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Pacific Northwest

Life on the Borders

 “Semester on the Borders students experience two very distinct and complimentary bioregions on this course: the desert Southwest and the Pacific Northwest marine environment. I can't think of another course that integrates such extremely different environments into one expedition,” said NOLS Instructor and Pacific Northwest Operations Manager John Harnetiaux.

 Over the course of 86 days, two NOLS locations team up to offer an adventure like no other. The Semester on the Borders expedition offers five sections throughout the course. First, students experience some of the best rock climbing in the world in the Cochise Stronghold in Arizona or Joshua National Park and Taquitz in California. During this section, students develop an extensive amount of confidence that guides them into lead climbing when ready. 

 “The highlight is experiencing the daily contrasts of the desert environment. It might be 80 degrees during the day, and then drop down to below freezing later that night. Gaining 1000 ft. of elevation in the Gila, Galiuros, or Santa Teresas can change the ecosystem dramatically, with the flora and fauna being remarkably different within this relatively short gain in vertical distance,” said Harnetiaux.

 After this section is complete, the course gets to experience a whole new environment in the Pacific Northwest.

 “NOLS Semester on the Borders was the perfect practicing ground, and this trip seemed to cover interesting topics, and a wide range of climates while maintaining an outdoors educator travel life feel,” said recent Borders graduate Zachary Piña.

 Being able to make the transition to a marine life expedition is a tremendous goal for everyone on the journey. During the two sections in the Northwest, students learn two more technical skills. Sea kayaking and keelboat sailing provide further lessons in becoming an extraordinary leader.

 “The SWNW section is 3 weeks long. Each student gets more time navigating, more time trimming sail, more days as "First Mate" than any other keelboat sailing course we offer," said NOLS Instructor and Curriculum Publications Manager Ben Lester. "For a skill as complex as keelboat sailing, that extra week is super valuable for cementing learning.

 While traveling through the waters of British Columbia’s coast and reaching the Strait of Georgia, students each have the opportunity to be the first mate of the boat. The first mate is given complete control over the crew and in this position is able to truly follow his or her vision and action.

 The Semester on the Borders includes a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course before stepping foot in the outdoors. This section is taught by NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute instructors, and upon completion students receive WFA and CPR certifications.

 Piña reflected on finding his way to-and in-the Borders.

 “Deciding on one place was difficult and choosing both, seemed to be the best choice, as it provided a glimpse at the life of a traveling outdoor educator, which ultimately is the direction that I am still heading towards,” he said.







Permalink | Posted by Michael Betz on Jan 22, 2015 in the following categories: Alumni, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Wilderness Medicine Institute

Facility Efficiency Improvements at NOLS Pacific Northwest

When it comes to sustainability, every little bit counts. Even a toilet. When Karly Copeland, NOLS Sustainability Coordinator, made a call to NOLS Pacific Northwest to do an annual facility efficiency audit, toilets came up a lot. As it turns out, there is a lot that goes into sustainably updating a facility. Everything from appliances, light bulbs, and pipes, to weather stripping, sink fixtures and toilets must be taken into account. Some fixes are simple while others require much more attention, planning and funding.

The NOLS facility efficiency initiative is a crucial component of meeting the school-wide goal to reduce carbon emissions by thirty percent by the year 2020. By looking closely at each NOLS facility, the initiative is designed to bring seemingly minor details to the forefront, and ultimately make a big difference. We’ve all heard that we can minimize our carbon footprint by riding our bikes, taking shorter showers, or changing a light bulb. NOLS recognizes the importance of making these suggestions a reality.

 The NOLS Pacific Northwest audit is a great example of the attention to detail and important questions that must be asked in order to optimize sustainability within a facility. Are the pipes properly insulated? Are the appliances energy efficient? Are the light bulbs LED or fluorescent, and do they have motion sensors? Are the toilets low-flow? Many of these details and more were discussed in the conversation between Karly and John Harnetiaux, the Operations Manager of NOLS Pacific Northwest, and Mitch Harter, Facilities and Fleet Manager of NOLS Pacific Northwest. The audit consisted of reviewing data pertaining specifically to the Pacific Northwest facility, a thirty acre-property with eleven different buildings. Various efficiency improvements were discussed such as the heaters in the staff housing units, water pipes in the food services building attic, the weather-stripping on the doors, and of course, the toilets. All of these improvements and more are recorded, labeled and prioritized in the audit.

