Inspiring Alumna: Morgan Dixon opens Faculty Summit
Yesterday morning was the start of the 2012 NOLS Faculty Summit. Scott Robertson and Executive Director John Gans kicked off the event with a brief welcome to the nearly 160 faculty members assembled at the Sinks Canyon Center. Over the three days of the Summit, faculty will participate in a variety of forums and workshops focused on professional development, community building, and inclusion. The highlight of the first day was Morgan Dixon’s opening address, which set the tone for the summit by inspiring attendees to spread lessons from NOLS to a greater audience.
Dixon, an alumna of the Pacific Northwest Trip Leader, began with a line by poet Linda Hogan.
“The body’s purpose is to use life up,” quoted Dixon.
Although this line aptly synthesizes the philosophy of many NOLS faculty members, it is far from a reality for the majority of Americans.
“How many people in out country use the body in that way? This is a crisis for all Americans. This is why the lessons NOLS espouses are just so important in these times,” explained Dixon.
Fostering healthy lifestyles in less privileged communities is so important to Dixon that she created the GirlTrek movement. GirlTrek uses walking, the most basic component of any NOLS course, to foster healthy lifestyles amongst African American women and girls. As Dixon emphasized, role models play a critical role in the success of this program
“When I got back my NOLS course, I sent pictures to my friends. The response was far greater than I expected. That one photo of [an African American woman] in the wilderness was more important than years of work,” said Dixon. “People could suddenly imagine being in a freer place.”
Dixon ended by reminding attendees that many people will never have access to the NOLS experience, but that the lessons from the field can be brought into the frontcountry, into cities, to inspire healthier lifestyles and more role models. This is how the group under the tent will become more diverse.
Notes from the Field: Phil is on the mend
After descending to base camp on Everest, NOLS senior faculty member and Rocky Mountain River Base Manager Phil Henderson writes from base camp about his condition.
I am now back at base camp and have been for several days. The khumbu cough got the best of me during my last rotation. A combination of being sick, coughing, elevation gain of 5,200 meters to 6,400 meters, and high temps in the Western Cwm took its toll and left me very weak. When I arrived at camp II, my O2 saturation levels were at a mere 55 percent without oxygen. I rested over the next several hours without the oxygen, but my O2 sats never got above 65 percent. We decided it would be a good idea for me to sleep with O's. I slept with a oxygen at 0.5 liters/minute and checked my sats throughout the night; they never went under 90 percent.
The next morning I was up, packed and read to hike back to base camp at 6 a.m. On the trail with the mask still on and the oxygen now at two liters/minute, I was quickly past camp I and back into the infamous Khumbu ice fall. I was back in base camp within three and a half to four hours. My cough continues to produce and keep me awake part of the night. My O2 sats here in base camp have improved to around 80 percent. I received some medication from the Everest Base Camp doctor, which has improved my condition over the past two days as I continue to rest and recover.
Faculty Summit kicks off with clinics
The second annual NOLS Faculty Summit kicked off today, with clinics up and down Sinks Canyon outside Lander. Both the river crossing clinic and rock rescue clinic kicked off early in the morning, and the afternoon included a Tyrolean traverse clinic.
Our pants are flapping in the wind! The famous NOLS wind pants mark the location of the majority o the Summit events, Sinks Canyon Center. Kyle Duba photo
The river crossing clinic, led by NOLS Director of Risk Management Drew Leemon, provided instructors with an opportunity to discuss and practice NOLS accepted field practices across the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River.
Meanwhile, the daylong rock rescue clinic gave new and experienced instructors alike the chance to learn and conduct a variety of rescues on the rock walls of the canyon.
The afternoon was rounded out with a clinic on the Tyrolean traverse, a means of transporting equipment or people over an obstacle—in this case, a river. You can also find a video of this venture on County 10.
Each of these clinics was led by NOLS faculty and executed in a safe and fun environment. Over the next three days, the participants will delve into workshops and lectures by experts in the outdoor industry as part of the Summit. Keep an eye on NOLS.TV for videos of the week’s events if you weren’t able to attend in person.
Notes from the Field: Voicemail from Camp II
NOLS senior field instructor and Rocky Mountain River Base Manager Phil Henderson is still on the expedition on Everest. His partner Mark Jenkins called a voicemail in to the National Geographic office last week with an update on NOLS' own Phil. Listen or read the transcript here.
