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This week saw our Backpackers kick off their course with a successful start. The 10 students travelled from all over the United States, to congregate in the tiny town of Broome. Most of the students had already met at their accommodation and started to form as a group, with some playful friendships developing.


The group spent their entire first day preparing to embark on an amazing journey into the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. In the morning they worked efficiently to bag their entire ration of food for 35 days, before they even had morning tea! 

IMG_2018 - Version 2



After lunch, students focused on personal and group equipment that they would need to carry for the expedition. With the assistance of their two fantastic Instructors, Ben and Karin, each student sorted through their equipment to make sure they had all they may need for this rugged adventure. A class on how to pack their packs was followed by a delicious dinner, the course orientation and a discussion on how to create a positive learning environment, then it was off to the caravan park for the night.








An early morning pick up by Garry, our favourite spice girl, saw the group head north towards the King Leopold Range Conservation Park. The group will be out hiking for the next 4 weeks, as they make their way through thickets of tropical rainforest, around spectacular waterfalls and across the open savannah grasslands. The Kimberley region of Western Australia boasts some of the most rugged, yet stunning scenery of this whole continent. It also plays host to many native species of plants and animals, some found only in this specific region of the tropics!


A brief outline of the group’s schedule is provided below:

Backpacking section

26June – 25 July

Students will be resupplied by vehicle during their course

NO access to any outside communication devices is available during this time unless an emergency

Cultural section

25 July – 28 July

Students will be in Broome, for the final night of the course on July 28th

Pay phone access may be available.

On July 29th, students will graduate, celebrate and then get dropped at their accommodation for the evening.

For those wishing to send mail, students will only be able to receive it at the end of their course. Please be mindful that Broome is a long way off the beaten path, therefore, if you would like something to arrive before these dates, be sure to allow at least 2 weeks for delivery!

(Student Name) 
ABC 6/25/14
NOLS Australia 
PO Box 3472 
Broome 6725 WA


You are welcome to share this link with your friends and family

Cheers from the NOLS Australia crew!

Permalink | Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Australia

Australian backpacking and sea kayakers begin their outback experience

As the south of Australia shivers through winter, up here in the north our Australia Combo Course students have arrived to our tropical ‘dry’ season, complete with blue skies and daytime temperatures in the 80’s (°F). Our 8 intrepid explorers were all bright eyed and bushy tailed for an early morning pick up to get started on their NOLS adventure.


Day one was a busy start, with a welcome and introductions, then straight on to rations. After learning about what makes up a ration, it was then on to the task of weighing, bagging and packing their food for the entire 45 day adventure.  A very efficient group, with help from their Instructors and NOLS Australia in-town staff, meant the rations were done by midday. After a lunch break, it was on to their equipment. The students were briefed on gear and then instructors went through each student’s gear individually to determine what extra issue gear was needed. An afternoon and evening of briefings on positive learning environments, some safety components and a course orientation and delicious dinner! Then it was on to a local campground to set up tents, get some rest and an early start the next day.


Our intrepid group drove out into the Kimberley early Friday morning for their hiking section in the King Leopold Range Conservation Park.  Under the guidance of their excellent instructors Marcelo and Tom, the students will be learning about leadership, hiking, navigation, first aid, natural history, life skills, indigenous culture and a whole lot more as they explore remote areas in the Australian outback. Here’s a brief outline of their schedule…


Hiking section- King Leopold Range Conservation Park

20 June - 16 July

Students will be resupplied by road

No access to outside communication


Switch- Broome

16 July

Students will transfer through Broome between their hike and sea kayak section

Pay phone access may be available at the campground (evening only)

Mail can be delivered to students during the switch


Sea Kayak section- Dampier archipelago

17 July - 1 August

Students will be resupplied by vessel

No access to outside communication


End of course- Broome

2 August

Students will be in Broome, for the final night of the course on 1 August

Pay phone access may be available at the campground (evening only)

Any remaining mail will be given to the students


On August 2nd students will graduate, celebrate and then get dropped at their accommodation for the evening.