“The Pacific Northwest campus was built in the early 90's, and was originally designed with various energy efficiencies in mind. Within the last five years, as the buildings on the property have begun to age into their twenties, we've been attempting to do more retrofitting, as well as some larger scale sustainable construction projects,” commented John Harnetiaux.

As multiple NOLS locations, such as NOLS Pacific Northwest, continue to make improvements on the energy efficiency of their facilities, the goal of drastically reducing carbon emissions by 2020 will be that much more attainable.

Solar Panels at NOLS Pacific Northwest

Permalink | Posted by Becca Sage on Jan 16, 2015 in the following categories: Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

Educator Expedition: San Juan and Gulf Island Keelboat Sailing

By Bradley Martin, NOLS Instructor

I recently sailed from Anacortes, Washington, through the San Juan Islands of Washington and Gulf Islands, Canada. I made this voyage on a personal expedition outside of my role as NOLS instructor with support from the NOLS Instructor Development Fund (IDF). October really is an ideal time of year to cruise the Pacific Northwest Islands. Due to the colder and rainier weather, there is very little boat traffic. In many anchorages, I was the only occupant. Notable anchorages were Reid Harbor on Stewart Island and Watmough Bay on Lopez Island. Both offered good wind protection from most directions and were stunning in beauty.

I chartered a Catalina 30—Tofte—which was very similar to NOLS’ Luna Quest, a Catalina 36. This boat made me appreciate how our NOLS fleet is “tricked out” with details to make them expeditionary yachts (e.g. batteries that will hold a charge on little motor use, trimmed down cushions and things that take up space, long anchor rode, etc.). Before leaving Anacortes, I removed unnecessary items like extraneous kitchenware and inadequate life jackets and cushions. I added jack lines, extra anchor rode, and backup webbing for reefed tack and clew.

San Juan Islands 001

I experienced a variety of conditions on this expedition. In the beginning of the expedition, calm seas and sunny weather were common. I sailed some light wind days and later twice had to reef in 20 knots of wind. This allowed me to cover some good distance in a short amount of time. Conditions required very little motoring and therefore I spent very little on diesel fuel.

I encountered more challenging conditions later in the expedition (low pressure systems and up to force 4-5 winds from the south). This contributed to not traveling through as much of Canada as I had hoped.  However, I sailed through waters and anchorages and islands in the San Juans that were new to me. I covered a total distance of 195 nautical miles on this personal adventure. I really appreciate the IDF helping me make this expedition happen.

San Juan Islands 093

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Dec 9, 2014 in the following categories: Instructor News, Pacific Northwest

NOLS Thanks In-Town Staff

Each year, NOLS hands out a few awards to instructors, community members, alumni, and in-town staff to recognize their hard work, dedication, and positive changes in the world.

Please join us in congratulating this year's NOLS in-town awardees Alexa Callison-Burch, Debra East and Chris Agnew!

Alexa Callison-Burch: We feel blessed everyday that we get to work with Alexa

Alexa came to NOLS in the summer of 2006 when she completed her first NOLS course, an Absaroka Backpacking course. She is remembered by her instructors, as being passionate about wilderness, having excellent expedition behavior, and fulfilling a role as a mentor for other students. She was engaged with all aspects of the course. This promising performance led her instructors to encourage her to complete a fall Outdoor Educator semester as a step toward becoming an instructor.  She completed her instructor course in the spring of 2007 and began working field courses. Since that time, Alexa has worked over 60 field weeks as a hiking and sea kayaking instructor providing many students with inspiring energy and education as they embarked on their own wilderness expeditions. She is committed to providing each student with the opportunity to have life changing experiences on every course she works.

In 2011, Alexa completed a Wilderness EMT course in Lander. She then went on to complete an Instructor Training Course with NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute in November of 2012. Since that time, she has worked WFRs, WFAs, and WFRRs. She is a natural fit given both her organizational skills and teaching acumen.

