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Imagine your 2014 summer

Summer is here!

Well, at least the 2014 summer NOLS course catalog is here, and that's even better, because you still have time to plan the perfect summer with NOLS.


We have boxes and boxes and boxes of the summer catalog here at NOLS Headquarters, so request one here. If you'd prefer a paperless version, we've got you covered, too. Download the iPad version of the 2014 summer catalog here.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jan 16, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Amazon, Australia, Curriculum, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, On The Net, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus, Yukon

The 12 Days of NOLS

We’ve found the perfect way to get you into the holiday spirit and fight the cold snap with a hearty laugh. Watch NOLS Creative’s newest (and possibly goofiest) release, “The 12 Days of NOLS,” a NOLS variation on the classic tune, to get a taste of the NOLS experience or reminisce about your course! Written with extensive input from the peanut gallery, shot and edited in less than 12 hours, and brought to you with only mild shame, we now ask you to watch the video and sing along.

On the first day of my course Paul Petzoldt gave to me ...


Windpants with a reinforced knee

Two trekking poles

Three Peaks Ranch


Five pounds of cheese

Six dudes belaying

Seven miles a' shwackin’

Eight malt balls missing

Nine quickdraws clipping

Ten backpacks bulging

Eleven toasty hot drinks

Twelve students mapping

 Happy Holidays from NOLS

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Dec 10, 2013 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Amazon, Australia, Books, Curriculum, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, On The Net, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon

Drumroll, please ...

It has arrived. Thirty thousand copies of the shiny new course catalog have been unloaded and piled up at NOLS Headquarters, and another 30,000 will be shipped to potential students soon.

We thought we’d introduce you.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 2.09.47 PM

Like last year, the NOLS course catalog has a clean, square shape and inspiring personal accounts to make the NOLS experience relatable.

With this catalog, though, we have dedicated more pages to courses and NOLS locations, specifically for the upcoming season. In fact, it’s dedicated almost entirely to the winter and spring course offerings at NOLS because we are going to publish three seasonal catalogs a year from now on. This will allow us to tailor the information in each catalog to each season to give you more helpful information about our course offerings.

You can look forward to a summer course catalog in January and a fall course catalog in April. All three catalogs will be available iPad apps shortly after their publication.

If you haven’t already requested a catalog, do so here or keep an eye out for the app, to be released soon! 

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Aug 28, 2013 in the following categories: Alaska, Australia, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

Must love long walks in the mountains …

NOLS is a diverse and fascinating community, something reality TV star and NOLS grad Ames Brown can attest to.

“It’s the people that make it exciting,” Brown said of NOLS after completing his second course.

Brown shares that enthusiastic energy, grinning from ear to ear fresh from the field on a Wilderness Horsepacking course.

*July 19 2012 crossing Two Oceans Pass in  Bridger-Teton National Forest on course Wilderness Horsepacking (b)His smile might be familiar, given his participation on The Bachelorette, season two, and Bachelor Pad, season two. Though he found enduring love on neither, Brown found a different love on his first NOLS course shortly thereafter.

“This is like the best organization. I never expected to fall so much in love with it,” he raved.

Brown first came to NOLS in March, signing up for a Himalaya Mountaineering course just five days before it started. Having never slept in a sleeping bag before, Brown knew he would be challenged.

“It’s such an ostensibly difficult thing, but it wasn’t difficult at all,” Brown said, which he credited his instructors for.

Even the truly tough moments Brown relishes.

“The low points are actually the high points on a NOLS course. Adversity’s the best part … the opportunity to be creative,” he noted.

*Phurkia, India on April 18, 2012 with instructor Nick Storm

He followed his mountaineering course with a horsepacking course this month, something else in which he’d had no prior experience. This is the same reason he selected a sailing course for his next NOLS experience.

“It’s fun to start new things later,” said the 32 year old."I realized NOLS has expertise in all these different areas, and you might as well try it."

In addition to all the outdoor skills he’s racking up, Brown has seen a distinct change in himself, calling NOLS “transformational.” The curriculum and experiential learning foster a sense of humor, boost self-confidence, and demand self-awareness.

“Both the Bachelorette and NOLS strip you of all your worldly, like your occupation and all that background, and it only matters who you are and that determines your success or failure,” Brown said.

*July 24 2012 fly fishing in Bliss Creek Meadow Wyoming on Course Wilderness Horsepacking
Brown fly-fishes in Bliss Creek Meadow in Wyoming.

“And, you can find love in both situations and I did not find love in either case,” he laughingly added.

 You never know, there’s always Baja Coastal Sailing.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Aug 24, 2012 in the following categories: Alumni, India, Mexico, Rocky Mountain

Congratulations to Jamie, Andrew, Jesse, Deborah, Kurt, Chris

Saturday night, a few truly outstanding members of the NOLS team were recognized for their work. Each recipient of the 2011 staff awards was given a standing ovation by the crowd in attendance at the reception and a plaque.