Notes from the Field: Phil Henderson touches Camp III
Yes, things are very real up here. Some are unfortunate accidents; other things are risk of being in the mountains. The incident where the Sherpa fell into the crevasse was totally avoidable. I have gone through the Khumbu Icefall four times now, once completely alone. I clipped into almost every fixed rope, which are many, most so that I would not fall into a crevasse, others so that my body could be found at the next fixed anchor should anything cut loose.
There was a huge avalanche a few days ago between camp 1 and 2. It ran from high up on Nuptse completely across the glacier floor to the west shoulder of Everest. The smoke cloud went 300 meters high. One Sherpa was caught. A few minutes earlier and it would have taken out 30 to 40 people. We were at camp 2 when this occurred and sent a couple of people to help with the search.
The next day we headed to touch camp III, which is half way up the Lhotse Face, and return to camp II (climb high sleep low).
At this time the Lhotse Face is steep blue ice. We have had very little precipitation since arriving April 1, and what little we have had has been blown away by high winds. Imagine a mile of fixed line and more than 20 people on up line and rappel line at all times, old blue ice with no new snow cover. The sun bakes the ice and exposes rocks of all sizes. Climbers, some with little ice climbing or fixed line experience, release rocks and ice of all sizes with poor crampon technique. The best place to be on the Lhotse Face is directly behind another climber or two so when you hear the yell “rock,” you can duck behind the person in front of you.
I was in this situation while ascending the fixed line a few days ago. I believe I ducked behind another climber more than five times; small rocks hit my helmet twice. During my descent, I knocked small rocks and shards of ice down with my hand several times, yelled rock for my partner many times, and was almost clocked by a melon sized rock that whizzed by, three meters away. Being on the fixed lined going up the Lhotse Face, you are at risk of being hit by whatever comes down.
That is what happened again two days ago. Two Sherpas were hit in different incidences. One was knocked unconscious, broke his jaw and was evacuated via helicopter later that day from just above camp II. The other was hit in the shoulder and was able to hike back to camp.
So, again I and others ask ourselves, “Is it worth the risk to climb this mountain?” We are still trying to find the answer. In the meantime, we keep climbing, use our technical, judgment and decision-making skills, and hope for the best.
The one thing I am very comfortable with are my skills. As a member of this expedition, I have used many of the NOLS core competencies/values: expedition behavior, communication, basic mountaineering and camping skills, repair skills, and tolerance for adversity just to name a few.
Having a solid foundation and understanding of these outdoor skills has allowed me to have fun, travel safely and be a positive contributing member of this expedition.
I've also notice people in the Khumbu are proud NOLS grads like myself:
Notes from the Field: Phil Henderson’s first weeks at Everest Base Camp
NOLS senior field instructor and Rocky Mountain River Base Manager Phil Henderson has reached Everest Base Camp and continues to report back from his expedition on Mount Everest. The following are his first notes from Everest Base Camp:
March 30: We are now in the high alpine environment. Hiking over the shoulder of the terminal moraine on the Khumbu Glacier, we passed an area where Chortens have been built to honor some of those who have lost their lives in the Himalayas—a reminder of the dangers we face, and the risks we take to travel and climb here.
As I passed a series of Chortens, I recognized a name forever etched in the big granite stone: Scott Fischer, 1996. The stone is painted white, and the letters are painted black. The stone is covered with fresh prayer flags, a sign that he is remembered each year. As I walk past this spot I am reminded of the people who have been, or could be, in my shoes.
The fact that I am here is a result of time spent working, skiing, climbing, watching, or just listening to people with much more experience than me, people who took the time to help me gain the skills and experience to make this journey.
April 3: Third day in Everest Base Camp (EBC): Spent yesterday getting installed (our base camp crew is amazing). We are actually camping on the glacier, so the rocks and ice need to be moved to make flat spots. Our Nepali crew makes everything possible. The Khumbu Icefall is fixed, so we will be ready to climb after the Puja [prayer ceremony] in a few days. Lots of serac falls again last night, I think this will be a nightly occurrence.
April 7: Last night was a rough night. It snowed a few inches and I had a headache, but was better in the morning. Another acclimation day spent hiking around EBC. Met with Luanne at the medical clinic, and chatted with David Brashears for a brief moment.
