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Wilderness medicine in South America and Africa: Dispatch from WMI Instructor, Mike Moxness

I am a registered nurse living in Anchorage, Alaska. I spent much of my career in the emergency room. I got my Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) from NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) back in 1999 in preparation for a tour of duty up with the mountaineering patrol on Denali in 2000. I started teaching for WMI in 2001, mostly WEMTs with a few Wilderness First Responder (WFR) courses up here in Alaska.
Mike Moxness
Mike Moxness and Daniel DeKay, WMI Instructors, and Matt Medich, WFR, in northwest Nicaragua 2011
About 5 years ago, I started signing on to medical teams going to developing nations, and once I started, there was no looking back. I've worked in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Uganda and Kenya on multiple occasions. I am typically a member of a small expatriate team sent in to support local medical staff during emergencies. My last two trips have been to Uganda at refugee camps along the border with Congo. In January, I'll be back in Honduras, teaching at a rural hospital.
My work has been with Medical Teams International, located in Portland, Oregon, and MEDICO, located in Austin, Texas. There are quite a few good outfits out there, but these two have been good fits for me. I've also been seconded to World Concern (on the Somalia border) and worked in multi-organizational teams with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Humedica.
Mike Moxness
Kenya-Somalia border in 2012
The wilderness medicine model is extremely useful in these assignments where resources are few and problems are many. Wilderness medicine is a context of practice: improvised or inadequate gear, inconsistent or non-existent communication with outside support, challenging environments for patient and caregiver, and independent risk-benefit decision-making. 

Permalink | Posted by Leslie van Barselaar on Oct 15, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Instructor News, Wilderness Medicine Institute

Cycling and board meetings

For the past seven years, NOLS Advisory Councilmember John Whisnant has led the “Tour de Lander” during the annual board meetings here at NOLS Headquarters. This year is no different. Tour de Lander VII began Tuesday, and daily stages have departed from the Pronghorn Inn parking lot to tour the area. 

“The weather cooperated, the bikes cooperated, and the dirt roads mostly cooperated,” Whisnant noted in an email inviting participants to jump in on later stages. “On Tuesday, we were stopped after three miles on the Louis Lake dirt road by ice covering the road.”

However, the cyclists found plenty of road to explore for the rest of the week. Wednesday and Thursday saw successful rides for the three regular cyclists on this annual tour.

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NOLS Advisory and Board of Trustee members converge upon Lander each year for board meetings that culminate in a staff celebration on Saturday evening. Perhaps next year the celebration will include a yellow jersey for the dedicated participants in the grueling Tour de Lander.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 11, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership

Clean up this weekend … anywhere!

Since 1991, Tony and Linda Brooks of Teton Village, Wyo. have invited family and friends around the country to “clean up—anytime, anywhere” to remember the earth and celebrate the life of their son Charley.

Charley graduated from a NOLS Mountaineering Course in 1990 and tragically died in a car accident soon thereafter. Since NOLS was such an important part of Charley's life, the Brooks family started the annual cleanup as a way to keep their son's memory alive while doing something good for the planet.

Charley Brooks

In addition to the cleanup, Tony and Linda also created a NOLS scholarship fund in memory of Charley, which exposes a new generation of NOLS grads each year to the wilderness skills and the conservation ethics that their son forged during his course.

Charley atop Gannet Peak.

This Saturday is the 28th, so as you begin to make weekend plans, think about what you can do to clean up in honor of a NOLS alumnus who cared passionately about the earth.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Sep 25, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Rocky Mountain

Water World - Lynn Petzold's 9 Favorite Backcountry Locales

NOLS Senior Field Instructor and Professional Training Account Manager, Lynn Petzold is no stranger to stunning and captivating backcountry locales. Working NOLS courses in Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, British Columbia, and the U.S. and living in Bolivia and Spain has given her access to so many beautiful spots, it came as a real surprise when she agreed to whittle down her favorite spots to just nine. While she has experienced some of these places as an instructor on NOLS courses, there are a few that she has pursued on her own accord. Here they are, in no particular order...

