Life on the Borders

Posted by: Mike Betz on 1/22/15 6:25 AM

“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 Tree National Park and Tahquitz in California. During this section, students develop an extensive amount of confidence that guides them into lead climbing when ready.

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“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.

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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.