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Educator Expedition: Advanced Rock Guiding Course

By Andrew Megas-Russell, NOLS Instructor

This fall, I successfully completed the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant exam in Red Rocks, Nevada. I decided to to seek outside training and evaluation from the AMGA to broaden my proficiency as an instructor, enhance student outcomes, improve course quality, and provide and enriched level of instructor coaching and mentorship as a NOLS course leader. Since taking my NOLS Instructor Course in 2009, I have received invaluable coaching and mentorship from the many talented NOLS climbing instructors with whom I have had the pleasure of working. It was gratifying to pass the aspirant exam and see that the competence I have developed through years of working at NOLS has been on par with the industry standard.

The 10-day Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam is the second course in a three-course progression toward becoming a nationally certified rock guide.  Days were long and rigorous.  I was tested on my climbing technique and climbed over 80 pitches reaching 5.10+ in difficulty. At the start of the course, I was required to execute a series of timed vertical rescue scenarios that challenged my improvisation and proficiency with technical skills as well as my ability to work under pressure.  The instructors on the course, all internationally certified mountain guides with decades of experience, helped me focus and refine my multi-pitch belay and rappel transition techniques, free rope end theory, and short rope and short pitch techniques to ensure student safety on exposed terrain. The instructors gave me on-the-spot feedback and advice, and they also hosted formal debriefs at the end of each day.


Assessment areas throughout the aspirant exam section of the course included risk management, client care, professionalism, terrain assessment, mountain sense, and pedagogy. In addition to learning all these new techniques and technical skills, the most valuable lesson was the importance of applying the right technique at the right time.  This is a fundamental NOLS leadership skill I teach my own students:  judgment and decision-making.

Passing the AMGA Aspirant exam leaves me feeling  more confident in my skills and knowledge and prepared as an instructor. I look forward to applying for the final rock guide exam next fall and becoming a nationally certified rock guide.


Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Dec 11, 2014 in the following categories: Instructor News

NZSF-5 Returns From Canoeing

New Zealand Semester Five has returned from the Clarence River after Canoeing from the high alpine environment near the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.
2014-12-08 18.38.39Six students from NZSF-5 made it to the Pacific Ocaen 

2014-11-01 08.51.40Clarence River flowing North from Dillon Cone  

2014-11-25 09.11.49Instructor Kurt Hotchkiss teaching geology in the hills


The group stayed at Muzzle Station and helped Colin Nimmo clear a tree that had fallen over in high winds.
They then enjoyed a tour of the
Clarence Valley Apiaries (which produces Organic Blue Borage Honey), a
sheep dog trial demonstration, and a tour of the beautiful remote high country farm. 


The group is now graduating and enjoying a Kiwi Spring Barbeque in the rain.
They will soon be off on their next adventure. 


Permalink | Posted by Roo Riley on Dec 9, 2014 in the following categories: New Zealand

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

Creating a Climate of Thanks

In the world of environmental sustainability, too often the amount of work to do overshadows a great many accomplishments that should be celebrated. This Thanksgiving, NOLS was happy to take a moment and offer #climatethanks. In case you missed us on twitter, here are three pieces of gratitude we’d like to offer up for those who work to preserve our wilderness classrooms: 

1)    NOLS Grads Above all else, NOLS’ greatest contribution to the environment is our graduates. They are skilled leaders who understand the beauty and fragility of our planet. Thank you to the countless NOLS alumni who have gone out and changed the world!

NOLS Leaders on Sustainability and Conservation from NOLS on Vimeo.

2)    NOLS Faculty and Staff support the education and experiences that inspire students to become environmental leaders. Thank you to all NOLS employees who work incredibly hard to further a mission they believe in and are agents for positive change in the world.   

3)    Generous funding for our alternative energy programs Rocky Mountain Power, The North Face, and many other organizations and individuals support our sustainability initiatives. Thank you for making it possible for our students to benefit and learn from the clean energy generated onsite at nine NOLS campuses around the world.

Obviously this is just a small snapshot of what we are thankful for, but it’s a start. Many thanks to everyone for supporting NOLS, we couldn’t do it without you!


Permalink | Posted by Karly Copeland on Dec 3, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability

NOLS Southwest Celebrates Wilderness

What better way to celebrate the Wilderness Act than to get out and enjoy a piece of public lands?

NOLS Southwest teamed up with Arizona to do just that in November. Dozens of organizations welcomed thousands of individuals to the Wild for Wilderness Festival at the Sabino Canyon Recreational Area. NOLS Southwest hosted one of the activity stations placed along a two-mile trail to educate. NOLS staff taught kids how to read and draw topographic maps from play dough models. Adults learned about map and compass and GPS navigation.


