Thanks for the Experience
Thank you for creating an atmosphere where we would find ourselves creating an annual tradition of sending staff to compete in such an exciting, intimidating, and demanding event as the Cowboy Tough Adventure Race.
Thank you for encouraging us to pursue our curiosity and interest in adventure racing, particularly when it passes right through our back yard: the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.
Casey Adams and Marina Fleming, part of a four-person team, prepare to start in South Pass City on July 17. Jeanne O'Brien photo
Thank you for educating us in leadership, tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, navigation, nutrition, and pack packing, all of which made our experience last week that much more “comfortable.”
Thank you for connecting us with preferred retailers like Deuter and Brooks so that our backs, feet, legs, and faces would be well-cared for out there—in addition to supplying us with assorted mandatory gear and epic piles of food. We carried countless bars and trail snacks 400 miles across Wyoming in our Deuter Trans Alpine backpacks, which proved surprisingly comfortable on a bike. We nursed our tired legs with Brooks compression socks as we slept each short night. We kept the sun off our faces and the burs out of our socks with the Brooks hats and Cascadia trail shoes and schlepped our way from South Pass City to Casper in an awe-inspiring, if indirect, route.
Thank you for being the kind of organization where it is perfectly reasonable for managers and interns alike to drive an hour to the starting line to cheer (which is pretty cool for the competitors and the fans alike). Thank you for setting up another cheering squad on Main Street on Day 2 of the race, just a block from where we could have been working instead of pedaling by and giving high fives en route to throwing tomahawks.
Finally thanks for supporting the race and our fellow racers by sending the highly educated and skilled medical team from the Wilderness Medicine Institute to follow all our 40 teams for four days, repair blisters on surely nasty feet, clean road rash, and more.
Obviously, thanks for taking, and subsequently sharing, this photo:
Brad Christensen photo
It’s an honor and a pleasure to work for NOLS. Thanks for the adventures, the community, and the support.
PR Specialist and Writer Casey Adams and Marketing Representative Marina Fleming, of the Wind River Country Team
EPI and the WRMC
In our third installment of the WRMC blog series we’re highlighting Ecology Project International (EPI), an environmental education organization established in 2000 by co-founders Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn. In celebration of EPI attending the WRMC for the past six years, we decided to engage Executive Director/Co-founder Scott Pankratz on the history behind EPI as an organization, as well as the ongoing relationship EPI has maintained with the WRMC.
EPI, said Pankratz, “has programs in Baja, Belize, Costa Rica, Galapagos, and Yellowstone, and 60 percent of our participants are locals who live within or adjacent to the ecosystem where we operate. The other 40 percent of our participants come from the U.S. Our courses include opportunities for students to work on field-based scientific research, conservation service work, and a cultural exchange day between the visiting U.S. students and their local program counterparts. Since EPI was established in 2000, over 15,000 students have participated in our field programs. Most of these participants are high school students between the ages of 15 and 18.”
EPI operates in a wide array of wilderness settings with most students starting out as backcountry novices who have “never camped, never snorkeled, never been closer to wildlife bigger than themselves,” according to Pankratz. But when asked what EPI participants gain from the wilderness experience, Pankratz said, “they return home with a sense of pride in their newfound knowledge and skill sets. Our hands-on approach to science education also means that participants don’t just learn science—they apply it. They work with professional scientists who need people on the ground, in the wilderness, gathering essential data. The data they collect contributes to real-time research and conservation projects that must be carried out in the wild.”
As an active member of the WRMC community, EPI strives to keep risk management as a vital part of the organization’s core values.
“Our participants’ health and safety is our top priority on course. Without healthy, happy participants, no learning can take place,” Pankratz noted. “The WRMC helps keep risk management at the forefront of our planning for each new field season, allowing us to bring new ideas and techniques to our own internal risk management systems, such as our Emergency Response System. Our experience with the WRMC also helps our employees gain a valuable big picture perspective on risk management.”
When asked how attending the WRMC has influenced EPI, Pankratz said, “The WRMC has helped us maintain a systematic approach to our emergency response system and our medical review system and protocols. We've been fortunate to be able to use the WRMC experience and materials to keep these same systems current as they go through an annual update process. We have also benefited greatly from the relationships we've created with the experts at the WRMC. These relationships have transferred into top quality advice during critical moments in our program.”
After seven consecutive years of attending the WRMC and being able to apply that shared expert knowledge in the field, EPI, in turn, stands as an excellent resource for other environmental education organizations to learn valuable advice from. We would like to thank EPI’s Executive Directors/Co-Founders, Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn for all that they have contributed to the WRMC over the years. Come take advantage of the opportunity to network with EPI at the 21st annual WRMC. Join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.
To learn more about the WRMC or to register online, click on the following image:
That's Not the NOLS Bus!
The Monday morning walk to work was a little different for NOLS Headquarters employees this week, as they were greeted by a 1970 Crown bus at the building entrance.
Three men campaigning for Wyoming Democrat Charlie Hardy for U.S. Senate made their way to 284 Lincoln St. in Lander this morning. Hardy is a Wind River Wilderness ‘75 graduate, and Bruce Wilkinson, owner of this campaign bus, is a Wilderness First Responder.
Nick, Felix, and Bruce greeted NOLS staff as they arrived at work this morning. Jeanne O'Brien photo
Wilkinson spoke of Hardy’s connection to nature and desire to create a better future drawing him to NOLS. Wilkinson, bus driver Nick Brasheer, and fellow campaigner Felix Agulto share Hardy’s outdoor interests as well as his political views and made plans to hike around Sinks Canyon this afternoon before hitting the road for Wright, Wyoming.
Yukon Outdoor Educator and Saying Goodbye
A few days ago, our last long course was sent out into the field. The Yukon Outdoor Educator course, with 12 students and 3 instructors, embarked on a 26-day journey in the Pelly Mountains on Wednesday, where they’ll be hiking as well as canoeing the upper reaches of the Pelly River, wholly unsupported until their pickup downstream in Ross River.
In the past week, we also bade farewell to the longtime NOLS Yukon Branch Director, Jaret Slipp, with a barbeque in his honour. He retired this June, and was replaced by Briana “Bri” Mackay, who’s been doing an excellent job as Program Manager this season.
It’s been a little quiet around the branch recently – we’re in the middle of a 8-day break between one course setting out and two others returning. Fortunately, this gives us some breathing room and plenty of time to prepare for a week of returning courses!
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.
10 West Sunset Way
JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.
7700 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
570 Sauk Avenue
Darrington, WA 98241
Photo from http://mbssustainableroads.com/
This World and That (Part Three)
By Jason BreMiller, Pacific Northwest Outdoor Educators Course ‘03
A shortened version of this piece was published in the Summer, 2014, issue of The Leader, in mailboxes now! This is the third and final of three parts in this series.
After a particularly long and arduous cross-mesa slog on the hottest day of the course, a slog during which morale hovered at a course low, we rolled into camp where the kids dropped their packs and slumped in an exhausted heap. Kai, Andy, and I departed to scout the surrounding vista, but when we returned we discovered a lively scene of unexpected and raucous laughter. In his solo journal, Luis describes this moment:
Mr. Bre, Andy, and Kai looked over at us like the desert had driven us crazy! At one point, Janet even had to take out her inhaler because she was laughing so hard. I don’t even remember what we were laughing about, but we recognized the situation we were in. We were all alone in the middle of nowhere, no technology, and the only thing we had was each other.
In the canyons, these students became alive to each other in ways often impeded by the drive of frontcountry competition. The canyons help untangle the morass of grades and academic prizes and college admission and return it to a simpler foundation of human connection.
The night Tom photographed the Milky Way, he’d recruited a cohort to accompany him on a midnight foray where they spread their bags out on a slickrock bench and triple-set their alarms, prying themselves up and into the frigid canyon air at 3am to erect the tripod for an extended-lapse shot. They’d never seen the Milky Way before and in the morning when they woke, they draped their arms around each other, laughing with cantaloupe smiles and carrying spring lamb-bounce in their steps.
Rachel, an 11th grader, wrote a sequence of poems on the trip that gets at this capacity for wonder. Here is an excerpt:
We are either homesick or home
No way out but further in
There are petroglyphs etched
Onto your ribcage and spine
The wild thing put them there
For wild-you to remember
So when you breathe, you know the
Wind is breathing back to you
So when you falter, you know the
Canyon can be your rigid spine.
Veins crackle and sputter like firewood
And awaken a new way of treading ground
And illuminate the thought upon waking:
“This is the day to shape the next upon.”
