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The Original NOLS Instructor: Tap Tapley

With heavy hearts, we bid farewell to Tap (Ernest) Tapley, one of the first NOLS instructors and certainly one of the most legendary. Tap passed away Monday, March 2 in New Mexico. He was 91 years old.

S_v14alepl7ek1081Tap met NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt while serving in the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, which Paul was helping to train. He later recruited Paul to instruct for the Outward Bound branch in Colorado, and in turn joined Paul as an instructor when Paul founded NOLS.

“I haven’t considered it work,” he said of his role as one of the first NOLS instructors on NOLS’ 40th anniversary. “NOLS meant to me that we could start training people to take others into the wilderness and enjoy it.”

He did just that for nearly 30 years, leading and teaching largely by example and soft-spoken instruction.

“Tap was the one who had the greatest influence on me ... because of his humility and kindness just being himself and sharing his knowledge by example more than by words,” wrote one of his early students, Leslie van Barselaar, upon hearing of his passing. “He was so comfortable in the woods or by the ocean or horseback. He never told you what to do, but you watched very carefully how he did things to get it right. Because you knew he knew he was watching over you like a benevolent uncle. Because you also wanted to be that comfortable in the wild. Because you were proud to be a part of this lineage, and wanted to live into it.”

In addition to playing a key role in launching the NOLS legacy, Tap also helped make NOLS an international institution. After instructing in the Wind River Mountains, his favorite wilderness environment, for many years, Tap headed south. In 1971, he founded NOLS Mexico.

He remained a steady source of learning and leadership as NOLS continued to grow, having a profound impact on countless students and fellow instructors.

“Tap’s legacy grows each time a new NOLS student first sees the Milky Way, tops out on a Wind River peak, hears a coyote call, or feels the tug of a Brookie on the line. Those experiences, those adventures are the essence of Tap’s spirit and role as an educator,” said NOLS Executive Director John Gans. “We thank him and wish him peace.”

Services are pending, and details will be added to this post.


Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Mar 3, 2015 in the following categories: Instructor News, Mexico, Rocky Mountain

Odile Likely to Bring Some Rain

Hurricane Odile made landfall on the southern end of the Baja California peninsula last night, nearly 800 miles from the nearest NOLS students. The current forecast predicts the storm will turn away from the area in which NOLS students are currently hiking, the San Pedros in northern Baja California.

Though the courses will probably see some rain and winds as a result of the passing storm, it is likely Odile will diminish to a tropical depression by that time, reducing winds to less than 39 miles per hour.

We will continue to monitor the weather and will provide updates here.

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m. MST: Hurricane Odile has been steadily weakening as it travels over the southern end of the Baja California peninsula. Though courses will likely experience some heavy rain, forecasts still anticipate the storm tracking east of the course area in northern Baja.

UPDATE, Sept. 19, 9:15 a.m. MST: We have had contact with all NOLS Mexico courses in the field, and students are safe and well. There is rain in the mountain range but nothing of concern.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Sep 15, 2014 in the following categories: Mexico

Get to Know NOLS Mexico

NOLS MexicoNOLS Mexico Director Carolina Cortés knows anyone could find what they’re looking for at NOLS Mexico: “Baja offers something for all tastes. Baja is a place of extremes and contrasts. This part of the world should be a ‘must see’ on everybody’s bucket list, “ she recently wrote from the entirely off-the-grid facility in Baja California.

Cortés says, “Nobody leaves NOLS Mexico without saying, ‘One day I will come back,’” and she explained why in our recent Q&A:

If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

NOLS Mexico Staff is creative, experienced, inspiring, and passionate of what we do.

How long have you been NOLS Mexico branch director?

It has been five years but it feels like five months.

How did it all begin for you?

An internship at NOLS Mexico in 2003 opened the door for me. After volunteering for the school one season, I knew this was a good place for me to stick around. I worked in town for one year in Wyoming at NOLS Headquarters and at NOLS Yukon before I did a field instructors course in the Rocky Mountains. After that, I went back to NOLS Mexico to work as operations manager then assistant director and finally director.

During those years of switching positions and traveling from branch to branch, I met lots of people who had a big impact on my life and from whom I learned a ton. 

What is your favorite aspect of running courses in your part of the world?

The people and the scenery. Baja is one of the most amazing parts of the world I have ever been to. The interaction between the desert, the sea, flora and fauna makes this place unique, and the combination of all that with the warmth of local people creates an environment you never want to leave.   

What unique or particularly appealing aspect of NOLS Mexico  do you think potential students should know about?

