With descriptive phrases like “unparalleled
work ethic,” “relentless energy,” “amazing
tenacity,” “exuberant,” “genuine
and forthright,” and “contagiously passionate,” popping
up in all of his student evaluations, it’s
no wonder that Timothy Mulvey owns the record for
taking the most NOLS courses in the history of the
school — in fact, Tim has more “weeks
in the field with NOLS” than many instructors.
With 13 in-country courses under his belt and some
international alumni trips on the way, from the icy
peaks of Alaska to the serene waters of Baja, Tim
has come a long way with NOLS in 17 years. Attending
his first course in 1986, Tim’s enthusiasm
for our mission has grown as he constantly finds
ways to bring field lessons back home to Chicago,
where he works as a network engineer. Here are some
thoughts from NOLS’ most inexhaustible student.
In the span of 17 years
you have taken 13 courses… which
was your favorite, and why?
The second Denali course — we
summitted. Tony Jewell was the instructor. He’s
a lot of fun and was the instructor on my 2003 Waddington
Range Mountaineering course, too.
What is it that keeps bringing you back to NOLS?
and knowledgeable and unparalleled instructors, and
a wide variety of course offerings, and an expansive
and thorough curriculum.
You have participated
in outdoor leadership programs with other organizations… how
does NOLS compare?
NOLS is the best place to learn new skills, from
tying knots to expedition behavior. The trips are
organized, efficient and satisfying. NOLS is the
best school out there. While there are other great “adventure” organizations,
NOLS courses are designed to teach more than play.
Have you conducted personal mountaineering trips?
done a few, but it’s much easier
to go through NOLS. Everything — the food,
the staff, the permits, the routes — is planned
out for you. With NOLS, you can feel confident that
you are going to be traveling with competent, motivated
and enthusiastic people. It’s hard to round
up a group like that on your own.
How have you been able to incorporate the lessons
you have learned on your NOLS courses into your daily
life back in Illinois?
Expedition behavior (“EB”)
and leadership definitely apply. NOLS courses are
a break from the political games that you play in
the office world. On a NOLS course, you have be willing
to take on an entirely new mindset toward the people
around you because everyone’s life is in everyone
else’s hands. You can’t quit so easily.
In the backcountry, there are immediate responsibilities
that one must assume to maintain group health and
How do you explain NOLS to your friends and family?
Ever talk about NOLS to strangers on an airplane
or colleagues at work?
It’s a challenge to
explain NOLS to friends and family. I live in the
flatlands where people can understand camping for
a few days but can’t
comprehend the draw of a longer, more intensive backcountry
experience where you have to carry everything in
What’s your favorite
NOLS field meal?
Gado-Gado – it’s
in the Cookery, it’s
Thai dish mix of pasta with vinegar, soy sauce and
smooth PB… I’ve tried it in the front-country
and it’s not quite the same.
Are there any more NOLS courses in your future?
am interested in the Alumni India Trekking trip.
The terrain and culture of the Garwhal region fascinates
me. I am also interested in doing one of the NOLS
Australia trips… crocodiles! I would also
love to try out Gannett Peak with NOLS… I
would spend my whole year doing NOLS courses if I
could afford it.