We made more adjustments to our establishment, and enjoyed the warm morning weather. Since we are camped on an active glacier things move. Slowly, but they do move. I hear rocks moving on the glacier at night, as well as big seracs falling and avalanches that wake me from sleeping.
We often have discussions about why we climb mountains, or go on expeditions. Camaraderie is built within the group—in our case this also means our Nepali staff. But the sharing of stories, emotions, in sickness and in health is truly the bigger reason. Standing on the summit will be but a few glorious minutes within months of time spent with the group, eating laughing, and being cold. Yeah, sound like a NOLS course? Similar, but we get to drink scotch and watch movies in base camp at night.
April 10: The average daytime temp is around 47 degrees; however, with the solar gain it can get up to 80 degrees in my tent during the day, and the nighttime temps are dropping to about 21 degrees and below. Base camp life consists of getting up around 6:30 (cold!), breakfast around 8, and then group discussion for the day. Sometimes we need to scrape rock from the south-facing slope of ice that feeds our water pool to keep it full. Daily maintenance of personal tents—they melt out as well, lunch around noon, and maybe go bouldering on the ice-fall or hike around Manhattan (base camp central).
Allison Bergh on Astronauts and the Arctic
Allison Bergh, a long-time instructor for NOLS and NOLS Professional Training, got her start in outdoor education as a river guide. While she loved the wilderness aspect the job, Bergh soon realized that she wanted to be an educator rather than a guide.
“In 1994, armed with enthusiasm, limited backcountry experience (but a huge passion for rivers and river trips), and a desire to learn, I applied for a NOLS instructor course,” Bergh said.
Today, in addition to teaching for NOLS, Bergh is the co-owner of a leadership development business that she started with another NOLS instructor, Kat Smithhammer.
“I have my work with NOLS and NOLS Pro to thank for developing my skill set, confidence, and leadership capabilities to where I am now successfully running my own business," said Bergh. “Being a new business owner takes up most of my professional time, but I still work a few courses a year for NOLS Pro because I love it so much.”
One of the reasons Bergh loves NOLS Pro is the clients. As Bergh notes, “[I get to work with] astronauts... need I say more?” But she does, emphasizing that the amazing people on NOLS Pro courses are what keep her coming back.
“I have been introduced to some amazingly talented, interesting, passionate, and hard-working people through my NOLS Pro work. I have yet to run into a client who doesn’t feel as if they have something to learn about being a more effective communicator, or becoming better at using situational leadership.”
When asked about a story that highlighted the efficacy of NOLS Pro courses, Bergh went back to NASA astronauts.
“[We were] sitting on the side of a canyon in southern Utah, trying to decide whether we were going to head up into a slot canyon with a rainstorm brewing. It was a defining decision-making moment for the group, with relevancy from the canyons of Utah applying to work up in space. I appreciate the learning that goes on during our courses because it feels real and tangible to our clients’ everyday work life.”
Bergh doesn’t see herself as having a sole “great accomplishment” in the outdoors.
“I would describe it more as an appreciation for being a competent outdoors person who has strong decision-making and communication skills. [This allows me to] access remote places on the globe safely and travel within them with groups of friends. I canoe in the Canadian Arctic with a group of girlfriends every few years, and those are some of the best weeks of my life. I have NOLS to thank for refining my leadership and team skills so that I have friends who continue to want to go to the Arctic with me!”
Notes from the Field: Phil Henderson on Everest approach
NOLS senior field instructor and Rocky Mountain River Base Manager Phil Henderson is making his way through Nepal this week en route to climbing Mount Everest. He is working with a team of North Face athletes and researchers, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent to the peak. Learn more about the expedition by on the National Geographic or the North Face blogs. The following is his first note from the field:
“With this being my fourth trip to the Khufu region of Nepal, I thought I knew what to expect. I have always come here in the winter, so to see wild flowers in bloom and the Magnolia trees blooming as well is a bit different. NOLS graduate Pasang Chuttin Sherpa has proudly displayed her NOLS diploma on the wall of her mother’s tea house and lodge. Pasang is joining another expedition to Mount Everest this season, so I hope to see her on the mountain. Arrived in Namche Baazar on market day which is always a treat. We should end our long trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) soon. Sad to have missed Bahati’s [Phil’s daughter] fourth birthday yesterday, I was able to call though.”
