NOLS Instructor since: 1984
Quote: "I see myself as a teacher and NOLS courses
provide a stupendous avenue to teach people who are highly motivated
Jim Ferguson remembers reaching the crest of a knife-edged ridge in
Alaska on his student course in 1982 and being told that if the next
person on his rope team fell, he should jump off the opposite side of
the ridge to catch him.
"Fergie" looked down at hundreds of feet of air that ended
in a layer of clouds far below and thought, "This is absolutely
crazy, there is no way I am ever going to be a mountaineer."
Seventeen years later, Fergie is one of the most respected mountaineering
instructors at NOLS. He's led the annual Denali
expedition, worked in British Columbia's Waddington Range, and instructed
mountaineering courses in Patagonia, the Pacific Northwest, and Wyoming.
In addition to courses, Jim also teaches several of the 60 NOLS instructor
seminars, where instructors develop new skills each year. Somewhere in
the intervening years, he forgot about the resolution he made that day
Fergie has worked for NOLS since 1984, spending many months in the wilderness.
Ever since he was a kid, he's been drawn to places like Alaska. That
lure is what brought him to NOLS in the first place.
"I had this idea that I could find some outdoorsy person in Alaska,
someone I called a mountain man, to teach me everything he knew about
the wilderness in exchange for having a helper who was willing to work
hard all summer. I wanted to be a 'mountain man apprentice.' Try looking
that up in the phone book!" Fergie laughs. When his search for such
an apprenticeship failed, Fergie started looking for other ways to get
to Alaska. A friend put him in touch with two people who ended up being
NOLS instructors. The next thing he knew, he was heading to Anchorage
for a mountaineering course.
Fergie paid for the course out of savings he'd earned from two summers
working in a Miller beer bottle factory. Fergie worked the night shift
searching all night long for defects in bottles that whipped by him at
a rate of six bottles per second. The most challenging aspect of the
job was trying to stay awake for the entire shift, and after two summers
Fergie had enough money to go to NOLS.
These days, Fergie is known around NOLS for his meticulousness and his
talents as a skier, mountaineer, and teacher. Fergie points to three
factors that he likes about working for NOLS.
"First I like teaching," Fergie says. "I see myself as
a teacher and NOLS courses provide a stupendous avenue to teach people
who are highly motivated to learn. Second I'm comfortable in the woods,
whether it is the quietness or the size of your world out there, or because
I like the problem solving aspect, the fact that you need to rely on
yourself to figure things out. And finally, it's the people I work with.
The NOLS community is great," Fergie says.