For those wishing to send mail, students will only be able to receive it at the switch on the 16th of July or at the end of the course on the 2nd of August. Please address any mail as follows:

(Student Name) 
ACS 19/6/14
NOLS Australia 
PO Box 3472 
Broome 6725 WA


Please be mindful that we are a long way from major cities in Australia, therefore, if you would like something to arrive before these dates, be sure to allow at least 2 weeks for delivery! 

Remember to check this Blog site for updates and photos around those contact dates. You are also welcome to share this link with your friends and family!

Cheers from the NOLS Australia crew (and our little friend in the shed)


Permalink | Posted by Sharon Ferguson on Jun 25, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Australia

NOLS’ New Lightning Field Book Stresses Risk Management

Lightning is a risk for those who spend time in the outdoors. NOLS wants to provide adventurers with information about how to manage the risks associated with lightning while in camp or out on the trail.

Based on over 15 years of research, the new book “NOLS Lightning” by NOLS Curriculum and Research Manager John Gookin explains lightning science with simple language and illustrations. Lightning weather, physics, and strike distribution are all covered.

9780811713641Just released this month, this guide arrives in time for the National Weather Service’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week June 22–28. Summer is the peak season for lightning strikes.

The book equips readers with a basic understanding of science to aid in recognizing events leading up to a lightning strike and take precautions to avoid being struck.

The safest place during a lightning storm is inside, but when traveling in the backcountry absolute safety is not obtainable. A risk management approach to lightning is essential for outdoor activities and expeditions. The techniques outlined in this book will help reduce risk of lightning injuries in the backcountry. Use this guide to develop your awareness and skills and share your lightning knowledge including:

• Identify conditions that lead to thunderstorms

• Anticipate where lightning tends to strike

• Know what actions to take if travel companions are injured by lightning

• Safety techniques for tent camping

The best thing outdoors people can do to minimize risks associated with lightning in the backcountry is developing awareness. Learn to stay tuned in to the weather. When ascending to high elevations, establish a turnaround time if thunderstorms are likely. Identify and move to safer terrain well before danger is near. Avoid conductors once lightning gets close. Get into the lightning position if lightning is striking nearby.

Watch a NOLS Mythbusters video below for more information on lightning!

The chapter on case studies with 12 examples of real lightning encounters in the backcountry is an excellent tool to better understand the techniques of recognizing storms, identifying dangerous and safer locations, and responding appropriately when simply stepping inside is not an option.

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding lightning, one of nature’s most dangerous natural phenomena, with 144 pages of advice about lightning from experts in the field. Click here to order the NOLS field guide to lightning!

Permalink | Posted by Kim Freitas on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Books, In The News

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

Get to Know NOLS Southwest

NOLS Southwest Director Lindsay Nohl made her way back to the computer after a weekend of mountain biking just in time to share her favorite aspects of operating in the American Southwest. Read what she had to say about the region below.

Brad_christensen_20121013_3646If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say:

Our NOLS Southwest staff is a group of caring, smart, and creative individuals who thrive on going above and beyond to create the best experience possible for our students. 

How long have you been NOLS Southwest Branch Director?

​Four and a half years​ as branch director. I also spent two years as assistant director (2006–2008) and two years working in three different positions operations assistant, rations manager, and outfitting manager (2003–2005).

How did it all begin for you?

“I knew I wanted to become a NOLS instructor from the first week in the field,” recalls Lindsay. “And, at the end of my course, I knew I wanted to give others a similar life-changing experience.”

In 2004, Lindsay’s dream became a reality. Read more from this previous interview with Lindsay here.

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

I think that the desert is a magical place and I love being able to send students out to discover the beauty in the places that we operate. It makes me smile to think of a student climbing up a huge granite dome at Cochise Stronghold or walking through patches of sunlight in a deep rocky canyon of the Gila Wilderness.  

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

Students often tell me that coming back to the NOLS Southwest base "feels like coming back home" after they have been out in the backcountry. We have a beautiful 10-acre campus with an open-air ramada complete with an outdoor "living room" where our students hang out while they are in town. Our small in-town staff all live on-site and really get to know our students throughout their course experience. Our students are part of the NOLS Southwest community the minute they show up for their course.