The Canyons are words on a page
A language the river swept away
Silver scaled and glinting
Jumping like fish
They remain on the backs of our eyelids
A bluish blob stained onto nothingness
That we see, now
Every time we blink.
Tom and his buddies reveling at their first sight of the Milky Way reminded me that the capacity for wonder is alive and well, Rachel’s words that sometimes emblem is all we have.
As students begin to sense their own agency, as they fit this agency within the framework of their emerging community, as they attenuate themselves to their own capacity for wonder, something shifts inside them, a realization that can be transcendent. 11th grader Sage explores this emerging sense of self in his solo journal:
I gather some dead sage and fix my lighter underneath. I pull my fingers across the flint wheel, the only unnatural thing around me, and watch it engulf my namesake. I hold the plant upside-down, allowing the flames to climb. It vanishes in my hand with a blinding fireball and a choking cloud of smoke. It warms my bare chest, reminding me of the imminent chill, and I am reborn, a new person. The sun rests atop a red stone mesa, visibly shrinking its crescent on the horizon. The sun fades into tonight and tomorrow, and I fade into someone new, someone else.
These kids are not the same who left less than two weeks ago. It is clear that have been changed irrevocably.
When I think about Tom’s words I’m so bored by all of this and how I might be able to help my students shift worlds, it occurs to me that I want them to see that it’s not about this world and that at all—that it’s not all over when they leave the canyons as they fear may be the case. I hope they see how they can enact what they learned in the desert right here on campus every day just as they witnessed Harkness in the desert. It’s the synergy between worlds that I most hope my kids will recognize and that there are ways to preserve the magic.
For me, what helps is recognizing that sometimes memory and metaphor suffice. Tom’s starcloud suggests that sometimes we see better in the dark, and our maps tell us that when we’re lost, there are ways to become found if we only take the time to orient ourselves by recognizable features. “Using our smarts” is just good practice, and sometimes laughter heals a day’s ills[j4] . In this way, our backcountry days can echo for us now in this eddy of time even more loudly than in the silence that echoed for us then.
Our final evening. We huddle in a circle around a modest pit fire, feeding the flames with small lengths of juniper. The mood is electric and I think I know why. We’ll be gone tomorrow, our expansive views contracted to the boxy confines of the van, our pellucid soulscapes clouded by the abrasion of our iPhones: email, phone calls, espn.com, Facebook. They’re ready to go back but don’t yet want to relinquish their hold on this place. For comfort, I turn to “Cactus Ed” Abbey, that desert bard who faced his own departure from the desert. I read across the firelight:
I, too, must leave the canyon country, if only for a season, and rejoin for the winter that miscegenated mesalliance of human and rodent called the rat race (Rattus urbanus)...Balance. That’s the secret. Moderate extremism. The best of both worlds. Unlike Thoreau who insisted on one world at a time, I am attempting to make the best of two.
Our final morning. With the sun at our backs, we look west and see the glint of the truck windshield on a bench two miles away. We break a quick camp and funnel away downcanyon, bending to scoop chunks of petrified wood for the last time before returning them to their sandy beds. We walk in silence for the final mile, unconsciously slowing our pace, extending our time. When we turn a bend in the canyon where it sweeps up close against the road cut, we’re confronted by an aperture in the rock, a concrete eye tunneling the breadth of road. After nine days in the field, the abruptness of its emergence is jarring. The kids hesitate at the threshold, their packs bumping together like jammed logs. We hold the silence for a few seconds longer, looking back over our shoulders into the depths of the canyon where flood-scarred cottonwoods twist in the sun and our tracks stretch backward in the sand. And there it is: bootslap on pavement, the easy roll of industrial traction. When we emerge on the other side 100 feet later and greet our truck, I’m smiling with the knowledge that we’ll be knocking dust from our boots for years to come.
REI and the WRMC
As we busily prepare for this year’s Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC), we thought we’d take some time to reflect on our awesome community and those who help make it that way. We want to highlight some of the organizations that continually come the WRMC and find out why they attend and how the WRMC has influenced their risk management practices.
In our continuing WRMC Blog series, we caught up with Rebecca Bear, Outdoor Programs & Outreach manager at REI, in Kent, Washington and asked her some questions. Perhaps you will see similarities to your own program and discover how the WRMC community can help you.
