Spring Break in a Tent: The Patagonia Leadership Trek


May 7, 2015



By Laura Bowen, Chicago Booth School of Business, 2016

For most Booth students, spring break is a chance to relax on a beach or sightsee in an exotic location, while enjoying a few frosty beverages. However, for 14 first and second-years (including the author of this article), spring break involved sleeping in four-person tents, scrambling over rocky mountain passes and bushwhacking through dense forest.

We had chosen to go on a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) trip to Patagonia, Chile, and the NOLS organization explicitly forbid frosty beverages. Prior to leaving, many people who heard about our spring break plans told us we were crazy (and, honestly, some of us were worried that they were right), but it proved to be a life-changing experience for everyone involved.

This spring break outdoor leadership trek is the second that has been organized by the student group, Leadership in Action. Last year, six students participated in a NOLS trip in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Four of the participants in last year’s trek were LIA co-chairs and experienced outdoorsmen. This year, however, although five people were incoming and outgoing co-chairs, LIA’s goal was to have a group of students on the trip with varying degrees of outdoor experience.

Each day combined outdoor activities with leadership skills, allowing each person on the trip to spend a day as the designated group leader. The mixture of high and low experience allowed students with more outdoors experience to teach those who had never camped or backpacked before how to set up a tent or how to light a camp stove.

Rookie campers were able to get out of their comfort zones and strategically utilize the skills of their group members to navigate through valleys or mountain passes. In addition, the “No Deje Rastro” (Leave No Trace) principles that NOLS implemented ensured that we left no permanent impact on the environment in the areas where we camped and hiked.

Across the board, students found that this trip was a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience with unparalleled scenery. Said first year Autumn Yuan, “I left my heart in Patagonia—marveling at the Milky Way, hiking in the meadows tinted with autumn hue, singing on the way up to the summit, laughing by the camp fire and cooking with amazing friends. It was the combination of the breathtaking sceneries, fantastic people and real-life leadership experience that made this trip so rewarding and hard to replicate on our own.”

Similarly, first year Shao Zhu remarked, “Best trip ever. Still think about it three weeks after coming back.”

First year Aditya Shah, who had never camped or backpacked before the trip, said of the landscape, “Patagonia took my breath away.”

Overall, the trip’s success highlights the level of outdoor enthusiasm, leadership skills and environmental awareness at Booth, and the potential to develop this culture further and create similar treks in the future.

The student group Leadership In Action is already planning next year’s spring break trip and, hopefully, the opportunities for leadership and friendship-building through wilderness trips will become a permanent and significant part of Booth culture. 

Patagonia-campo The campo, or base, at NOLS Patagonia

Visit the NOLS Custom Education page to learn more about how you and your team can benefit from a custom-designed NOLS course.

Originally published online in the April edition of Chicago Business: The Newspaper of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Read the original post here.

About the Author: Laura Bowen is a dual-degree MBA/MPP student and 2015-16 co-chair of the Leadership in Action group.

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NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.

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