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

The desert environment and the huge amount of plant and animal diversity they will experience as they travel through the desert "life zones" at different elevations. NOLS Southwest sits at 2,500 feet and is littered with huge Saguaro cactus, mesquite trees, and creosote bushes. Students see coyotes, javelina, and roadrunners on our school property. When they get up into some of the various mountain ranges like the Gila National Forest in New Mexico (7,000–10,000 feet), they will be hiking through spruce-fir, aspen, or ponderosa pine forests and may encounter deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, or wild turkeys. Elevation creates such a stark contrast in the desert.

Anything else you'd like me to include when we brag about your branch, staff, or part of the world?

I know I'm a tad biased, but the Southwest is home to the best sunsets on the planet.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jun 23, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Southwest

Not Just a Building in Town

The Lander Cycling Club hosted the fifth annual Fremont Area Road Tour in NOLS’ hometown of Lander, Wyoming last weekend, and the NOLS presence coursing throughout the event was prevalent.


As a participant and NOLS employee, I found it exciting to see the people I work with and the organization I work for playing such an important role in an activity I enjoy in my personal time.


For months, I’ve been watching our own senior graphic designer Sam Pede coordinate the event, and when I thanked her, she was quick to pass credit to others at NOLS for lifting the tour to a professional level. Pede noted the efforts of PR and Partnerships Manager in organizing Wilderness First Responders to provide SAG support for the event. She said having those folks riding the various courses was essential. Among these skilled WMI grads was NOLS Social Media Coordinator Jared Steinman, who also took countless photos to capture the sense of community, enjoyment, and dedication out of the road (including all photos used in this blog post).


Also aiding riders out on the road, which included many NOLS staff and grads, was one item no cyclist will undervalue: food. The Gulch of NOLS Rocky Mountain donated heaps of food to be placed at aid stations around the county. It was a delightful day out there touring Fremont County, and it was even more special to see, once again, how important community events like these are to NOLS.


Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jun 17, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, In The News, Rocky Mountain, Wilderness Medicine Institute

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

Overcoming Uncertainty: On and off the Battlefield

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of The Leader

On June 14, 2012, while leading a Marine Special Operations Team on patrol in Afghanistan, Captain Derek Herrera was shot. The bullet lodged between two vertebrae in his spine, paralyzing him from the chest down. 

Derek (front) attends his stepbrother's commissioning ceremony in 2012. Back row, from left: Derek's father, stepbrother, and grandfather, all in the Air Force. 

Seven years, nearly to the day, before that fateful patrol, Herrera and 11 fellow midshipmen walked out of Alaska’s Chugach Mountains. The team had completed the third-ever Naval Academy Mountaineering Expedition designed and led by NOLS Professional Training. Beyond leadership and communication skills, the midshipmen encountered something unfamiliar: uncertainty.

Derek in the Chugach Range, Alaska

Until that point in his military career, Herrera had been told what to wear, where to be, and what to do when he got there. At the beginning of his course, Herrera and his coursemates found it challenging to function without a concrete plan, familiarity with the environment, or pre-set culture and rules. When pressed, his instructors stated, “We are going to go here and then make a decision on what to do next.” The midshipmen, like all NOLS students, had to forge a plan together as they went. They had to adjust to this newfound self-reliance, but Herrera realized there are many times in life, and the military especially, where patience is essential to a situation.

“At a certain point you will realize that you have the information you need to make a decision, or that you have to make that decision with the information you have currently,” explained Herrera. “This simple understanding has helped me immensely throughout my career.”

While Herrera had been afforded the opportunity to lead before, it was never with such purpose. The NOLS environment allowed him to lead a team to accomplish very challenging tasks.

“I’ve been able to draw on the things I learned during my expedition to perform better as a person and as a leader of Marines,” he stated. “I leverage these lessons often. Everything from creating culture and shared vision within teams to managing expedition behavior has proved valuable for me.”

Herrera raves that courses for midshipmen are “uniquely suited to offer a complimentary experience to the skills taught at the Naval Academy.” He believes while academic frameworks are important to learn what people think and why they may act the way they do, getting out and leading is the best way to learn leadership. He’s so passionate about this philosophy, he’s centered his business around it.

