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Where Are They Now?
Reconnecting with the first NOLS course…
By Kerry Brophy

Part 1 | Part 2

Bruce Barrus

Favorite memories: Barrus was a student at Hamilton College in New York when he signed on to be an instructor on the first NOLS course in 1965. He went on to instruct for the school until about 10 years ago, when he left to pursue other adventures, including a stint as a geologist in New Guinea.

The first thing Barrus remembers about the inaugural NOLS course in 1965 is the Army surplus tents they had with them that “were supposed to be waterproof but weren’t.” Unfortunately, the skies opened up to a torrential downpour the first night in the field. Aside from “waking up in a swimming pool” the next morning, Barrus remembers a sense of excitement on that course. “It was a whole new concept,” he says. “We were going out there and seeing what we could do, trying to teach people how to teach other people.”

Barrus also remembers that Petzoldt wasn’t sure at the time if they could keep a group of students out for an entire 30 days. “So after two weeks we all got picked up in cattle trucks and went down to take a swim at Ft. Washakie, stopped at Crowheart Butte, and there Paul told the kids to go in and buy whatever they wanted,” says Barrus. “When he got the bill he decided he’d never do that again.”

Where he is today: Barrus currently lives outside Seattle, Washington, where he’s a money manager.

Jerry Taylor
Favorite memories: Jerry Taylor first met Paul Petzoldt and Tap Tapley in 1964, while he was working near Lander on Ft. Washakie writing the Shoshone language. He was asked to be an instructor on the new school’s first course. “I was trim and fit and tough,” says Taylor of that first summer with NOLS. And he remembers Petzoldt’s mission that summer. “He wanted wilderness to be traveled in by people who knew what they were doing and were teaching skills in a more responsible manner,” says Taylor.

Taylor also remembers some of that early outdoor gear, including World War II ski boots from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, wool caps, Stubai ice-axes, aluminum-framed goggles, and Army surplus pack frames loaded with three stuff sacks. “It was excruciating,” he says.

He also has a memory of Petzoldt that he’ll never forget. “We were heading into the mountains at the end of that first summer at NOLS,” says Taylor, “and Paul said with tears in his eyes, ‘we’re broke, I don’t think we’re going to be able to run this school next year.’ Paul felt like he was coming out of the mountains for the last time. He thought it was the end of his vision.”

Where he is today: After moving on from NOLS, Taylor took his love for working with young people and has been an investigative probation officer at a juvenile facility outside of Chicago for the past 20 years. He says he’s sort of a “legend” at work for keeping in shape by biking, canoeing and hiking. He’s returned to the Wind River Mountains many times since his course, recently with his son, who is in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

Andy Carson
Favorite memories: Andy Carson still remembers that first letter he got from Paul Petzoldt in the winter of 1965. “Paul said, ‘I’m starting a school in Lander, Wyoming. Please come.’ And so I did,” remembers Carson. He went on to instruct for the school until 1970.

Carson grew up in Wisconsin and hadn’t done a lot of camping before. “It was a great education, a great experience, and kind of sucked me into the mountains forever,” he says. “We were all thrilled to do it. And the Winds seemed really big. They don’t seem so big anymore. That June there was a lot of snow, it was very alpine, and things felt very remote.” His favorite memories are of climbing Fremont Peak and doing morning runs and then throwing himself into cold water. “Everyday was a great day,” Carson remembers.

Where he is today: Carson lives close to his NOLS roots in Wilson, Wyo., where he has lived since 1971. An avid climber, he went on to own Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and climb all over the world, including Canada, the Swiss Alps, South America’s Aconcagua and many more.

Tap Tapley
Favorite memories: Tap Tapley, who had already made a name for himself as a real ‘man of the mountains,’ joined up with Paul Petzoldt in the summer of 1965 to help him get things started. Petzoldt, remembers Tap, knew Wyoming very well. “Paul knew he wanted to have a lake to swim in, a mountain to climb, rock to go rock climbing on, and woods to learn map and compass skills in,” remembers Tapley.

Tapley and Petzoldt were the first course’s primary instructors, teaching snow skills—everything from walking on snow to making snow caves—expedition behavior, and cooking. “We were basically doing all the things NOLS is doing now,” says Tapley. “We were teaching [the students] how to be teachers. That was the goal.” The challenge, says Tapley, was the same as it is today for NOLS instructors: “Our challenge was to make sure students were happy when they got home, and happy while they were out there.”

Where he is today: Tap Tapley lives in New Mexico with his wife Anita. They are currently compiling a collection of memories of Tapley’s days in the mountains.

Part 1 | Part 2

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