piles of food. We carried countless bars and trail snacks 400 miles across Wyoming in our Deuter Trans Alpine backpacks, which proved surprisingly comfortable on a bike. We nursed our tired legs with Brooks compression socks as we slept each short night. We kept the sun off our faces and the burs out of our socks with the Brooks hats and Cascadia trail shoes and schlepped our way from South Pass City to Casper in an awe-inspiring, if indirect, route.
Thank you for being the kind of organization where it is perfectly reasonable for managers and interns alike to drive an hour to the starting line to cheer (which is pretty cool for the competitors and the fans alike). Thank you for setting up another cheering squad on Main Street on Day 2 of the race, just a block from where we could have been working instead of pedaling by and giving high fives en route to throwing tomahawks.
Finally thanks for supporting the race and our fellow racers by sending the highly educated and skilled medical team from the Wilderness Medicine Institute to follow all our 40 teams for four days, repair blisters on surely nasty feet, clean road rash, and more.
Obviously, thanks for taking, and subsequently sharing, this photo:
Brad Christensen photo
It’s an honor and a pleasure to work for NOLS. Thanks for the adventures, the community, and the support.
PR Specialist and Writer Casey Adams and Marketing Representative Marina Fleming, of the Wind River Country Team
EPI and the WRMC
In our third installment of the WRMC blog series we’re highlighting Ecology Project International (EPI), an environmental education organization established in 2000 by co-founders Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn. In celebration of EPI attending the WRMC for the past six years, we decided to engage Executive Director/Co-founder Scott Pankratz on the history behind EPI as an organization, as well as the ongoing relationship EPI has maintained with the WRMC.
EPI, said Pankratz, “has programs in Baja, Belize, Costa Rica, Galapagos, and Yellowstone, and 60 percent of our participants are locals who live within or adjacent to the ecosystem where we operate. The other 40 percent of our participants come from the U.S. Our courses include opportunities for students to work on field-based scientific research, conservation service work, and a cultural exchange day between the visiting U.S. students and their local program counterparts. Since EPI was established in 2000, over 15,000 students have participated in our field programs. Most of these participants are high school students between the ages of 15 and 18.”
EPI operates in a wide array of wilderness settings with most students starting out as backcountry novices who have “never camped, never snorkeled, never been closer to wildlife bigger than themselves,” according to Pankratz. But when asked what EPI participants gain from the wilderness experience, Pankratz said, “they return home with a sense of pride in their newfound knowledge and skill sets. Our hands-on approach to science education also means that participants don’t just learn science—they apply it. They work with professional scientists who need people on the ground, in the wilderness, gathering essential data. The data they collect contributes to real-time research and conservation projects that must be carried out in the wild.”
As an active member of the WRMC community, EPI strives to keep risk management as a vital part of the organization’s core values.
“Our participants’ health and safety is our top priority on course. Without healthy, happy participants, no learning can take place,” Pankratz noted. “The WRMC helps keep risk management at the forefront of our planning for each new field season, allowing us to bring new ideas and techniques to our own internal risk management systems, such as our Emergency Response System. Our experience with the WRMC also helps our employees gain a valuable big picture perspective on risk management.”
When asked how attending the WRMC has influenced EPI, Pankratz said, “The WRMC has helped us maintain a systematic approach to our emergency response system and our medical review system and protocols. We've been fortunate to be able to use the WRMC experience and materials to keep these same systems current as they go through an annual update process. We have also benefited greatly from the relationships we've created with the experts at the WRMC. These relationships have transferred into top quality advice during critical moments in our program.”
After seven consecutive years of attending the WRMC and being able to apply that shared expert knowledge in the field, EPI, in turn, stands as an excellent resource for other environmental education organizations to learn valuable advice from. We would like to thank EPI’s Executive Directors/Co-Founders, Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn for all that they have contributed to the WRMC over the years. Come take advantage of the opportunity to network with EPI at the 21st annual WRMC. Join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.
To learn more about the WRMC or to register online, click on the following image: