Educator Expedition: Entry Point to Mountaineering

By NOLS Blog

Jul 8, 2015

By: Anne Drew Potter, NOLS Instructor


Placing a picket on Mt. Baker
Digging a deadman to place a picket on Mt. Baker. Photo by Ian Lauder.


My first exposure to mountaineering was with a NOLS mountaineering course in the North Cascades in 2009. After many years of backpacking and having watched climbers coming down from mountains in Europe, their harnesses jangling with gear, I knew I had to pursue this passion, and what better entry point than NOLS? When my instructor on that course suggested I consider becoming an instructor myself, a new path for my life opened up.

After 17 days on Mt. Baker, I was thoroughly hooked and also wanted to know where I could go to learn more, enough to be competent to lead students in the same life-changing experiences I had just had. I noticed there was a seminar for NOLS instructors coming down from the mountain at the same time as my course and began to understand how NOLS invests in continuing to develop the skills of their staff as their careers progress.

After several years of climbing in Europe, I returned to NOLS with the skills to work hiking and rock climbing courses. I hadn’t made the progress I had hoped with mountaineering, being too far from the Alps for frequent trips. I moved to the Pacific Northwest where I knew I could get into the mountains regularly to familiarize myself with ice and snow, glacier travel and lots of challenging terrain. I am working towards being able to lead students in mountaineering courses – with the challenge of putting together all types of terrain in a single climb. I was fortunate to take the Women’s Mountain Seminar in the Wind River Range in 2013, and have been participating in a mentoring program with the Seattle Mountaineers.

As I continued to develop more experience in the mountains, a missing piece was still my ability to evaluate, move on, and protect movement on ice. To begin to remedy this, I applied for an Instructor Development Fund grant to attend clinics at the Bozeman Ice Festival in December 2014. With the money provided by my grant, I was able to attend two clinics and purchase some fundamental gear. These clinics drastically improved my climbing technique and also gave me the opportunity to interview the instructors one-on-one.

I chose to volunteer during my third day at the festival – and as is often the case with volunteering, it allowed me to connect with the heart of the festival, with the athletes and organizers, and to meet new climbing partners. I was reminded how stepping outside of your safe zone, taking that little bit of risk, leads to new opportunities and new friends.

I am still developing my mountaineering skills, following the opportunities to gain mileage on snow and ice and navigating glaciated terrain. The chance to add this piece to my education has put me a critical step forward toward my goal of working mountaineering courses on my home turf in the North Cascades.


jan-abendroth-potter-ice-climb Developing ice climbing technique at the 2014 Bozeman Ice Festival. Photo by Jan Abendroth.

Do you want to learn how to explore mountains and summit peaks? Visit our website to look at our Mountaineering Courses today!

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