Double-switch at the New Zealand branch
Kia Ora from New Zealand! Two of our semester groups returned to our new facility in Aniseed Valley this week. NZSF-1 was transitioning from Sea Kayaking to Backpacking, their final section before graduation. NZSF-4 was transitioning from Backpacking to Sea Kayaking. The two groups had fewer than 24 hours at the branch to quickly clean gear, take showers, redistribute rations and meet their new instructor teams.
NZSF-1 traveled in the Pelorus Sound for 20 days, covering a distance of 58 nautical miles. Paddling conditions included winds to 15 knots and seas to two feet, as well as currents up to 4 knots in the Allen Strait. Storms with winds up to 50 knots kept the group ashore some days. The group saw heaps of wildlife, including the New Zealand fur seal, little blue penguin, dolphins and a variety of sea birds such as terns, oystercatchers, Australasian gannets,kingfishers, wekas, shearwaters, shags, albatross and more.
Student Aidan Power provided me with some great photos from the field.
NZSF-1 began their semester in New Zealand with Mountaineering. Since that section was completed, one of their instructors, Jared Spaulding, added a post about the course to his blog. Folks interested in hearing more about the group decision-making process, and the stormy conditions experienced during that section, will enjoy the essay. It's called "Run Like a Chicken" and it's posted on Jared's blog, Living the Dream.
NZSF-1 is now on their final section, backpacking in Kahurangi National Park. Here's a picture of them --with their instructors--just before they left the branch.
NZSF-4 started 3 weeks later than NZSF-1,so they have just completed their first section. The group traveled 31 days in the Nelson Lakes area, hiking 210 km with 6,500 meters of elevation gain. The route included valley trails and three major passes; through beech forest, grassy river flats, steep tussock slopes, scree and majestic snowfields. Every type of weather was encountered, as is typical for the New Zealand Spring; there were warm sunny days as well as lots of rain, hail and snow.
One night, the group woke up around 11 PM to incredible winds whipping through camp. Tents were broadsided as poles bent under the pressure. The noise was tremendous. The instructors' tent was the first to collapse altogether, leaving them to scramble outside in the rain. Soon everyone was up and all agreed to pack up and move camp completely into a more sheltered area. The team estimated winds were up to 80 km/hr. It was 2 AM when the group finally settled back in to sleep at their new camp. Another exciting night at NOLS!
Student Lisa Moen provided me with some great photos from various days along the expedition.
Next up for NZSF-4 is Sea Kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds. The group is fully self-sustained, meaning they are carrying all their fuel and rations for the entire expedition. Here they are just about to board the bus:
(p.s. Check back in a few days for a post about NZSF-2's field switch.)
The Joy of Backcountry Cooking: Lessons from Sinks Canyon Test-Kitchen
When I took my first NOLS course in 2005 (Spring Semester in Patagonia), I dreaded the day when it would be my turn to cook. Not only had I never cooked anything beyond microwavable Easy-Mac, but cooking in the back-country on these strange devices called Whisper-Lites…the idea struck fear in my young heart. My tent group and I, having just trudged across mountains and glaciers through wind, rain and snow, finally approached a suitable spot to camp. We all took a load off and sat down on the damp ground. Cold, wet and teetering toward miserable, their hungry eyes turned toward me, “its your turn to cook.” I froze, paralyzed for a moment. I then grabbed the NOLS cookery and employed the help of instructor extraordinaire Marco Johnson and made a sausage and veggie pizza that turned out very tasty.
Backcountry cooking need not be a harrowing experience. Claudia Pearson is the editor of 6 editions of the NOLS Cookery and the rations manager at the NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch in Lander, WY. The NOLS Cookery shows us hundreds of quick and easy recipes that one can whip up in the field after a long day of mountaineering, kayaking, climbing or any other radical activity that NOLS students partake in on their courses. In order to field test a few new recipes for the next edition of the NOLS Cookery, Claudia led the ladies of the gulch and two NOLS Rocky Mountain interns up Sinks Canyon for a cooking extravaganza. It was fun day and we came back with a few unexpected lessons from the field.