Bear: We primarily serve REI members and customers who are looking to learn new outdoor activities or deepen their skills in a particular outdoor sport. There are 5 million active REI members of all races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, etc. It is a large [and] diverse group of outdoor enthusiasts.
WRMC: What do your participants gain from wilderness or remote settings?
Bear: Actually most of our Outdoor School participants are not in remote settings. We help our customers connect to the great, iconic, local destinations close to urban areas, like Climbing at Carderock [near] D.C. or learning to stand up paddle under the Statue of Liberty.
WRMC: Why does your organization send employees to the WRMC?
Bear: I send my field managers to the conference because I think they benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas and some of the foundational risk management concepts discussed in the workshops.
WRMC: How has attending the WRMC helped you provide a better experience for your participants?
Bear: Our managers appreciate the time we have to discuss concepts and how they apply to REI’s risk management. Many of them leave with tangible ideas and concepts they take back immediately to their work.
WRMC: How has attending the WRMC changed the way you manage your program?
Bear: Our program is relatively young (10 years old) in comparison to Outward Bound, NOLS and SCA, etc. As a result, we have benefitted from the knowledge, resources, and tools from the WRMC as we have built our risk management structure. Our training program includes articles from the WRMC library and concepts that are foundational to outdoor programs risk management (like subjective v. objective risk). We’ve also been able to innovate off of these concepts and design them for the unique circumstances of our urban day programming.
We would like to extend a big thank you to REI’s Outdoor and Outreach Program for their contributions to the WRMC. We look forward to having them share their knowledge and experiences again this year. Bear and her colleague, Jeremy Oyen, will present a workshop offering solutions and techniques for training part-time and seasonal field staff. If your program faces challenges with how to incorporate seasonal staffing with the risk management needs of your organization, especially in an urban setting, come take advantage of the opportunity to network with the great folks at REI and other similar organizations. Join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.
Click on the image below to learn more about the WRMC or to register online.
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.
A Thorn In My Side for 39 Years (Part Two)
This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of The Leader
"PUTTING HIS NOLS EDUCATION TO WORK" -- When asked how the course impacted his life, Jay responded, “It made me realize how great the wilderness is and that it needs to be protected for other people to enjoy. [I came to understand] the importance of … taking other young people out in the woods so they learn to love it and appreciate it.”
After his NOLS course, Jay became a teacher in Lime, N.H.
“I taught the fourth grade,” he said. “We took three hikes in the fall. We worked on map reading, using the compass, staying together. We learned about the different trees and the leaves. I tried to mix in elementary school science with our hikes.”
"A RETURN TO THE GRAND TETON AND LANDER" -- I followed in my father’s footsteps and took a Summer Semester in the Rockies in 2003. I started as an instructor for NOLS in the summer of 2010. I found endless entertainment in my father’s memories about NOLS, especially after becoming an instructor. I could also tell that he wasn’t totally satisfied with his 1974 attempt on the Grand Teton.
It was time for another try.
In 2011, Jay, my brother David (Rock Climbing ‘06), my sister Jessica, and I climbed the Old Man’s Route (5.2) and the Old Ladies’ Route (5.2) on Seneca Rocks in our home state of West Virginia. This served as a perfect training climb. Jay had no problems with the climbing, and his legs never shook once.
On Aug. 31, 2013, Jay flew to Riverton. After seeing the Noble Hotel again, he said, “The restoration was fantastic. Thank goodness there was no longer a bar and a Chinese restaurant. The moose head was still there.”
The weather forecast was for 50-percent chance of thunderstorms all week, so he, my girlfriend and fellow NOLS instructor Angie Bates, and I spent another day hiking at low elevation, hoping the forecast would improve. It didn’t, but we hiked up to the Lower Saddle anyway. At 5 a.m. the next morning, the sky was clear, so we decided to go for it. At around 7:30 a.m., light rain began to fall.
The storm appeared to be passing us to the north, so we continued with a watchful eye on the weather. We reached the Belly Roll just before 9 a.m. This time, Jay said he “just had to do it and wasn’t going down.” He climbed across without a problem. The obstacles after the Belly Roll fell away easily and Jay, Angie, and I reached the summit at 10:20 a.m.
“This has been a thorn in my side for 39 years!” he said, elated to be standing on top of the peak that had eluded him in 1974.
“When I came out [to Wyoming], I didn’t want to say anything to anybody about climbing the Grand because I didn’t know if I would make it,” Jay conceded. “After I climbed it, I was anxious to reconnect with people [from my course].”
