Happy Birthday, NOLS Patagonia!

By Molly Herber

Mar 24, 2015

NOLS may be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but we also have another anniversary to celebrate—NOLS Patagonia is turning 25!

NOLS Patagonia campo

The main facilities on the NOLS campo. This photo and the featured photo courtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition.


Patagonia map

Photo by. Planning to enter the unknown. Photo courtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition.

NOLS Patagonia sent out its first course, a semester-long expedition, in the spring of 1990, outfitting students on the doorsteps of hostels with gear carried south by intrepid students and instructors. Today, NOLS Patagonia operates from a 437-acre working farm, or campo, in the community of Coyhaique, Chile. Judd Rogers, NOLS Patagonia director from 2000-2010, attributes the success of the Patagonia base to the tenacity—and possible madness—of John Hauf and Molly Doran, the instructors leading that first semester expedition, and to the generosity of the Chilean people in accepting NOLS into the Patagonia backcountry.

Building a Community

The most special parts of courses in Patagonia, according to current director Raúl Castro, are the opportunities to explore areas that are truly unknown, and the time students on yearlong courses spend with Chilean poblador families.

Though there are more maps than in the early days, longer courses are still only planned a few days ahead of time; this way, expeditions maintain the exploratory nature that drew John Hauf and Molly Doran to Patagonia in the first place. Everyone, instructors and students alike, participates in the anticipation, anxiety, and exhilaration of going to unmapped regions.

Drinking mate

A hot cup of mate. Photo ourtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition.

For Castro, the opportunity to spend several days with Chilean families gives students a real sense of the place in which they are living and traveling, instead of only spending time in a wilderness that, without its people, could be anywhere in the world. It also gives Chilean families that were long friends of the School a way to participate in the experience NOLS gives to students, further deepening NOLS’ ties with the community.

NOLS also connects with the community by reserving a space for at least one Chilean student per semester and year-long course and engaging in numerous community projects; now, those early students are becoming decision-makers and leaders throughout South America—and sending the next generation back to Coyhaique for their own NOLS experience.

NOLS Patagonia Today

NOLS Patagonia affects the rest of the School as instructors from Chile, the United States, and the rest of the world work alongside each other on courses, exchanging ideas, backcountry techniques, and teaching philosophies, and creating tremendous opportunities for learning and growth within the global NOLS community.

Felicitaciones, NOLS Patagonia, we can’t wait to see what the next 25 years have in store!

Come join us! NOLS Patagonia will be celebrating its anniversary at the end of April, date and location TBD. Everyone—instructors, alumni, and friends—is welcome. Please visit the NOLS Patagonia Facebook page for more information and to stay updated on upcoming events and courses.

Students in Patagonia

Pausing to reflect. Photo courtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition.

Written By

Molly Herber

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber

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