Thoughts From the Field: Rediscovering My Calling
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 Backpacking and Sea Kayaking 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!
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:
That's Not the NOLS Bus!
The Monday morning walk to work was a little different for NOLS Headquarters employees this week, as they were greeted by a 1970 Crown bus at the building entrance.
Three men campaigning for Wyoming Democrat Charlie Hardy for U.S. Senate made their way to 284 Lincoln St. in Lander this morning. Hardy is a Wind River Wilderness ‘75 graduate, and Bruce Wilkinson, owner of this campaign bus, is a Wilderness First Responder.
Nick, Felix, and Bruce greeted NOLS staff as they arrived at work this morning. Jeanne O'Brien photo
Wilkinson spoke of Hardy’s connection to nature and desire to create a better future drawing him to NOLS. Wilkinson, bus driver Nick Brasheer, and fellow campaigner Felix Agulto share Hardy’s outdoor interests as well as his political views and made plans to hike around Sinks Canyon this afternoon before hitting the road for Wright, Wyoming.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Sustainable Roads Meetings!
Your voice was heard by Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest! Hundreds told the National Forest what forest roads matter most to them and they listened. The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is hosting a series of public results forms to share the data collected from the sustainable roads public outreach meetings held last summer. Participants helped identify forest roads that mattered to them. The Forest is in the process of creating a sustainable road strategy to maintain the forest road system within budget for safe travel, use, administration and resource protection.
As a reminder, please come see the results from the Sustainable Roads outreach meetings:
JULY 24, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
10 West Sunset Way
JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.
7700 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
570 Sauk Avenue
Darrington, WA 98241
Photo from http://mbssustainableroads.com/
This World and That (Part Three)
By Jason BreMiller, Pacific Northwest Outdoor Educators Course ‘03
A shortened version of this piece was published in the Summer, 2014, issue of The Leader, in mailboxes now! This is the third and final of three parts in this series.
After a particularly long and arduous cross-mesa slog on the hottest day of the course, a slog during which morale hovered at a course low, we rolled into camp where the kids dropped their packs and slumped in an exhausted heap. Kai, Andy, and I departed to scout the surrounding vista, but when we returned we discovered a lively scene of unexpected and raucous laughter. In his solo journal, Luis describes this moment:
Mr. Bre, Andy, and Kai looked over at us like the desert had driven us crazy! At one point, Janet even had to take out her inhaler because she was laughing so hard. I don’t even remember what we were laughing about, but we recognized the situation we were in. We were all alone in the middle of nowhere, no technology, and the only thing we had was each other.
In the canyons, these students became alive to each other in ways often impeded by the drive of frontcountry competition. The canyons help untangle the morass of grades and academic prizes and college admission and return it to a simpler foundation of human connection.
The night Tom photographed the Milky Way, he’d recruited a cohort to accompany him on a midnight foray where they spread their bags out on a slickrock bench and triple-set their alarms, prying themselves up and into the frigid canyon air at 3am to erect the tripod for an extended-lapse shot. They’d never seen the Milky Way before and in the morning when they woke, they draped their arms around each other, laughing with cantaloupe smiles and carrying spring lamb-bounce in their steps.
Rachel, an 11th grader, wrote a sequence of poems on the trip that gets at this capacity for wonder. Here is an excerpt:
We are either homesick or home
No way out but further in
There are petroglyphs etched
Onto your ribcage and spine
The wild thing put them there
For wild-you to remember
So when you breathe, you know the
Wind is breathing back to you
So when you falter, you know the
Canyon can be your rigid spine.
Veins crackle and sputter like firewood
And awaken a new way of treading ground
And illuminate the thought upon waking:
“This is the day to shape the next upon.”
The Canyons are words on a page
A language the river swept away
Silver scaled and glinting
Jumping like fish
They remain on the backs of our eyelids
A bluish blob stained onto nothingness
That we see, now
Every time we blink.
Tom and his buddies reveling at their first sight of the Milky Way reminded me that the capacity for wonder is alive and well, Rachel’s words that sometimes emblem is all we have.
As students begin to sense their own agency, as they fit this agency within the framework of their emerging community, as they attenuate themselves to their own capacity for wonder, something shifts inside them, a realization that can be transcendent. 11th grader Sage explores this emerging sense of self in his solo journal:
I gather some dead sage and fix my lighter underneath. I pull my fingers across the flint wheel, the only unnatural thing around me, and watch it engulf my namesake. I hold the plant upside-down, allowing the flames to climb. It vanishes in my hand with a blinding fireball and a choking cloud of smoke. It warms my bare chest, reminding me of the imminent chill, and I am reborn, a new person. The sun rests atop a red stone mesa, visibly shrinking its crescent on the horizon. The sun fades into tonight and tomorrow, and I fade into someone new, someone else.
These kids are not the same who left less than two weeks ago. It is clear that have been changed irrevocably.
When I think about Tom’s words I’m so bored by all of this and how I might be able to help my students shift worlds, it occurs to me that I want them to see that it’s not about this world and that at all—that it’s not all over when they leave the canyons as they fear may be the case. I hope they see how they can enact what they learned in the desert right here on campus every day just as they witnessed Harkness in the desert. It’s the synergy between worlds that I most hope my kids will recognize and that there are ways to preserve the magic.
For me, what helps is recognizing that sometimes memory and metaphor suffice. Tom’s starcloud suggests that sometimes we see better in the dark, and our maps tell us that when we’re lost, there are ways to become found if we only take the time to orient ourselves by recognizable features. “Using our smarts” is just good practice, and sometimes laughter heals a day’s ills[j4] . In this way, our backcountry days can echo for us now in this eddy of time even more loudly than in the silence that echoed for us then.