He founded the Special Operations Leadership Experience, which employs military–trained special operators to teach civilians how to lead in challenging, uncertain environments. While based on military leadership training, Herrera admits the framework is very similar to the NOLS leadership model. It focuses on three leadership truths: situational awareness, self-awareness, and communication. Like NOLS, he believes leadership can be learned and anybody can be a leader; it just takes time, practice, and experience.

Derek, after his first Triahalon in Tempe, AZ. March, 2013

 What is so remarkable is that he’s doing all this as a wounded warrior. Perhaps it’s his type-A personality that won’t let him quit or his unfailing optimism. Perhaps it’s his keen ability to adapt to any situation. Or maybe it’s his commitment to serving the people and country he loves and who have given him so much. For all of these reasons and so many more, Herrera is a truly inspirational NOLS leader.

-By Larkin Flora, Development Communications Coordinator

For other articles like this, check out the current and previous editions of the NOLS Alumni Publication, The Leader

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Jun 12, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Professional Training

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

Get to Know NOLS Amazon

Jon Kempsey, NOLS Amazon program manager, has a long and varied history with NOLS. He recently shared his story, as well as his excitement about running courses in Brazil, with us:

Brad_christensen-20140506-5443If you had one sentence to describe your staff, you would say

Resourceful and self reliant—courses operate hundreds of miles from the support of operations in areas with little infrastructure so at times staff need to be able to operate independently.

How long have you been Branch Director at NOLS Amazon?

Five years.

What is your background with NOLS? How did it all begin for you?

Twenty-three years at NOLS. I have always worked both as an instructor and in administration and support positions. Much of my experience has been in non-English speaking countries—Mexico, Chile, and Brazil—and I have had to become fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish.

I first came into contact with NOLS while hitchhiking in Botswana in 1987 trying to get to the Okovango Delta. There were a couple of NOLS instructors scouting for NOLS Kenya in the vehicle, and we ended up doing a short canoe trip in the Delta together. Eventually I ended up being invited to the USA by one of them. He took me to NOLS Alaska where I ended up doing volunteer work for a summer in 1990. Then in ‘91 I came back to take an instructor course, and have been at NOLS ever since.

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

Being in such an amazing environment as the Amazon Basin and also the Cerrado region of Brazil—the base is in the intermediate zone between these two areas. 

The independence I have here—I am probably the most isolated of all NOLS employees! I live alone at the base most of time in a rural region dead in the center of South America. Sometimes it is challenging to be so on my own and having to do everything in a second language. I have had to do things I never thought I would be doing at NOLS: buying a property, constructing a house, giving talks in Portuguese to National Park employees, dealing with lawyers, etc.!

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

The NOLS course here is absolutely unique. Nobody else offers a full-on expedition in the Amazon region. The courses really are true adventures. Despite the challenges, getting to experience the natural environment here is incredibly rewarding. The cultural opportunities are also a very special aspect of the courses here. 

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

The vastness and remoteness of the forest and how alive it is. The cultural section is life-changing for many of the students: getting to live intimately with families whose lives are so simple and who live off the land and rivers is a real eye opener for young people from prosperous backgrounds. We live with diversity and practice diversity as part of our very existence, and our students get that experience. I don’t think they can really imagine this before they come here.

Anything else you'd like to mention about NOLS Amazon?

 -The high quality of the Brazilian instructors who work at the school, most of whom were sponsored by NOLS Amazon

 - The expertise we have developed in running expeditions in this region

 - The emphasis we put on sustainable living here especially in waste reduction, recycling, and buying locally produced food 

 - The lack of a big support staff means instructors are involved in all aspects of the preparation for a course

 - The community life here is very important whether eating together, making music, or doing volunteer work at the base

 - The great in-town food! 

 - Probably the best library on Amazon natural history and other topics Brazilian that you will find anywhere in the world

 - Being able to see close to a 100 different species of birds on the property as well a great diversity of other animal life (I think we are the only branch to have monkeys!)

 - The many beautiful trees and plants as well and being able to always find something edible on the property at any season of the year!

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jun 10, 2014 in the following categories: Amazon

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