 Jamie Musnicki—Combo

Our first award recipient is an instructor and program supervisor. She took her Instructor Course in 2002, and since then she has accumulated just over 200 weeks in the field.

Jamie has taught four instructor courses and countless instructor seminars. She is a “go-to” instructor for the staffing office, as she is a backpacking, mountaineering, winter, and climbing course leader. She is known for her excellent work ethic, superb attention to detail, and commitment to training staff.

NOLS Pro has noted her “high-quality work, extensive expertise, and ‘can-do’ attitude.” These qualities were exemplified on the India Air Force Mountaineering Course on Denali. Jamie worked tirelessly to provide a safe and successful expedition that greatly improved NOLS’ relationship with the India Air Force. Once again, she proved invaluable when she agreed to fly to India at a moment’s notice to help support the instructors and students who were involved in the recent and tragic fatality.

Jamie has also worked as a mountaineering program supervisor in Alaska and is presently a winter program supervisor at the Teton Valley. As a program supervisor, she shines under pressure, has great vision and action, works exceptionally well as a member of a team, and is an advocate for staff.

Andrew Knutsen—In town

Andrew started his NOLS career in 2006. He cheerfully helps employees no matter how busy he is or how hard the question might be. He has a high level of expertise and can fix most problems or answer most questions on the spot. If he can't, then he'll do some research and keep digging until he finds the answer. While he primarily works with in-town staff as information systems desktop administrator, he willingly helps any NOLS employee work-related or not.


One question on our annual evaluations is, “what have you done to improve yourself and your position?”  Andrew’s response exemplifies a great work life balance. He got certified as an OS X Apple Technical Coordinator and expanded his house sitting from cats and dogs to include horses.

Andrew is a great ambassador for NOLS. He is an avid hiker and proud member of the long-distance hiking community. He often shuttles folks who are on the Continental Divide Trail between road heads and town, which puts NOLS and Lander in a good light and also supports the use and preservation of our classroom.

He is an actor and has participated in a number of theatrical productions in Fremont County such as Man of La Mancha and Guys and Dolls. In November, he will play the role of Robert Starveling in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Jesse Quillian—Instructor

Jesse started her career in 2000 as a student on a Himalaya Backpacking course.  She has been a staple at the Rocky Mountain Branch since her Instructor Course in 2005.  Thirty-five of her 41 courses have been based out of Rocky Mountain.

From the beginning of her career, she has continually worked to improve and expand her skills. In 2007, she took the initiative to expand her winter skills by taking a NOLS snowboarding course in the Teton Valley.

She brought her extensive horse background to NOLS and quickly became an integral part of Three Peaks Ranch. She played an important role in finalizing the Horse-packing Instructor Notebook.

In 2008, she became a program supervisor at Rocky Mountain and split her time between Lander and the Ranch.

In October of last year, she left her job in-town to focus on full-time course work. She joined the annual faculty program, and, in the past year she worked an unbelievable 35 weeks in the field.  Students of her last course noted her passion for teaching, knowledge of the NOLS curriculum, great sense of humor, and her extreme fitness—perhaps the result of 35 weeks in the field in one year. 

Not surprisingly, she was not present to accept her award because she was in the field proctoring an Outdoor Educator Semester.

Deborah Nunnink—In town

Deborah is known for working and living the values we all hold dear at NOLS.  She has been a key member of the NOLS community and the Lander community since 2002.  She has exemplary expedition behavior and always does more than her part.  She is committed to education, wilderness, and leadership.

As operations director, Deborah has transformed many ways that we do business, and her commitment to efficiency has made it possible for NOLS to prosper in challenging times while other organizations have been challenged. She helps our individual schools better themselves and has helped develop many key employees at NOLS.  She strives to build programs and operating areas that are sustainable, effective, profitable, and fun.

When she was interviewed her for her job, a former boss stated she enjoys having contests and playing games with fellow employees. He also made it clear she almost always wins those games (he actually seemed a bit perturbed about this).  What he didn’t say was that when she is on your team everyone wins and so does our mission.


Executive Director John Gans wasn’t able to attend the reception and admitted, “One of the hard parts of being away for this annual meeting is that I am not personally able to award this recipient.  She has given so much to our organization and has been a real key to our success.”

Kurt Hotchkiss—Instructor

Kurt came to the school in 2007 on a river instructor course in Utah. He has been working consistently since then in our programs in Utah, Idaho, India, and Brazil and will work in Patagonia this spring.

Since 2007, he has accumulated over 100 field weeks working river, sea kayaking and hiking courses. In 2011 he spent 28 weeks teaching classes on the water.