Alexa’s in-town career began in the NOLS Field Staffing office in 2009, where she helped match field instructors with their courses and students. She moved over to NOLS Rocky Mountain as the evacuation coordinator in 2010. In this role, Alexa has modeled excellence by helping our instructors and the branch manage the diversity of infield challenges and evacuations that arise. She is known and admired for her calm and patient communication style that allows her to support students and instructors in the field. Alexa’s care and empathy for each individual student is felt by all. We have become a more compassionate school due to her influence.


Debra East: For her commitment to inclusion and can-do attitude

Brad_christensen-20141011-8882After years of running the underground bed and breakfast for NOLS field instructors, Debra began her official NOLS career in 2003. Over the next four years, she shared her skills and passion with such varied departments as purchasing, admissions, marketing, and WMI. In each of these roles she was valued for her upbeat, positive attitude and willingness to do whatever needed doing.

Since joining NOLS in a full-time capacity in 2007, Debra has committed her energies to excellence in customer service. A recent recipient of a Moving Hands Scholarship with American Sign Language interpretation noted, “Her clear and detailed communication, support, and encouragement makes me all the more sure that the National Outdoor Leadership School is the place to be when studying and appreciating the outdoors.” 

In 2008, Debra stepped up to become the WMI admissions supervisor. In this role, she has mentored many individuals. One former employee shared, “She allows employees the opportunity and space to navigate their positions and thrive while she stands nearby.” Another reached out to say, “I can’t thank her enough for giving me confidence as a worker and a woman in the workplace.” Debra’s employees hope one day to receive her highest compliment, a new database feature named for them.

Debra’s passionate and tireless work to help NOLS be a school that welcomes everyone has resulted in significant increases in students supported through scholarships, Veteran’s Administration funds, Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards, and most recently 529 Education Awards. Her work to develop an agreement with Western State Colorado University helped students benefit from, and NOLS secure, nearly $1 million in tuition dollars this past year. 

Debra goes above and beyond to build relationships with students she supports. After this most recent Wilderness Medicine Expedition for physicians and nurses, three students shared it was their interactions on the phone with Debra that solidified their decision to take the course—because their questions and uncertainties were so well addressed.


Chris Agnew: For his outstanding contributions to our students and mission

Brad_christensen-20141011-8841Chris took a Spring Semester in Kenya in 1998, and his instructor wrote, “Mr. Energy had a positive effect on every situation he was involved in. He plays hard and works equally hard. He assumed leadership roles and actively learned the stations on the sailing dhow. He was a role model of good expedition behavior to the rest of the expedition members.” Another instructor added, “His undefeatable positive attitude, sense of humor, navigation ability, and easy-going style all contributed to his selection as small group leader.”

In May of 2001, Chris took an Instructor Course at NOLS Rocky Mountain and followed that by working his first course—a July North Cascades Wilderness Course—as a patrol leader.

He has worked climbing, canyon, hiking, and mountaineering courses. Most of the work was accomplished at NOLS Pacific Northwest, but some at NOLS Rocky Mountain, Alaska, and Southwest.

In January of 2007, Chris transitioned into administrative work as WMI staffing manager at NOLS Headquarters. Staff who worked with him during his in-town years commented that, “he is exceptionally strong in the area of judgment and decision making. He is a critical and organized thinker who weighs the variables quickly and makes sound decisions. He is an articulate and direct communicator who quickly grasps the tenor of the conversation at hand regardless of its impromptu or challenging nature."

Since 2010, Chris has served as Pacific Northwest director with additional oversight over both NOLS India and NOLS Scandinavia. During his time in this role, NOLS has increased the number of students we educate on our Scandinavia program, moved to a more permanent location in Sweden, and created a legal entity in that country. We have also expanded our course offerings at the PNW with the addition of new courses like the Pacific Northwest Spring Quarter and the Pacific Northwest Mountaineering and Sailing and introduced adventure age programming. In India, NOLS has maneuvered through numerous, complex Indian bureaucratic systems and introduced the Himalaya Cultural Expedition. In addition to his directorship responsibilities Chris also currently serves on the leadership team for the NOLS Strategic Plan goal for Exceptional Student Experiences.


Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 15, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Instructor News, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Wilderness Medicine Institute

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.

Issaquah Main Library

10 West Sunset Way 

Issaquah, 98027


JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.

The Mountaineers

7700 Sand Point Way NE

Seattle, WA 98115


JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Darrington Community Center

570 Sauk Avenue

Darrington, WA 98241



Photo from

Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jul 23, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

NOLS Monitors Washington Fires

NOLS Pacific Northwest is actively monitoring the current fire conditions throughout Washington. We are in regular communication with the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest regarding current conditions, closures, and recommendations. We've made some precautionary adjustments to one course route. No courses are at risk from the current fire activity. The large Carlton Complex fire is in lower elevation forest and grassland and is not currently burning within any NOLS course area.

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Jul 21, 2014 in the following categories: Pacific Northwest

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Sustainable Roads

Forest Service roads provide outstanding access to a breadth of interests from recreation to research to commercial activities. Faced with limited resources to maintain the large network of roads in Western Washington, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Sustainable Roads Cadre united in 2013 to research how the public uses the roads in this National Forest. The groups hosted community meetings in the Puget Sound area that attracted 224 people to speak about the roads they value most. An additional 1800 people filled in the online questionnaire, providing the Mt. Baker Sustainable Roads team with plenty of data with which to make appropriate recreation and stewardship decisions for the future. The groups are hosting a further series of meetings to discuss the results of the research and are inviting interested members of the public to join them. Check out your local event listed below!

Capacity limits attendance to a first-come basis. Please RSVP to


JULY 10, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Bellingham Public Library

210 Central Ave 

Bellingham, WA 98227


JULY 17, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Park Place Middle School Commons

1408 W Main St. 

Monroe, WA 98272


JULY 24, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Issaquah Main Library

10 West Sunset Way 

Issaquah, 98027


JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.

The Mountaineers 

7700 Sand Point Way NE 

Seattle, WA 98115


JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Darrington Community Center

570 Sauk Avenue

Darrington, WA 98241

For more info check out the webiste at

Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jul 1, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation!

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) is an organization that provides opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to give back to conservation science. ASC pairs a network of outdoor volunteers with scientific agencies that are in need of data from hard to reach places. This is a fantastic opportunity for NOLS alumni to put their wilderness skills to use in aid of conservation science! For more info check out ASC’s web page here. A recent project in the Pacific Northwest placed volunteers on a 3-month long search for Pacific Marten in the Olympic National Forest. You can explore Olympic National Park, immediately to the west of the project area, on a Fall Semester in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Northwest Backpacking Adventure, or Pacific Northwest Backpacking course. Check out the video of the search for the Pacific Marten below (credit to ASC). 

A Marten Short: Searching for Pacific Marten on the Olympic Peninsula from Adventure Science on Vimeo.

Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

Indigenous Voices Speaking Out for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)

Miho Aida is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and former NOLS field instructor. Please join her on Monday June 30th for the Skagit Valley screening of “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins – Gwich’in Women Speak." The film provides a platform for Arctic indigenous Gwich’in women to speak out and inspire audiences around the country to protect their sacred land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska from oil drilling. The short documentary won the Audience Choice Award at the 2014 Earth Port Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Short at the 2013 American Indian Film Festival. Miho is currently doing a west coast tour on her bicycle to share her film! 


Monday, June 30th at NOLS Pacific Northwest (in dining hall)

20950 Bulson Road, Mt. Vernon, 98274

7:00-8:30 pm 


For more info check out the film website and facebook page.

Miho-bike tour

Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jun 16, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

Stewarding the Mt. Baker area

The beautiful Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest lies to the north and east of the NOLS Pacific Northwest campus in Conway, WA. This area of alpine ecosystem wilderness serves as an amazing classroom for our North Cascades Mountaineering and Outdoor Educator Mountaineering Programs. Each summer the Forest Service looks for volunteers to serve as Mountain Stewards to help teach hikers and climbers in the area to look after and protect this beautiful area of the Cascades. For those from the Northwest, check out this amazing opportunity to give back here!


Permalink | Posted by Tasha Block on Jun 11, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Pacific Northwest

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