Our final evening. We huddle in a circle around a modest pit fire, feeding the flames with small lengths of juniper. The mood is electric and I think I know why. We’ll be gone tomorrow, our expansive views contracted to the boxy confines of the van, our pellucid soulscapes clouded by the abrasion of our iPhones: email, phone calls, espn.com, Facebook. They’re ready to go back but don’t yet want to relinquish their hold on this place. For comfort, I turn to “Cactus Ed” Abbey, that desert bard who faced his own departure from the desert. I read across the firelight:
I, too, must leave the canyon country, if only for a season, and rejoin for the winter that miscegenated mesalliance of human and rodent called the rat race (Rattus urbanus)...Balance. That’s the secret. Moderate extremism. The best of both worlds. Unlike Thoreau who insisted on one world at a time, I am attempting to make the best of two.
Our final morning. With the sun at our backs, we look west and see the glint of the truck windshield on a bench two miles away. We break a quick camp and funnel away downcanyon, bending to scoop chunks of petrified wood for the last time before returning them to their sandy beds. We walk in silence for the final mile, unconsciously slowing our pace, extending our time. When we turn a bend in the canyon where it sweeps up close against the road cut, we’re confronted by an aperture in the rock, a concrete eye tunneling the breadth of road. After nine days in the field, the abruptness of its emergence is jarring. The kids hesitate at the threshold, their packs bumping together like jammed logs. We hold the silence for a few seconds longer, looking back over our shoulders into the depths of the canyon where flood-scarred cottonwoods twist in the sun and our tracks stretch backward in the sand. And there it is: bootslap on pavement, the easy roll of industrial traction. When we emerge on the other side 100 feet later and greet our truck, I’m smiling with the knowledge that we’ll be knocking dust from our boots for years to come.
A Thorn In My Side for 39 Years (Part Two)
This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of The Leader
"PUTTING HIS NOLS EDUCATION TO WORK" -- When asked how the course impacted his life, Jay responded, “It made me realize how great the wilderness is and that it needs to be protected for other people to enjoy. [I came to understand] the importance of … taking other young people out in the woods so they learn to love it and appreciate it.”
After his NOLS course, Jay became a teacher in Lime, N.H.
“I taught the fourth grade,” he said. “We took three hikes in the fall. We worked on map reading, using the compass, staying together. We learned about the different trees and the leaves. I tried to mix in elementary school science with our hikes.”
"A RETURN TO THE GRAND TETON AND LANDER" -- I followed in my father’s footsteps and took a Summer Semester in the Rockies in 2003. I started as an instructor for NOLS in the summer of 2010. I found endless entertainment in my father’s memories about NOLS, especially after becoming an instructor. I could also tell that he wasn’t totally satisfied with his 1974 attempt on the Grand Teton.
It was time for another try.
In 2011, Jay, my brother David (Rock Climbing ‘06), my sister Jessica, and I climbed the Old Man’s Route (5.2) and the Old Ladies’ Route (5.2) on Seneca Rocks in our home state of West Virginia. This served as a perfect training climb. Jay had no problems with the climbing, and his legs never shook once.
On Aug. 31, 2013, Jay flew to Riverton. After seeing the Noble Hotel again, he said, “The restoration was fantastic. Thank goodness there was no longer a bar and a Chinese restaurant. The moose head was still there.”
The weather forecast was for 50-percent chance of thunderstorms all week, so he, my girlfriend and fellow NOLS instructor Angie Bates, and I spent another day hiking at low elevation, hoping the forecast would improve. It didn’t, but we hiked up to the Lower Saddle anyway. At 5 a.m. the next morning, the sky was clear, so we decided to go for it. At around 7:30 a.m., light rain began to fall.
The storm appeared to be passing us to the north, so we continued with a watchful eye on the weather. We reached the Belly Roll just before 9 a.m. This time, Jay said he “just had to do it and wasn’t going down.” He climbed across without a problem. The obstacles after the Belly Roll fell away easily and Jay, Angie, and I reached the summit at 10:20 a.m.
“This has been a thorn in my side for 39 years!” he said, elated to be standing on top of the peak that had eluded him in 1974.
“When I came out [to Wyoming], I didn’t want to say anything to anybody about climbing the Grand because I didn’t know if I would make it,” Jay conceded. “After I climbed it, I was anxious to reconnect with people [from my course].”
After the climb, Jay met with Peter Simer, former executive director of NOLS and the course leader for Jay’s winter section. Peter instantly remembered Jay and his course. Two hours passed quickly as they reminisced on the porch of Peter’s house in Lander.
“[NOLS] was one of the highlights of my 65 years,” Jay said afterward. “I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I will always have that love for the school and the great people who have been instructors and students there. I am thrilled that the school has grown.”
Regarding the failed attempt in 1974, Jay remarked, “I have to apologize to the people I kept from making it to the top. I hope they have had another chance and if they haven’t they should really try. The Belly Roll was really a piece of cake.”
He went on to quote Yogi Berra: “90 percent of it is half mental.’”
“[My son Jim] became a NOLS climbing instructor. He is the son of a dad with sewing machine leg. I guess that shows that evolution must be occurring.”
Planning the climb on the Grand inspired Jay to reach out to his former coursemates.
“I connected again with Jim Acee, my tent mate. I had not spoken to him in 39 years. I called him [twice and talked] about the instructors and students on our course. He was a long-time NOLS instructor. [It] seems like we haven't missed a beat. [We shared] very fond memories.”
In the spirit of rekindling friendships and sharing stories, Jay would love to hear from his coursemates and former instructors. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jim Margolis, NOLS Field Instructor and Rocky Mountain Program Supervisor