He is well known for his laid- back style and his excellent student outcomes. He is a fantastic coach on the river, and students comment that he is fun yet informative, respectful, and has an incredible passion for the outdoors and paddle rafting. His self-awareness, commitment, communication, and creativity are reflected over and over in his performance evaluations and are what make branches so happy to have him back.

A recent evaluation noted he did a great job of not only coaching students, but also his junior staff. He held students to high standards while respecting the knowledge they had gained from their previous semester sections. He sat down with his patrol leader and charted out the next steps in his development to course lead.

He is not able to be here as he is presently canoeing on the Amazon with semester students.

Chris Brauneis—In town

Chris first came to NOLS in 1992 on a Fall Semester in the Rockies. He worked in the Rocky Mountain issue room on and off for several years before taking his instructor course in 1997. Since then, he has worked 146 weeks in the field.

In 2004, he began work in the Rocky Mountain Program office in both the evacuation coordinator and program supervisor roles. He has shown extraordinary patience and professionalism in answering hundreds of parent phone calls.

The staff who nominated Chris for this award said the following:

“I personally am more successful in my job for having him as a friend and co-worker, as are dozens, if not hundreds, of others at NOLS.”

“His presence at the branch makes me want to continue to prioritize field courses in Lander, and I can’t imagine working in town at the RMB under a different supervisor.”


Chris is also known for his random-acts of kindness such as personal emails thanking employees for doing some aspect of their job or offering to help an employee out either personally or professionally.

In 2007, Chris became the Rocky Mountain program director where he currently oversees the supervision of 350 field staff annually. His dedication to the student experience is always forefront in his actions.

Please join us in congratulating each of these remarkable members of our team—this year's employees of the year.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 18, 2011 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon

Coursemates honor Thomas Plotkin

Students and instructors stand on a solitary path that winds through the Milam Valley in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. The Gori Ganga River rushes by below. They stand together to hang a few brass bells to memorialize their lost coursemate, Tom Plotkin or, as they came to call him, “T-Plot.”


These students, Tom’s family and friends, and the NOLS community lost a truly outstanding individual when he fell off the trail here nearly two weeks ago. A week later, on Sept. 29, his coursemates and instructors returned to honor Tom’s memory, hanging one large bell etched with his name and moniker in a shrine in a nearby village and a few small bells from a branch on the trail where he was last seen.

Bells are traditionally hung in the entrances of temples or shrines or on high passes of the region, often with prayer cloths hanging from the hammer, to carry sound and energy across vast distances. As the wind picks up the prayer cloth and the bell rings, a connection is believed to be made between the hearer, the message of the bell, and cosmic energy.

“Any time that bell rings, it resonates the students’ feelings toward Thomas’ soul for peace and happiness,” NOLS India Director Ravi Kumar said explained.

This group started traveling and living together Aug. 23; they were 29 days into the semester course when Tom fell. They had completed the first aid portion of the course and had moved into the backpacking section. Since the accident, the semester course members have received support from additional staff rushed to the area and a counselor.

P9290021Tom's coursemates

After the solemn occasion, the students continued their NOLS experience in India, embarking on the next section of the semester. They are now immersed in a cultural experience Tom, who helped teach his coursemates Hindi and sought answers to world hunger, surely would have relished. Students will explore the culture of a village in the Munsiari region for approximately two weeks before moving into a second backpacking portion.

Events like this rock NOLS to its very core. Thank you for your support, care and concern. Join us as we keep Tom's family, friends and coursemates in our thoughts and prayers.

Tom- close up Tom Plotkin

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 5, 2011 in the following categories: India

NOLS Grieves Thomas Plotkin Tragedy

The NOLS community is saddened to share the tragic news that Thomas Plotkin, a student on a Semester in India course, is lost and presumed dead.

Thomas was 20 years of age and was a taking a semester off from his studies at the University of Iowa, where he was majoring in international business. A talented scholar-athlete, he played both ice hockey and lacrosse while maintaining high academic standards.

In his NOLS application, Thomas expressed the importance of teamwork and leading by example. He wrote of mentoring his younger teammates as a high school senior lacrosse player.

“I tried showing them through my own actions that if they worked hard and stayed disciplined, they could achieve great things down the road,” he wrote.

This commitment to leadership followed him to NOLS. His instructors report teamwork was strong within his group—that every member had an important role to play.

The Minnetonka, Minnesota native was the leader of the day for his coursemates when he twisted his ankle and fell while hiking a historic well-traveled trail in northern India. It is believed he fell into the Gori Ganga River approximately 100 yards below the trail. After three days of exhaustive searching, Thomas has not been found, but recovery efforts on the ground are ongoing.

The entire NOLS family aches with the loss of this incredible young man.