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~ Lynn Petzold ~

1) Baja coast from San Felipe to La Paz (Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico)

"This coastline holds a special place in my heart. I started paddling here in 1993 and since then, I've witnessed changes like development of the area and a decline in the fisheries that used to thrive along the coast. I've enjoyed reconnecting with the local Mexicans every couple of years."

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El Nido - Photo by Lynn Petzold

"While I was paddling at sunrise one morning along the southern end of San Basilio, I encountered these formations just off the coast. There was something really captivating about the contrast between these sharp protrustions and the serene, white beaches just behind me. This area holds some great memories!"

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Bahia San Basilio - Photo by Lynn Petzold

2) El Pulpito (Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico)

"2009 was a great year for paddling down in Baja! There was a point at which we were able to get really close to these caverns at El Pulpito. This is a north facing wall coming straight out of the ocean near San Nicolas. When there are high winds (which is typically the case in winter) and a built up sea, this is an area that you want to steer clear of. We were lucky enough to hit it just right. Being able to get close to these features was pretty special."

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El Pulpito - Photo by Lynn Petzold

3) Laguna San Ignacio (Baja, Mexico)

"I've visited San Ignacio several times. These particular photos were taken during a NOLS Alumni Trip in 2008. We were there to witness part of the annual Gray Whale migration. The Baja Pennisula is the final stop along their journey from the Chuckchi Sea (which is just north of the Bering Strait)."

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Photo by Lynn Petzold


Lynn touching a whale
Lynn, making contact

4) Deer Isle Archipelago (Maine)

"Deer Isle is one of my favorite spots to paddle on the Atlantic coast. This photo was from a NOLS Alumni Trip in 2008. I'm a member of the Maine Island Trail Association, which is an organization that promotes stewardship of this Archipelago. They also provide information to members regarding camping spots, since many of the islands are privately owned."

Photo by Doug Lowry

5) Rangitata River (South Island, New Zealand)

"Rangitata River is a unique spot on the South Island of New Zealand. I lived in nearby Christchurch for a year in 1995 and on the weekends, we'd escape to the river to go rafting. It is a little more remote and off the beaten path, a favorite spot for locals. Paddling with local Kiwis made it that much more special. Their fun-loving, adventureous spirit was infectious."

Rangitata gorge
Photo by Lynn Petzold

"Headwaters of the Rangitata River above the gorge. This is a salmon fishery and generally a beautiful, serene spot."

Above gorge
Photo by Lynn Petzold

6) Eastern side of Knight Island (Prince William Sound, Alaska)

"Knight Island might be my favorite spot in Prince William Sound. This area is special, simply because its fairly remote and partially protected from the ocean. This area is great for humpback whale and orca watching!"

Looking out toward Knight Island - Photo by Doug Lowry

 7) Harriman Fjord (Prince William Sound, Alaska)

"In 2011, I was working a STEP course in Prince William Sound. Harriman Fjord is located at the southern end of the Chugach Range, and the surrounding terrain feels immense. Between the rain, fog, and tide-water glaciers, it seems as though you're stepping...or paddling...back in time. This location brings back many memories and is my current desktop background!"

Harriman Fjord - Photo by Lynn Petzold

8) Lofoten Islands (Norway)

"In the summer of 2001, I went to Norway on a personal trip to paddle with one of my students, a Semester in Patagonia grad and native Norwegian. I was attracted to explore this area after hearing about it from my friend Lena Conlan, a NOLS/WMI Instructor and co-owner of a guiding company, Crossing Latitudes, which operates in this area."

Lofoten Islands - Photo by Lena Conlan

9) Coastline from Bella Bella to Port Hardy (British Columbia, Canada) 

"Part of the Inside Passage, this coastline provides 'world class' paddling. Between the Pacific swell, the lush, old growth forests, and spectacular islands along the coast, this place is surrounded by beauty."