Even though it was a beautiful day, we still faced a few challenges that come with cooking outdoors. We dealt with wind, clogged stoves, and ill-fitting fry-bake lids. These are some typical challenges a NOLS student faces and must learn to deal with gracefully in the field. In making two of our dishes we utilized the ‘tower of power’ and the ‘twiggy fire’. The ‘tower of power’ is a structure created out of the stove’s windscreen that diffuses heat for even cooking. The fry-bake is delicately placed on the structure instead of right on the stove in order to achieve a slow, low heat ideal for large dishes or baked goods. The twiggy fire involves building a small fire out of twigs on top of the fry-bake, so that your baked creations can be cooked evenly on the bottom and top. It was very difficult to keep the twiggy fires burning in the wind, and it’s near impossible to bake a dish evenly when your fry-bake’s lid does not fit properly.
Left: the 'tower of power' in its full glory. Right: A proper twiggy fire, using a windscreen to keep the flame alive, not white-gas.
Some of the techniques we employed that day are not suitable or appropriate to use in the field, or at all. For example, our twiggy fires were so difficult to keep going that our mantra became, ‘when in doubt, more white gas’ to keep the flame alive. A simple windscreen around the fire would have sufficed. We also had the luxury of cooking on a picnic table and using the campsite’s grill as a ‘warming oven’, comforts that are generally unavailable on a NOLS course. At the end of our session we had created 4 delectable meals including a green bean casserole, a traditional Asian dish with shitake mushrooms and chicken, a coffee streusel cake, and a cheesy broccoli and quinoa dish. Backcountry cooking can be an exciting challenge, and just like most skills it can take a lot of practice as well as trial and error to master. Keep your eye out for the 7th edition of the NOLS Cookery featuring new field-tested recipes and backcountry cooking tips. And if you’re in Lander, stop by the Gourmet Gulch for all your backcountry cooking needs!
Permalink | Posted by Roberta Schoultz on Oct 31, 2013
Leemon receives Wilderness Risk Management Award
NOLS Director of Risk Management Drew Leemon has been awarded the Charles (Reb) Gregg Wilderness Risk Management Award at the 20th annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC).
The Charles (Reb) Gregg Award for exceptional leadership, service, and innovation in wilderness risk management recognizes extraordinary contributions to the outdoor education community, to adventure and service organizations, and to programs and businesses that utilize wild places for their activities. Recipients of the Reb Gregg award have contributed significantly to the practice of wilderness risk management by raising standards of practice, providing valued service to an industry committed to connecting people to wilderness, and supporting the stewardship of wilderness.
Leemon has been in wilderness education for 34 years, including as the NOLS risk management director for 18 years. He has also committed 18 years to the WRMC steering committee and six years as its chair. During his tenure with NOLS, he designed and implemented the NOLS accepted field practices, a tool for communicating NOLS' best field practices, supervises training and continuing education opportunities for field instructors and led initiatives such as NOLS' incorporation of satellite phones and personal locator beacons on field courses.
Leemon’s colleague, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute Curriculum Director Tod Schimelpfenig introduced him at the WRMC award ceremony.
“[Leemon] has created an atmosphere of openness in risk management and incident response, a culture where it's acceptable to investigate, report, and learn from our experience. In a world that can be secretive, suspicious, closed, and defensive when problems arise, field staff trust that field incidents will be handled thoughtfully, carefully, thoroughly, and respectfully. NOLS—and Drew—plays a large role in this process: sets a standard for communicating lessons learned.”
Upon accepting the award, Leemon noted the passion that brings together the WRMC, himself included:
“We’re all here because we know that adventure, experiential education, and being in nature exposes us to physical and emotional risk, but that this risk is what allows us and our students to grow and become better people. This duality of risk means that while we risk loss, we also gain by taking risks,” he said.
