30 Days to Survival: The Documentary That Put NOLS in the Spotlight

By Anne McGowan

Jan 20, 2016

30 Days to Survival
Photo from the 30 Days to Survival documentary.

Forty-six years ago this month …

The year was 1969. NOLS was five years old—a small school in a small town in a sparsely populated western state. In the first half-decade, only a little over 1,000 students had graduated from NOLS.

But all that would change when a film crew—the same crew who soon would become famous for capturing Woodstock on celluloid—spent 30 days in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming on a NOLS course. Founder Paul Petzoldt served as course leader, as he had on every course until then, spreading the message of environmental stewardship, leadership, transformation, and the value of experiential learning.

The documentary film that was made from that course, 30 Days to Survival, brought NOLS into living rooms all over America when it aired on Sunday evening, January 20, 1970, on the hugely popular television show "The Alcoa Hour."

The result? Enrollment grew from 250 students in 1969 to more than double that in 1970, making 30 Days to Survival a watershed in NOLS history.

Now, 46 years later, when most TV is “reality” TV, and many rely on the instant gratification of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it’s almost impossible to imagine the power of a full hour-long documentary—on one of only three networks available to TV viewers in the U.S.—devoted to NOLS.

It is, however, possible to take a look back at that landmark film, 30 Days to Survival.

Watch 30 Days to Survival


Written By

Anne McGowan

Anne McGowan is the Communications Coordinator for NOLS Development.

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