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Photo by Lynn Petzold

"Sunsets here are pretty special as well!"

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Photo by Lynn Petzold

What's next on Lynn's list?

Bahamas by Mary Nicol
Exuma's, Bahamas - Photo by Mary Nicol


Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Sep 12, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Instructor News, On The Net

'An amazing experience'

By Nicholas Nerli, age 14 

Growing up in Lander, Wyo., where NOLS Headquarters and NOLS Rocky Mountain are located, experiencing a NOLS course has been on my mind since I learned what NOLS is all about. Just the thought of being in the backcountry during summer vacation was a dream. Furthermore, the thought of going somewhere I had never been was fascinating, so after some serious thought, I applied to take a course with NOLS Northeast.
I was so excited when I found out I would be going and, I admit, a bit nervous. For one, I had never flown. Second, I would be living in a foreign environment. I was committing to two weeks with strangers, but I knew I was going to have the time and opportunity of my life.
Learning new skills was very important to me. Throughout my course, I was able to engage in numerous learning activities, be it cooking and baking, first aid, navigation, or, most importantly, leadership. Being a leader was such an important role during my course, and the suggestions and guidance I was given when I was in a leadership role truly benefited me. I will never forget being leader of the day, for it was difficult, but as a team we succeeded that day. That experience will always stay with me and serve me when I face obstacles, big and small.


Climbing my first Adirondack high peak was stunning in a way I can't describe. The feeling I experienced looking over the green, lush landscape, Lake Champlain, and into Vermont was amazing! One morning, we awoke at 3 a.m. to climb Noonmark Mountain and watch the sunrise. The experience and view were breathtaking. Summiting each peak was beautiful in its own unique way. You must gain this experience to understand the pure adrenaline rush.


My instructors were knowledgeable, positive, and encouraging toward everyone, creating a healthy team. We grew from each other both emotionally and physically and shared experiences I can’t do justice to in writing. Through our friendships, we recognized our strengths and improved on our weaknesses in order to become the best we could be. Without my team, I would not have learned and gained so much.

Nearly three weeks have passed since I returned home. I brought with me memories, friends, and knowledge that I could not have imagined. I have come to miss my NOLS lifestyle and especially upstate New York, which I grew to love during my time there. I hope to once again experience the beauty and uniqueness of the Northeast. I also look forward to future NOLS courses and will use the knowledge I gained to be the most successful person I can be and strive for all I hope to be. NOLS Northeast was an amazing experience.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Sep 3, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Northeast, Rocky Mountain

Sharing a Love for the Outdoors: Debi and Scott Flora


“The only sticker on my banjo case is a NOLS sticker,” Scott Flora proudly told me last week.

Scott and his wife, Debi, are the parents of two NOLS graduates, one of them an employee at NOLS’ headquarters in Lander, Wyo. The Floras were introduced to NOLS through a backpacking buddy and NOLS instructor when their son and daughter were still too young to really consider the program.

Scott and Debi Flora on a night hike up Mount Cutler in Colorado Springs, Colo.

No strangers to the backcountry themselves, the couple met on a cross-country skiing trip Scott was leading through Colorado State University- Pueblo (formerly the University of Southern Colorado). As their family grew and the kids got old enough to walk (most of the time) they began taking family camping and backpacking trips into the Rockies and beyond.

Years later, their son, Bradley, was considering advancing his career in the ski industry. Debi and Scott remembered the Wilderness Medicine Institute, founded near their home in Colorado. It seemed like a good fit, so Bradley journeyed to Lander to become a wilderness EMT.

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Bradley exploring in the Colorado Rockies.

Scott and Debi witnessed a growth in their son’s confidence after his course, along with an increased awareness of the safety ramifications of adventure activities. This boost was in part to the clinical time the students spent in the ER of a nearby hospital.

He was being treated as a professional, treated with a level of responsibility,” Debi explained, “I think that had a huge impact on how he saw himself.”