Stepping Out of the Classroom: Diversity & Inclusion at NOLS Rocky Mountain
Here at NOLS Rocky Mountain we often see many faces in a day. Courses come in and out, they ration food, issue and de-issue, brief and debrief, eat lunches and cleanup. It’s often easy to pass by without noticing many of the people that work to keep all of the operations at the branch running smoothly. There are two people in particular that always have a smile on their face, take due pride in their work, and perform essential functions to the branch’s operations. Freyja del Duca and Joel Harrington are two young adults with special needs. Freyja and Joel, both Lander natives, are exemplary staff members at NOLS Rocky Mountain and they work hard to serve the thousands of students that pass through this branch every year.
Freyja is 24 and has worked for NOLS for 5 years. You may have seen her in the Noble dining room with a white chef’s hat on and a huge smile. She also works in the issue room at the branch where she inventories and replenishes first-aid kits and repair kits. But her favorite job is in the Noble kitchen. When she began at NOLS, she worked as a prep cook’s aide. Over the past year, under the supervision of Stephanie Peterson, Freyja has been challenged to take on more and more tasks in the kitchen. She feels confident (and psyched!) to perform virtually all of the kitchen’s mainline tasks. Her work allows students and staff, while in-town, to enjoy a variety of delicious and nutritious meals. In her free time she enjoys photography and hiking in Sinks Canyon. She hopes to take a NOLS course one day!
Joel is 26 and has worked for NOLS for 6 years. He loves telling people about the latest obscure film he’s watched, he laughs easily, and works hard. As a map aide at the Rocky Mountain branch, he has expanded in his efficiency and uses tools that the branch has developed to help him sort hundreds upon hundreds of maps. His job involves making abstract judgments, a skill that can be transferred to a variety of tasks.
The Rocky Mountain branch is unique in utilizing the talents and developing the skills of Lander’s special needs community and we value the important services they provide for our branch. Glenda Brannan, the Rocky Mountain branch's Office Administrator states, "she is very proud of Joel and Freyja, they are productive team members of our branch where they perform much needed and valued tasks." NOLS strives to respect, challenge and welcome people of all groups, this initiative is reflected in our diverse staff and student body.
NZSF-3 inaugurates Richmond Forest backpacking route
Our third New Zealand Fall Semester course has just finished their canoe section. The Clarence River was high from the very start of this section and the early-Spring weather was brisk. NZSF-3 students were motivated to develop keen paddling and river-reading techniques so they could avoid any tip-overs into the very, very cold water. This route typically takes the group all the way to the Pacific Ocean, but given the water and weather conditions, the group determined it was safer to stop several kilometers short of the coast. Our bus driver Belinda met them at the revised pickup point and after a quick breakfast they rode back here to the branch in Aniseed Valley.
Their quick stay at the branch included a lot of gear cleaning followed by prep for the Backpacking section.
Students swapped out river shoes for hiking boots, working with instructors to get socks, boots and gaiters fitting appropriately. Canoe instructor Jacqui displays her own pair of river shoes, which she has rightly decided to retire.
The NOLS branch is a former sheep farm and we use the woolshed as a staging area. Students spent time in the shed learning about the new gear they'd be carrying on the backpacking section and sorting what they would choose to leave behind from canoeing. Happily, there was also time for showers and even a couple loads of laundry.
Instructor Scott coached the group on proper pack-fitting and safe ways to pick up a heavy pack without losing one's balance. Often the best approach is to get a friend to help.
Finally the group was ready to hike! Here they are pictured with their instructors (both far left), Scott and Dougall. Scott is a long-time NOLS instructor with experience all over North America, New Zealand and Australia -- where he now makes his home. Dougall is local Kiwi instructor who lives here in the Nelson region. Dougall has spent years hiking in this area on both personal trips and with other outdoor education programs.
NZSF-3 is the first course to hike a brand new route we've designed just since moving the branch to the Aniseed Valley. The group will be hiking in the Richmond Forest Park, which is the range immediately adjacent to the branch property. Many of us jog and mountain bike in these mountains because of their beauty and proximity. These students started their section by walking straight out our driveway toward the Hacket Trailhead. The sun was shining as our in-town staff members stood on the porch to wave goodbye and take a few last photos.
