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Jimmy Chin’s Journey from NOLS to the Oscars

By Brooke Ortel on Feb 3, 2020
Photo courtesy of National Geographic

It’s Oscar season once again—a great reason to celebrate Jimmy Chin, co-producer of the top documentary feature film of 2019. Not only is Jimmy a world-renowned skier, climber, and film-maker, he’s also a NOLS alum, former instructor, and current Board member. Years before he stepped into the international spotlight, Jimmy started his journey with NOLS.

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Topics: NOLS Grad, nols instructor, Live the Dream, rock-climbing, NOLS Alum, parenting, Free Solo, leaders of color, stories, alumni-accomplishments

I Don't Need to Be an Extrovert to Lead: Reflections on Backpacking in Alaska

By Natasha Gold on Jun 18, 2019
Photo by Natasha Gold

In January 2018, I was perusing the internet for outdoor schools on a whim that perhaps I would apply to a program. I stumbled onto the NOLS website; instantly, I wanted to go.

I found an 8-day women-only backpacking expedition in Alaska. I liked the idea of a women’s only trip and I have wanted to camp in Alaska since I was little.

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Topics: Live the Dream, Alaska, all-women, women in leadership, stories

How to Take the Mountains Home: A Gateway Scholar Reflects on Horsepacking

By Cristina Edwards on Nov 19, 2018
Photo by Eve Cinquino

Before Rebeca Espinosa set off on her Wilderness Horsepacking course, she wasn’t sure she’d be challenged on the 21-day expedition. With horses carrying all the gear, and students and instructors riding on horseback, it was hard to see what about the course could be difficult.

At 5:45 a.m. the next day, it became clearer.

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Topics: horsepacking, scholarship, Live the Dream, Gateway Partner, Gateway Scholar, stories, student-stories

Why Car Camping With Kids Was Harder Than My NOLS Course

By Alyssa Walker on Sep 18, 2018


Photo by Alyssa Walker.

On our last family car camping sojourn, a three-day affair two years ago, we learned that two- and four-year-olds are too young for anyone to enjoy any aspect of car camping. There were diapers. There were legions of biting insects. There was not one, but two kid backpacks. There was a frog potty. There were tantrums. Everything was sticky. It rained. We were too close to our neighbors. Fun, but not. At all.

We took a break for a year, thinking two potty-trained kids, at a minimum, would help. This time, we resolved, would be better, more fun, the stuff of memories and traditions. Our children, at four and six, were ready. So were we.

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Topics: Tolerance for Adversity, Live the Dream, expedition behavior, kids, parenting, car camping, stories

Your Favorite Stories from 2017

By Molly Herber on Dec 20, 2017

The stories we tell reveal a piece of ourselves. This year, the stories you loved told of people changed by the mountains and steps to achieve goals; that busted myths and shared ways to care for each other in the wilderness, both in mind and body.

Looking at the stories you loved reading, you can see where this community’s values are: in people and the environment. We hope you enjoy taking a look back at the seven most-read stories from 2017.

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Topics: Live the Dream, stories

From the Office to the Wild: How I Became a Naturalist

By Day Scott on Dec 18, 2017

On a recent camping trip, I saw a group of young boys using sticks as swords, throwing rocks, and flinging algae from the tiny creek that ran adjacent to the campground—not ideal Leave No Trace behavior. I went over to their trip leaders and introduced myself as a naturalist and expressed my discomfort with what the boys were doing. I wasn't sure how the leaders would react—would they ignore me, a black woman, and let “boys be boys”? Instead, one of the leaders called the boys over and told them to have a seat because they were about to learn a lesson on stewardship.

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Topics: Alumni, Wilderness First Responder, wilderness-medicine, Live the Dream, inspiring women, women in leadership, stories

55 and Climbing

By Liz Johnson on Dec 11, 2017

“You’re cruising, Alex. I can hardly keep up with you!” I called up to my climbing coursemate as I belayed her.

“I’m trying a new technique,” she yelled back. “It’s called ‘Keep Going!’”

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Topics: Live the Dream, rock-climbing, all-women, inspiring women, women in leadership, stories

A Letter to My Future Self

By Carolyn Highland on Nov 29, 2017

Editor’s Note: Carolyn wrote this letter to her future self on a one-night solo near the end of her Semester in New Zealand.

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Topics: Semester, NOLS New Zealand, Live the Dream, inspiring women, stories

Q&A with a NOLS Parent

By Shelli Johnson on Nov 17, 2017

Editor’s note: Shelli Johnson, a NOLS grad, writes about what it was like for her son Wolf to go on his own 30-day NOLS course in the summer of 2016.

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Topics: interviews, Wind River Range, Live the Dream, classic courses, stories

The Poetry of Experience

By Daniel Koepp on Nov 6, 2017

“What’s it good for?” Our pilot asked me that question as we flew deep into Alaska’s Brooks Range. A thermal rocked our Beaver bush plane and we lurched heavily. Below us, the tree line was falling away. From the rain-speckled cockpit it looked like a giant green circle where no brave spruce grew.

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Topics: backpacking, River, Live the Dream, Alaska, Brooks Range, stories

Climbing Denali, in Photos

By Stéphane Terrier on Oct 24, 2017

When I arrived at NOLS Alaska for my 2011 Brooks Range Backpacking and River course, I learned that the Denali expedition, a trip for NOLS alumni, had just returned from a successful ascent. It was easy to distinguish its members from all the other students, since they hadn’t had the chance to shower yet! That memory stayed with me not just because of the smell, but also because I was fascinated with Denali ever since I first saw the mountain during a visit to Denali National Park in 2004.

Covered with white glaciers, Denali towers incredibly high above all the other Alaska Range peaks and the surrounding green tundra. With its summit at 6,190 m/20,310 feet, it's the highest mountain of North America and one of the coldest mountains on Earth, notorious for its storms. I was instantly impressed by it.

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Topics: Live the Dream, mountaineering, Alaska, Denali, photos, stories

Find Your Next Adventure in the City

By Molly Herber on Oct 5, 2017

Adventure isn’t only about going to the most remote wilderness area you can find—it’s about doing something that challenges or surprises you, and doing it with people you enjoy. Even at NOLS we don’t spend all of our time in big wilderness areas, as much as we love them.

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Topics: Live the Dream, microadventure, stories

Learn Your Habits to Make Better Decisions

By Molly Herber on Sep 20, 2017

Humans’ ability to use patterns helps us make decisions faster, but can also lead us into what NOLS teaches in our leadership curriculum as decision-making traps.

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Topics: leadership-skills, decision making, Live the Dream

The Alaskan Tundra Jumpstarts New Adventures

By Jen Pontrelli on Sep 12, 2017

Editor’s note: Alum Dave’s NOLS course jumpstarted a new life of activity and adventure—at age 49. Read what led to his transformation and get some ideas for bringing more action to your life. Adapted from the summer 2017 issue of The Leader.

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Topics: NOLS Alaska, Live the Dream, Alaska, Prime, Adult courses, stories

6 Lessons I Did Not Expect to Learn from NOLS

By Travis Burhart on Aug 30, 2017

Finally, I could breathe a sigh of relief. After hiking all morning, my NOLS expedition team and I finished ascending a peak in the McCall Gulch Cirque of the North Cascades Wilderness. I looked to the north, catching sight of Canada only miles away. Turning around, I observed the mountains to the south. Dense, snow-covered forests filled in the landscape, and I could not believe my team and I had traveled through that.

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Topics: tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, NOLS Pacific Northwest, Live the Dream, Pacific Northwest Backpacking, stories