After the climb, Jay met with Peter Simer, former executive director of NOLS and the course leader for Jay’s winter section. Peter instantly remembered Jay and his course. Two hours passed quickly as they reminisced on the porch of Peter’s house in Lander.
“[NOLS] was one of the highlights of my 65 years,” Jay said afterward. “I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I will always have that love for the school and the great people who have been instructors and students there. I am thrilled that the school has grown.”
Regarding the failed attempt in 1974, Jay remarked, “I have to apologize to the people I kept from making it to the top. I hope they have had another chance and if they haven’t they should really try. The Belly Roll was really a piece of cake.”
He went on to quote Yogi Berra: “90 percent of it is half mental.’”
“[My son Jim] became a NOLS climbing instructor. He is the son of a dad with sewing machine leg. I guess that shows that evolution must be occurring.”
Planning the climb on the Grand inspired Jay to reach out to his former coursemates.
“I connected again with Jim Acee, my tent mate. I had not spoken to him in 39 years. I called him [twice and talked] about the instructors and students on our course. He was a long-time NOLS instructor. [It] seems like we haven't missed a beat. [We shared] very fond memories.”
In the spirit of rekindling friendships and sharing stories, Jay would love to hear from his coursemates and former instructors. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jim Margolis, NOLS Field Instructor and Rocky Mountain Program Supervisor
This World and That (Part Two)
By Jason BreMiller, Pacific Northwest Outdoor Educators Course ‘03
A shortened version of this piece was published in the Summer, 2014, issue of The Leader, in mailboxes now! This is the second of three parts in this series.
Click here to read Part One, the beginning of the series.
Browsing pictures before our gathering, I stumble across a short GoPro clip shot by Luis, a 10th grader from Chicago. He shoots from an elevated alcove, looking downward through a narrow shaft of canyon slot framed by a prominent chockstone. Below, Claire, another 10th grader, can be heard approaching from around a bend. Her telltale blue beanie wobbles into view as she assumes a perch high enough on the wall for her to peek through the opening and assess her next passage. She grunts with exertion, using opposing pressure to hold her place while she gropes blindly above for purchase. It’s a tricky move to be sure: to progress from her stance, she’ll have to mantle onto the pinched bite of stone where the walls thin and duck under the chockstone. Doable, but in need of some rumination. She hesitates, unsure, looking back down to where Andy waits out of sight, then back up into Luis’ lens.
Claire’s voice is barely audible, but if you can make out her, “Uh...what do I do?”
And from the recesses, unseen, Andy’s words return hollow as if the canyon itself were speaking: “Use your smarts!”
In the canyons, the kids come to see themselves differently—as doers rather than thinkers only, as people capable of agency. They learn to trust themselves and the skills they’ve developed to do real work. “Where are we?” they ask over and over and over again during the opening days of the course, to which their instructors patiently reply, “take out your maps.” By the end of the trip, they understand how to plot a course and follow it, that meals don’t cook themselves, and that if you haven’t planned far enough ahead to pack your raincoat accessibly, then your teammates might sigh loudly and look at you with deep reproach while you explode your pack to find it.
In the canyons, students’ horizons are confined to the daily living tasks of eating and drinking and travelling. Near the end of the trip, each student elected to participate in an overnight solo, during which they were encouraged to reflect on and write about their experiences thus far. Andrew, an 11th grader, identified this narrowing of purpose as one of the most formative aspects of his trip:
I was immersed in a primitive lifestyle and through it I regained sight of the world and the people around me—the sight that I lost at Exeter while thinking and thinking, toiling away about projects and college and my general future, because those things have always been the ends for which I work. In the canyons, the goal was to find water, to explore, to see things, and to strive only toward immediate goals. In the canyons for those nine days, I have never felt more conscious of what was around me. Without the distractions of civilization, I noticed the little things: the soft hum of air in my ears, the color of red mesa, the rock lines that flow like water, the texture of the sand.
In the canyons, the kids’ focus is distilled to an immediate and tangible purpose, to something more concrete than the amorphous securing of a “successful future” or getting into a “good” college. Here, they need to find reliable water and cook a meal that will fuel their minds and bodies as they hump their packs over rigorous terrain.
Stay tuned for Part Three, the conclusion of the series, coming soon!