Campaign NOLS: Explaining Our Core Values, Part 5
NOLS’ core values are at the heart of our institution. Leadership, community, safety, excellence, wilderness, and education inspire everything we do. We share a commitment to these values; they define and direct who we are, what we do, and how we do it.We accept risk as an integral part of the learning process and of the environments through which we travel. The recognition and management of risk is critical to both the development of leadership and to the safety and health of our students and staff. We believe successful risk management stems from good judgment based on experience, training, and knowledge.
Jeff Green on Safety
While in Alaska getting my master’s in outdoor education, I felt a NOLS course was the perfect compliment to my program, but as a graduate student, I didn’t have much disposable income. Receiving a partial scholarship was a huge blessing. The generosity of the people who donated those funds made it possible for me to take a course. It’s something I try to pay forward each year with donations to NOLS.
Now, as a NOLS instructor, I am able to give back more than just financially. I strive to teach my students to assess risks, overcome adversity, and become strong leaders while introducing them to truly wild places. I believe the challenges wilderness travel provides are all the more powerful if the students are able to manage the risks.
I begin by teaching students about risk and how to evaluate different types of risks (river crossings, travel in bear country, steep terrain, etc.) during daily travel for the first week or so of a course. I actively manage each situation but explain my thought process to students whenever possible. The more they are able to manage on their own, the more my students will learn and the more growth will take place. My students really enjoy the freedom to assess and manage risk on their own but always feel safe knowing I will step in if a situation is above experience level.
In this way, NOLS teaches students to consider all options objectively before making a decision. This is as applicable in the frontcountry as it is in the wilderness. Just as on a NOLS course, if something doesn't seem safe or like a good idea after looking at it objectively, then one should probably avoid it. While it can be hard to remove the human factor from decisions on NOLS courses, or in life, if you want to make a safe and wise decision that's what is necessary.
On a NOLS course, most things are uncertain, and it takes a person skilled in judgement, decision-making and risk management to navigate the wilderness safely. That uncertainty is a critical part of outdoor education and teaches students the tolerance and resilience to deal with many situations they might encounter in the backcountry, and in life.
Jeff Green is a 2010 Alaska Outdoor Educator graduate, scholarship recipient, NOLS instructor, and donor.
Permalink | Posted by Larkin Flora on Oct 16, 2013
Wilderness medicine in South America and Africa: Dispatch from WMI Instructor, Mike Moxness
I am a registered nurse living in Anchorage, Alaska. I spent much of my career in the emergency room. I got my Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) from NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) back in 1999 in preparation for a tour of duty up with the mountaineering patrol on Denali in 2000. I started teaching for WMI in 2001, mostly WEMTs with a few Wilderness First Responder (WFR) courses up here in Alaska.
About 5 years ago, I started signing on to medical teams going to developing nations, and once I started, there was no looking back. I've worked in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Uganda and Kenya on multiple occasions. I am typically a member of a small expatriate team sent in to support local medical staff during emergencies. My last two trips have been to Uganda at refugee camps along the border with Congo. In January, I'll be back in Honduras, teaching at a rural hospital.
My work has been with Medical Teams International, located in Portland, Oregon, and MEDICO, located in Austin, Texas. There are quite a few good outfits out there, but these two have been good fits for me. I've also been seconded to World Concern (on the Somalia border) and worked in multi-organizational teams with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Humedica.
The wilderness medicine model is extremely useful in these assignments where resources are few and problems are many. Wilderness medicine is a context of practice: improvised or inadequate gear, inconsistent or non-existent communication with outside support, challenging environments for patient and caregiver, and independent risk-benefit decision-making.
