Summer at NOLS has a unique and special
energy to it. The lobby of the Noble Hotel, the NOLS
Farm in Alaska, Three Peaks Ranch, and our bases in
Washington, Teton Valley and the Yukon all look different
from each other, but they share an energy, tied to
the anticipation of an expedition into the mountains.
Summer fills these places with familiar faces of long-time
NOLS instructors and the new faces of our students.
Special people, special places leading to special
experiences. It’s an inspiring time of year
to be involved with NOLS.
Summer always reminds me of my early
experiences as a student and instructor at NOLS. The
faces, smells, maps, weather and light all draw to
mind past courses in the mountains. While I recall
many things, what I most recollect are individuals
who became mentors to me and taught me lessons in
mountaineering, leadership and life. I am pleased
that two of my early mentors, Shari Kearney and Carlos
Buhler, are featured in this issue.
Shari and I both started working for
NOLS in the early 1980s. Shari had a quiet presence,
but her talents and achievements delivered bold messages.
I was impressed with her talents on rock, snow and
ice, but mostly I was impressed when I listened to
her. She had a special wisdom about wilderness, mountaineering,
extended expeditions and risk. While in awe of her
achievements in the Himalaya and elsewhere, I found
it most amazing that she was always willing to hang
out, swap stories and pass along her experience to
others. She was and is an amazing outdoor educator.
||NOLS Instructor Shari
Kearney ascending Ama Dablam in 1982. “Shari
had a quiet presence, but her talents and achievements
delivered bold messages,” says NOLS Executive
Director John Gans of his time in the field with
In the summer of 1983 I was lucky enough
to spend a month with Shari in the heart of the Chugach
Mountains in Alaska. We were working an Alaska Mountaineering
course that reached the headsnows of the Yale and
Columbia Glaciers. It was a place rarely visited by
anyone. Our group climbed numerous peaks, many of
them first ascents. Shari set each student and instructor
up for success. She climbed peaks and led the course
with quiet grace, constantly setting an amazing example.
While I was an instructor on that course, I am sure
I learned more than the students just by watching
Shari move through the mountains. Following that month,
I course-led my first Alaska Mountaineering course.
All through that course I implemented lessons and
education techniques I learned from Shari, as another
generation of students benefited from her wisdom.
In May, 1982 I had the opportunity to
climb with NOLS grad Carlos Buhler in the North Cascades.
I was participating in a glacier mountaineering seminar
led by Carlos. While I was first wowed by his technical
abilities, the lessons he taught me went far beyond
that. Carlos was a very compassionate person with
an obvious love for wilderness mountaineering. Our
conversations and time in the mountains influenced
my wilderness ethic, my views on risk management,
and my philosophy on leadership and education. I will
never forget the beauty and joy of climbing with him
on the North Ridge of Mt. Baker on a crisp May morning.
NOLS graduates often talk about the
lessons in leadership learned at NOLS. Clearly the
NOLS curriculum and our wilderness classrooms are
important to learning those lessons. But the most
influential factor in teaching leadership at NOLS
is the excellent work of our instructors. Their teaching
goes beyond delivering the
curriculum. They become role models
and mentors for students. NOLS graduates commonly
say that they got closer to their NOLS instructors
than any other educator in their lives. While that
is a bold statement, it comes as no surprise to me,
as I am lucky enough to work with these educators
and leaders on a daily basis.
Carlos and Shari were key mentors who
influenced my development as a leader, an educator
and a mountaineer. Without their influence I question
whether I would have chosen the path I’m on—clearly
they’ve made the journey a lot smoother. As
is too often the case, I probably haven’t sufficiently
thanked them for what they taught me, but better late
As I walked to the office this morning,
I passed groups of students and instructors heading
from the Noble Hotel to NOLS Rocky Mountain on the
first day of their course. It was comforting to see
these instructors and students, and know that they
are building similar relationships, relationships
that will benefit these students for a lifetime.