Link: Message from our Board Chair

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Sep 24, 2011 in the following categories: India

Mourning the Loss of One of Our Own

When NOLS Executive Director John Gans told me over the phone one of our students had slipped from a well-traveled path in India, I heard in his words a margin of hope. But something behind his words told me he was visiting the darkest abyss that any parent, teacher, or person of leadership can face. I heard the pain in John’s voice say, “We have lost one of our own.”

With passing hours, we would learn about Thomas Plotkin. He was physically strong, balanced in body and mind. The best among us would have welcomed his company. His fall from this trail was unpredictable. Nonetheless, in a brief moment, he was gone. Our words cannot follow him. Our words cannot fill the emptiness. Our words cannot bring sense to the loss.

It is natural for us to ask, “What might NOLS do differently?” but today, we find ourselves without practical answers. Instead, we face the unanswerable. I realized if we cannot learn by studying the path where Thomas fell, perhaps we must learn from the paths where he did not fall. We can honor Thomas by honoring the best that is in NOLS.

The purposefulness and care NOLS instructors and their students take to fully engage with the world stands as an antidote to a society full of spectators. Our students, students like Thomas, stride up mountains, sail across oceans, and romp through canyons with hearts open to a greater good and minds geared toward preparation, competence, and service. Thomas wrote in his NOLS application his goal for this course was that the “simplified life based on meeting one’s basic needs will help [him] understand what is truly meaningful and provide [him] with a new perspective on human nature.” The best among NOLS groups are those most capable of the greatest service, and Thomas was on this course in pursuit of his potential. What our students give to each person is measured by need, and what they expect from each person is measured by ability. NOLSies, Thomas among them, weigh their meaning not by what they can take from life, but by what they can give to life.

Each of us is a blend of dust and divinity. We each have the capacity to be heroic, and we are, each and every one of us, mortal. In a time when we are reminded of that, it’s not the answers to questions that will heal; it is community and family. Now, I find myself turning to our community in a new way. When I first joined the NOLS Board, I was taken aback at how frequently NOLS people hug. My attitude toward such gestures has since softened. There is too much good exchanged among NOLS people to be wrapped in words or conveyed in a handshake. Just as Thomas’s mother told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, there is realness to a hug.

“He would smile and put his arms around me,” she told the newspaper. “When he hugged me, it was so real — so much tenderness. I’ll never forget it.”

Tori Murden McClure
NOLS Board Chair

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Sep 24, 2011 in the following categories: India

Transforming lives in the hills

As part of the Semester in India, all students spend ten days in a village home stay high in the Himalayas. For this semester section, we partner with Malika Virdi and her company Himal Prakriti to support student environmental and cultural learning. The good work Malika is doing in rural Himalayn villages was recently profiled by the Times of India.

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Sep 8, 2011 in the following categories: India

Field Notes: Independent in India (FSI 2)

The day after our last re-ration of food, we decided to spend the next 3 days hiking towards the Nanda Devi base camp.

The first morning, we met at the Nanda Devi temple. It was beautiful, adorned with ribbons & flags & bells. Our instructor Prani led us through ‘Puja’ – a prayer, & then students prayed by holding a burning half coconut, ringing a large bell, & bowing.


Due to sketchy bridge, we were unfortunately not able to get to the base camp, but had a great time hiking along the Shalang Gad, with a great view of Nanda Kot.

On November 1st we started our ISGE (Independent Student Group Expeditions), split into 3 small groups & hiked & camped for 5 days without instructors. The route was fairly relaxed & we hiked through the gorgeous Milam valley at a leisurely pace, stopping often to drink chai at local chai shops. We also learned how easy it is to make friends for life in India.


It was incredible how quickly the scenery climate & environment changed, as we dropped in elevation, traveling along the Gori Ganga River. Trees were suddenly adorned with color, woods populated by many bird species & villages filled with life.

One of the groups made a good friend in a 15yr old named Ganesh, who helped them find camp in Lilam, & gave them a gift of oranges. They were impressed with Ganeshs sense of style & were shocked to find out that his favorite music was Hannah Montana, Alcon, Byonce & Michael Jackson!


All the students groups met up for the last night together in jimi-Ghart. This morning we awoke early in order to meet jeeps, at 10 in the morning, to take us to Munsiari. Awaiting our arrival – instructors, wonderful food & real showers with water that falls from the sky vs the usual bucket bath. We are sad to say goodbye to 2 of our instructors, but are really excited to move on the home stay section!

- Julia, Muff, Stephanie, Elsa, Anne, Abby, Bridgette, Tom, Avi, Jamie, Cameron, Nick, Kalen, Sarah & Rachel. (Friday November 3, 2010)

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Nov 18, 2010 in the following categories: India

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