The opportunities of personal growth and lifelong learning that a contrasting environment like this offers cannot be missed; students come here and leave being transformed into leaders. They often send us messages after their courses about how the experience at NOLS Mexico has helped them to gain confidence and to be active leaders back at home. Moreover, Baja offers the nicest weather, cultural interaction with local fishermen for water courses and rancheros for mountain courses—a once in a lifetime experience! Also, students will find incredible snorkeling and will sail or kayak on waters that Jack Costeau considered the aquarium of the world and hike in stunning mountain ranges.

What would you say most surprises students when they arrive or during their course in that part of the world?

 Students are always pleased with cultural interactions with locals, and they wish they had more of it. They are amazed by the natural beauty of the country, and many students want to come back here for personal trips.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on May 27, 2014 in the following categories: Mexico

Welcome, NOLS Fellows!

By Christina Sallis, Diversity and Inclusion Intern

With summer just around the corner, things are starting to pick up at all NOLS locations around the world. We are excited to introduce a new group of NOLS Fellows to help out during this busy time. The NOLS Fellowship program was started in 2012 to create a pathway for people of color in the United States to pursue a career in outdoor education and to offer Fellows the opportunity to inspire people within their own communities to connect with the outdoors.

Image-1Tracie Williams will be joining the NOLS Rocky Mountain community in May, bringing tons of enthusiasm and interesting experiences with her. Tracie swears she can cook any gourmet meal in the backcountry with a stove and a casserole dish, she hitch-hiked across the U.S. and Canada, and has lived out of her car with a bird for a summer. She can usually be found with her best friend and dog, Merlin, and we are excited to have both in Lander for the summer.

Floyd Gossett was intrigued by stories he heard from NOLS grads during his travels. He recently took a Baja Sea Kayaking course at NOLS Mexico, where he experienced Floyd firsthand what NOLS has to offer and decided he’d like to get more involved. Floyd will head to NOLS Teton Valley this summer to fulfill this goal, where his laughter, stories, and barbecue skills will surely be appreciated.

Elsie Freland hails from Lander, Wyoming and has been around NOLS most of her life. She took a NOLS course out of NOLS Rocky Mountain when she was just 17 and looks forward to returning to NOLS as the NOLS Southwest Fellow. Elsie graduated from college last May with an art history degree and a minor in religion. She can be found pursuing her passion for the arts at museums, plays, and painting in the studio.

MicaNOLS Pacific Northwest is excited to have Michaela Cohen-Fuentes (Mica) join the community as a Fellow this summer. Mica did a Wind River Range expedition out of NOLS Rocky Mountain that sparked her passion for the outdoors. She has lived in Italy and Mexico and can speak French, Spanish, and Italian. She loves hiking, biking, reading, and exchanging travel stories.

Look out for these awesome Fellows and the work they will be doing with NOLS this summer. Welcome to NOLS, Fellows!

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on May 14, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Mexico, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Southwest

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

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.

Aug 2003 067
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

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

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

Sometimes half the battle is getting there …

A group of NOLS students encountered their first experience adversity and uncertainty before their course even started last week. As Hurricane Paul neared the Baja Peninsula, the Loreto airport, their destination, shut down.

The challenges of operating in remote areas are not unfamiliar to NOLS, however, and it took just a little time to get all 11 students to the NOLS location for their Baja Sea Kayaking course.

As the storm weakened, rain hammered the Baja Peninsula and students were advised to stay together and wait for a rescheduled flight from Los Angeles. Because there aren’t flights to Loreto daily, and upcoming flights had been booked, NOLS and the students worked together to get the group to Cabo, instead.

Regular emails and phone calls were exchanged between parents, NOLS Mexico, NOLS Headquarters, and students throughout. In addition to tolerance for adversity, the moment demanded strong communication. In fact, at the same time, NOLS Mexico and Headquarters staff were communicating with three courses in the field about the hurricane and updating parents about their location and well-being.

Five of the 11 Baja Sea Kayaking students spent the night in Los Angeles, then flew to Cabo. They spent another night waiting for a flight that had just been added to Loreto, rather than taking a bus to Loreto. This was a challenge in itself for NOLS: working with the small Mexican airline for the first time.

It was certainly a boon to this group that another student, traveling by himself, also found himself in Cabo at this time. He is Mexican and had a cell phone. NOLS Headquarters was able to facilitate his rendezvous with the five and put him in direct communication with the NOLS Mexico office for the rest of their journey.

The remaining five students had made it to Loreto earlier and hopped a shuttle bus to the NOLS location. Unfortunately, because information about roads proved to be virtually non-existent, this ride, which usually takes an hour, took nine due to washed out roads. The six from Cabo arrived at NOLS Mexico Friday afternoon, about 24 hours after the five who flew to Loreto.

BAJ 10:17 students

Just 48 hours late, the entire course was safe and happy at the NOLS Mexico Branch in Coyote Bay, ready to begin the next adventure Mexico would provide them.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 22, 2012 in the following categories: Mexico

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