NOLS HQ Starting to Create Solar Power
On Thursday, October 10th, the NOLS International Headquarters building in Lander, Wyo. officially became home to a 23 kWh solar panel array. By creating solar energy, NOLS is continuing to lead by example--taking the step to be sustainable not only in the backcountry, but at our in-town locations as well. At NOLS, we’re actively seeking to apply the educational component to all our endeavors, and this array shows that renewable energy can be done feasibly and practically.
Without the support of Rocky Mountain Power and the Blue Sky program, NOLS would be unable to complete this project. So an enormous thank you goes out to them and all of their renewable energy efforts, particularly providing the grant to make such a monumental day happen! Creative Energies has also been a tremendous help in both informing our decisions on the latest technologies and also installing these panels in a timely fashion, amidst some inclement fall/winter weather.
The root of NOLS’ sustainability efforts stem from the fact that even though we’re a wilderness leadership school, our commitments to the environment do not stop in the backcountry; they transfer to everyday life. This solar array project is moving both the NOLS and Lander community forward by producing energy for local use. This project will hopefully encourage individuals and businesses in the area to also pursue renewable energy efforts.
By Madelyn Wigle
Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Oct 15, 2013
NOLS Amazon Tree Ascension Program
First Ever NOLS Tree Ascension at NOLS Amazon!
by Brooke Retherford
I remember sitting around discussing ideas for NOLS Amazon at the all-staff reunion at the end of the semester in 2006. NOLS Amazon had just wrapped up a successful first year and we had lots of big ideas and dreams for what would come. Hanging out in the canopy of some really BIG trees was definitely one of the dreams. After all, it is hard not to imagine yourself sitting on the giant limbs of some of the most magnificent trees that could be somewhere around 2,000 years old. And the more you spend time under the Amazon rainforest canopy the more you want to actually BE in it or better yet ABOVE it.
Seven years later we have been able to realize our dream by running the first ever Tree Ascension program at NOLS. Last year, primarily thanks to Dálio Zippin, Jim Chisholm, and Jon Kempsey we piloted the program on the semester to see what kind of success it would meet. We found that the pilot program left students wanting more, which subsequently led to developing curriculum and solidifying the risk management procedures.
Prior to this year’s semester heading into the field NOLS Amazon ran a Tree Ascension Seminar to get a handful of instructors up to par and on the same page with the program. Here at the NOLS Amazon base, which we endearingly refer to as The Chacára, we have some gigantic trees to climb--one of which is a copaiba (Copaifera reticulata). On an interesting side note, the copaiba tree releases oil that is a natural anit-inflammatory and antibacterial. Some of the documented uses and benefits include external and internal inflammation, respiratory infections, skin disorders, urinary tract, bladder and kidnery conditions, bleeding, sore throats, and insect bites. I have used it religiously on all kinds of cuts since I discovered it.
The goal for this year’s students is to ascend at least three 100-150 foot trees during the 40-day river section. We sent them off with six tree ascension sets complete with ropes, ascenders, harnesses, helmets, etc., but the coolest toy out there with them is the Big Shot slingshot. We won’t hear from our group (hopefully because here at NOLS no news is good news) until October 22nd, but we are excited to get the lowdown when they transition from the river section to the cultural section!
Cycling and board meetings
For the past seven years, NOLS Advisory Councilmember John Whisnant has led the “Tour de Lander” during the annual board meetings here at NOLS Headquarters. This year is no different. Tour de Lander VII began Tuesday, and daily stages have departed from the Pronghorn Inn parking lot to tour the area.
“The weather cooperated, the bikes cooperated, and the dirt roads mostly cooperated,” Whisnant noted in an email inviting participants to jump in on later stages. “On Tuesday, we were stopped after three miles on the Louis Lake dirt road by ice covering the road.”
However, the cyclists found plenty of road to explore for the rest of the week. Wednesday and Thursday saw successful rides for the three regular cyclists on this annual tour.
NOLS Advisory and Board of Trustee members converge upon Lander each year for board meetings that culminate in a staff celebration on Saturday evening. Perhaps next year the celebration will include a yellow jersey for the dedicated participants in the grueling Tour de Lander.