Photo by Jehan Osanyin

Gila District Manager Tim Shannon thanked NOLS for its role in protecting and enhancing Wilderness recourses: “The future is bright … the future is our next generation of wilderness supporters," he said. "Most importantly, it is the children … and the grandchildren that are learning about wilderness from you."

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Dec 2, 2014 in the following categories: Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Southwest

NZSF-3 Return from the Elements

NOLS New Zealand Fall Semester Three returns from the mountaineering section of their semester.
The Third and final section had students battling with the full force of the New Zealand spring weather. The group came back with many stories of sleepless nights holding down the tents.
One storm dropped almost three feet of snow in 48 hours and a separate wind storm left no tent standing.

Despite battling the elements they all came back happy and healthy.

P1030592Despite sleepless nights they still made it up some peaks

The final walk out down the Tapio River


The group has now graduated and are off on their next adventure. 

Everyone at NOLS NZ wishes them safe travels. 






Permalink | Posted by Roo Riley on Dec 2, 2014 in the following categories: New Zealand

Patagonia Fall Semester SSP 2 10/2/14

A few weeks ago our Fall Semester SSP-2-10/2/14 course had their transition in the south of Patagonia. Fabio, one of the instructors, came back to our NOLS Patagonia base with photo's and great stories!

"Paul, Reed, Dylan, Edward, Connor, Connor, Tim, Tim, Maggie, Caroline, Sydney, Drew, Jorge, Brad, Gonzalo, Quinn did well and had a great time on the sea kayak section. We started by not being able to paddle for more than two miles in the first seven days due to too much wind and snow. Then we moved and moved and moved - until we got to a very special and difficult part of the route. A fjord where a glacier reaches the ocean all the way from the top of the Gran Campo Nevado. Winds, currents, and icebergs were such that again, we had to stay put and wait for a weather window of calmer conditions. On one of these days we went on a day hike up a ridge nearby and the winds and views were absolutely mind blowing!

And then the big lesson came: we had to turn around and paddle back to where we started. This was because the conditions we encountered would make it unrealistic to try to make our original route. People should remember this is a coastline where the distance between road access to coastlines are hundreds of miles apart... At the end of the course many students mentioned how much they got from this experience:
'Just like life, you have to have goals but adapt to the reality of the situation when there are things you cannot control, and adapt, make the best out of it.'
'It is about the journey, and we sure had a great time exploring this area and learning how to work well together and make really good seamanship decisions.'
Many pies and pizzas were baked by the students 'roughing' it during the 'winded in days' so friends and family should start thinking about the baking yum-ness they know by now. Lots of laughs, great atmosphere and team spirit were a highlight of this group too!”

The students are all doing very well, and are now exploring the mountains in the south of Chile. News from SSP-1-10/2/14 should reach us soon! We, here at the NOLS Patagonia base, are excited to see all of the students soon again and hear all of their stories!


01 - P1010179
Paddling the seas

02 - P1000984
Wilderness classroom

03 - P1010006
Prepairing dinner over a fire

04 - P1000975
Toughing out the weather and keeping the spirit high!

Posted by Inge • NOLS Patagonia intern

Permalink | Posted by Kamil Sade on Dec 2, 2014 in the following categories: Patagonia

NZSF2 - Performed & Transformed!

NZSF2 9-11-25 graduated last week after returning from their 3rd section - hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park. The dominantly cold and wet weather did not detract from their achievement, and the group had opportunity to prove their wilderness skills in a 6 day mini-expedition independent of instructors at the end of the section. Congratulations to the group of 10 who started and finished this semester as a strong community, and with smiles on their faces!

NZSF-2 graduation

NZSF2 Students and Hike Instructors basking in sunlit glory on Graduation Day

Permalink | Posted by Roo Riley on Dec 1, 2014 in the following categories: New Zealand

NOLS NZ Thanksgiving

NZSF-1 & 2 enjoyed an early thanksgiving dinner at NOLS NZ. The homey and hearty meal was a welcome celebration to the completion of the semesters. 

IMG_0790Slightly Early Thanksgiving Dinner

Enjoying a Homely Thanksgiving Meal

Permalink | Posted by Roo Riley on Nov 26, 2014 in the following categories: New Zealand

NZSF-1 Graduation

New Zealand Semester One graduated yesterday after a successful final section to their semester.
The third and final section of their semester was a hiking section in the Kahurangi National Park.
Students enjoyed the independence this section was able to offer.
A highlight was climbing to the top of Mount Patriarch and enjoying the views as the clouds lifted. 

PB250005NZSF-1 Graduation Day 
We wish them all safe travels on their next adventure 
and encourage them all to make good decisions.

Remember "hard to easy"  

Permalink | Posted by Roo Riley on Nov 26, 2014 in the following categories: New Zealand

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