Bradley also benefited greatly from the scenarios that allowed him to work as a member of a team.  Overall, his NOLS training was such a positive experience that when his sister, Larkin, was looking for a gap year program, Bradley suggested that she look into the semester courses.

Larkin’s Spring Semester in Baja brought on many challenges, including being one of two female students on the course. She worked on holding her own with men, and Scott believes that she came out of it able to relate to men in a new and different way.

Larkin milks a goat during the backpacking section of her Semester in Baja.

Larkin and her coursemates faced other challenges, including multi-day windstorms, desert heat, lack of water, and long days of paddling. They also experienced the small joys of an unexpected citrus orchard, and a pod of dolphins playing near their boats, along with the cultural opportunities traveling in another country provided. For Larkin, these moments made the discomfort worth it.

This controlled adversity can be built into a course, such as an extra hard day of hiking, or it can come from external effects such as the weather. Debi and Scott feel that this adversity helped make Larkin’s transition to college the next fall smoother.

“Parents have concerns about their children going off to college, and having an intermediate step for kids is a good thing,” Scott stated, “When you think of a college student going through a course, and then they get to college and they realize that ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad!’ They are better prepared for adversity and challenges in life because they’ve experienced adversity and challenges at NOLS.”

The Flora Family at their home in Colorado.

The Floras believe that NOLS, and all extended wilderness travel, has a transformative affect on young people especially. For this reason they are strong proponents of wilderness education.

“NOLS graduates bring their personal growth back into the world,” Debi insisted. “How they interact in their job, with their family, their friends, their community is all effected by how they feel coming out of NOLS.”

Because of this, Debi and Scott have decided to donate annually to NOLS. They believe that outdoor education will contribute to making the world a better place and want to see the school continue well into the future. 

Scott and Debi Flora during a raft trip on the Colorado River. 

To donate to the NOLS Annual Fund or learn more about gifts to Campaign NOLS, visit

Permalink | Posted by Larkin Flora on Aug 29, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Campaign NOLS, Mexico, Wilderness Medicine Institute

Former NOLS Chair honored

The Murie Center presented former NOLS Board of Trustees Chair Gretchen Long with the third annual Spirit of Conservation Award last week. 


Long is a 1991 graduate of the 25 and over Baja Sea Kayaking course and was named chairman of the NOLS Board in 1998. She is also an emeritus board member of The Murie Center.

The Murie Center Spirit of Conservation Award is presented to an individual whose life work demonstrates a commitment to conservation, civility, and community—trademarks of the Murie family legacy. The Murie Center, in partnership with the Grand Teton National Park, engages people to understand and commit to the enduring value of conserving wildlife and wild places.

Congratulations, Gretchen!

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Aug 13, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, In The News, Leadership, Mexico

NOLS to Play Major Roles at Cowboy Tough Adventure Race

Starting Thursday morning in southeastern Wyoming is the Cameco and City of Casper Cowboy Tough Expedition Race. As part of the Rev3 Adventure Race Series, this point-to-point race, starting in Cheyenne and ending in Casper is also a national qualifying race for the North American Adventure Racing Series (NAARS). Teams of two or four people will race through a series of outdoor disciplines including trekking, biking, river travel, rappelling as well as other challenging activities.

NOLS is a major sponsor of the event, providing support in multiple ways. As the racers depart from Cheyenne, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute will join the medical crew, bringing the experience of three of WMI’s own WEMTs. Jared Steinman, the NOLS social media coordinator, Travis Welch, WMI’s program and retail store manager, and Greg Flemming, a WMI instructor will all use their training to provide medical attention as needed for the racer. In addition to being there to treat race-related illnesses and injuries, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute will provide most of the medical gear.

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Brad Christensen photo

A section of the adventure race will be orienteering. NOLS’ own Casey Pikla and Kelly Carlin will manage and oversee this portion as adventure racers go to and from each checkpoint. There are mandatory checkpoints as well as optional checkpoints for time bonuses. Once the race is over, Pikla and Carlin will continue to help by breaking down the orienteering section of the race.