Chris Beeson on Leadership Lessons in the Wilderness
As a sophomore in college, Chris Beeson went backpacking with his school’s outdoor program and fell in love with the type of education that occurs outside.
“After that, I went through the school’s leadership program and started leading trips for the outdoor program. This experience made me realize what I wanted for a career: to work for NOLS,” said Beeson, who became an instructor in 2000.
Over the past two years, Beeson’s work for NOLS was primarily instructing Professional Training courses. Beeson says this experience was particularly rewarding because of the clients.
“Clients on NOLS Professional Training courses come to NOLS as an intact team with a defined purpose or goal. This shared commitment allows for deep learning to take place faster; in four to six days the client can get to the same place (developmentally) as students on standard-length NOLS courses,” said Beeson.
Working with the clients at NOLS Pro inspired Beeson to return to school. With his own goal defined—to learn more leadership tools and expand his set of frameworks—Beeson is now working toward a Master’s in education, focusing on organizational learning and leadership development, at Harvard University.
For Beeson, the importance of NOLS Professional Training courses stems from the curriculum’s applicability to a range of organizations. One client that Beeson believes embodies this flexibility is the Building Goodness Foundation.
“On the surface, it’s not the most natural fit: Building Goodness is an organization that builds houses and community structures in areas like Haiti, while NOLS operates in the wilderness. But the long-standing relationship between NOLS Pro and Building Goodness demonstrates that the NOLS model for risk management and leadership is transferable beyond the wilderness,” explained Beeson. “Because the material is tangible for everyone, NOLS can effect bigger change in society."
When asked about an outdoor-related achievement, rather than referencing a personal triumph, Beeson noted the accomplishments of students on one of his NOLS courses.
“Of all the open enrollment courses, Backpacking Adventures often produce the highest learning outcomes. Kids that age [14-15] just soak up knowledge. Ours was a group of high-energy kids who were a ton of fun. [I enjoyed] seeing how much they changed and grew, especially over the long independent student group expedition,” remarked Beeson. “Hearing their stories at the end made me really proud of all that they had accomplished.”
For Beeson, group accomplishments have greater significance than personal triumphs, particularly in an outdoor setting.
“In the end, I love the bond with friends and community that results from time spent outdoors,” he said. “There is such potential for deep relationships and deep learning.”
NOLS' Phil Henderson looks to make history on Everest
Since the first successful ascent in 1953, there have been many attempts by those looking to add their names to Everest’s history books. Over the last 59 years, there have been 5,104 successful ascents to the summit by 3,142 individuals. Out of those numbers there is still one thing missing: the first African American male to summit Mt. Everest. Phil Henderson is looking change that this spring.
Phil’s journey to the top of the world started long ago in a much lower place. The story of how Phil came to be where he is today is an incredible one. In 1986, while playing college football as a free safety, he sustained hairline fractures in his third and fourth cervical vertebrae. The injury ended his football career. It would be over a year before Phil would fully recover and return to a healthy and normal lifestyle. From that point on, he has lived a life that most people could only dream of.
He learned about the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1991 and the next year came to Lander, Wyo., for a Semester in the Rockies. In 1994 he returned to NOLS for his Mountaineering Instructor Course and has been working around the world sharing his knowledge and love for the outdoors with hundreds of students ever since.
Phil has shared his wealth of knowledge and passion outside of NOLS, as well. He has worked both in his local community and climbing schools throughout the globe, including several years as an instructor with the Khumbu Climbing School (KCS) in Nepal. The goal of KCS is to increase the safety of Nepali climbers and high-altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program. It is there that Phil was afforded the opportunity to work alongside Sherpas of the area teaching leadership skills while learning from them at the same time.
A veteran mountaineer, Phil has led many expeditions on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, and Denali, but Everest is a completely different animal. Reaching the summit will require climbing 29,029 feet (about five miles above sea level), enduring harsh environmental conditions including temperatures ranging from –80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, winds gusting over 200 miles per hour, and an atmospheric pressure only four pounds greater than Mars at the summit.
During his diverse and global career as a wilderness leader, Phil has become an exemplarily role model to all who know him. In his current venture he will not only try to make history, but broaden the awareness of the benefits and accessibility of the outdoors to minorities, specifically African Americans.