On the other side of the race, NOLS’ own Katie Everson, admission office and Adam Swisher, instructor and curriculum and publications manager, will participate in Cowboy Tough. Everson, with a background in marathons and swimming and Adam, with a history of long -distance adventure races will be strong competitors as Team Wyo.

Team Wyo prepares for the race with a long bike ride.

NOLS will also set up an information booth at the finish line in Casper, Wyo. The booth will host backcountry cooking demonstrations and knot tying lessons. Anyone in Casper for the race is encouraged to stop by the NOLS table for information and demonstrations.

David Anderson photo

“NOLS has been taking people into Wyoming’s backcountry for over 45 years. We’re excited to support an organization and race whose goal is to showcase and raise awareness to Wyoming’s recreational opportunities and wild places,” said Steinman.

While Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks garner most of the natural world attention of Wyoming, it’s important to remind visitors that the entire state is full of natural beauty from the sagebrush plains of the high mountain desert to the craggy peaks of Wind River Mountain Range and into each lush river valley surrounded and contrasted by the arid red rock canyon landscape. 

Permalink | Posted by Mike Casella on Jul 17, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, In The News, Instructor News, Wilderness Medicine Institute

NOLS at the International Climbers' Festival

Lander, Wyo. — This past weekend the International Climbers’ Festival took place in beautiful City Park in Lander Wyo. In its 20th year, the festival is the longest-running climbing festival in the world.

Among all of the big name sponsors and leaders in the outdoor industry was NOLS, which is headquartered in Lander. NOLS is always involved in community events, whether it is in Lander or in any of its locations around the globe. This festival was no different as many representatives of the NOLS community were present and playing key roles.

 Games and events went on throughout the day, as attendees enjoyed the warm summer air of City Park.

Heading the festival was NOLS’ own, Brian Fabel, who is the director of the International Climbers Festival, a NOLS instructor, and NOLS Rocky Mountain special projects manager. With the completion of his tenure as Climbers’ Festival director, he will be replaced by another NOLS instructor and staff member; Mandy Pohja.

NOLS also set up an information booth during the Trade Fair and Park Party to give out information to prospective students. Many NOLS employees and instructors lent a hand with the various competitions and events last weekend. Even more involvement came from the NOLS community who weren’t there for work but as avid climbers who are also very involved in the climbing community. NOLS employees have a keen sense of adventure and many of them climb in nearby Sinks Canyon, which offers world-class rock climbing for anyone in the area.

People of all ages participated in the dyno-competition 

The International Climber’s Festival was a great success with many competitions and clinics that went on through the weekend, including the dyno-competition, which captivated the whole park as climbers, families, and workers alike gathered in a semi-circle around the bouldering wall. The weather was perfect as live music filled the warm summer air of City Park. One of the big draws of the festival was the line-up of presenters. Some big-name climbers descended on Lander for the festival, these included Tommy Caldwell, Henry Barber, Erica Wynn of NOLS’ Expedition Denali, Cedar Wright, Emily Harrington, and Timmy O’Neil.

As climbers and spectators slowly diverge from City Park, anticipation is already high for next years’ festival, as once again Lander, Wyo. will be ground zero for a weekend of climbing, events and festivities. 

Permalink | Posted by Mike Casella on Jul 17, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, In The News, Rocky Mountain

Team Wyo, NOLS, and Cowboy Tough

The starting gun for the Cowboy Tough Race, a three day adventure race beginning in Cheyenne, Wyo. and finishing in Casper, Wyo., will go off next Thursday, July 18. This race will highlight some of Wyoming's wildest and most beautiful locations. NOLS is helping in the organization, as well as comprising Team Wyo!

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Join NOLS in helping make this race possible by volunteering next week. Learn more and sign up here.

Follow Team Wyo's training so far on their blog. We're so proud that both of these athletes are NOLS grads and current employees, and we can't wait to cheer Adam and Katie on next week.

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Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jul 9, 2013 in the following categories: Alumni, Instructor News

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