A couple of weeks ago, publications intern Joanne Kuntz inquired about an early 80’s first ascent on an Alaska Mountaineering course. The request triggered memories of a beautiful June night in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska, as I was an instructor on that course. While Î did not lead that particular climb Joanne was writing about, I was leading a sister student group on another first ascent that provided great views of instructor Mario Bilodeau’s group as they ascended the peak that NOLS has since referred to as Mt. Chitiea.
I’m sure you will enjoy our cover story about Chile’s Cerra Ladrillero’s first ascent. While it is a considerable achievement, it is worth noting that NOLS courses have completed numerous first ascents around the globe — mostly in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, but they still take place today. Seldom are they written about and rarely have the accomplishments been touted to any significant level. In a world that places great emphasis on “firsts,” the nonchalant attitude toward first ascents at NOLS is intriguing.
This low-key approach probably owes its foundation to the fact that the summit is never the primary motivation for courses to explore new country. Rather, we are motivated by teaching mountaineering skills, leadership, decision-making, judgment and Leave No Trace skills, while developing a wilderness ethic in our students. Those goals fit particularly well with exploration of new terrain, as the unknowns place unique demands on leadership and decision-making. They also provide our students with that rarest of opportunities in the 21st Century — to travel wilderness that has hardly ever been visited. NOLS has always gravitated to the less explored regions of the world. For example, we established our home classroom in the Wind River Range instead of the higher profile Teton Range, and on Denali we climb via the Muldrow and Harper Glaciers instead of the far more common West Buttress Route. While many of our students may not have heard of the wilderness areas they visit, they know that NOLS seeks out the unexplored gems of our planet.
Exploring seldom-visited country carries with it added responsibilities. It demands the best in Leave No Trace camping — a natural for NOLS, as we have developed protocols for wilderness areas around the world. It also demands cultural sensitivity to the people and cultures in the regions we visit. NOLS has long been a leader in responsible travel and education. Finally, it demands that we continue to research and develop our curriculum as we visit new regions and face new challenges.
As a part of our expanding curriculum, you will also find featured in this Leader two new books from the NOLS library. I trust the reviews of our new Wilderness Navigation and Wilderness Ethics books will prompt you to order the books for the full story. I am thrilled with these books as the NOLS library continues to grow as a valuable resource for outdoor adventurers around the globe.
With summer just around the corner, I urge you to visit our website and find a course to further your wilderness skills and leadership. Whether you are a returning graduate or a first-time NOLS student, you will gain valuable lessons from our fantastic staff and exceptional wilderness classrooms.
In looking for a picture to accompany my address, I dug around for pictures from that Alaska Mountaineering Course on that beautiful June night in the early 80’s. I clearly remember the pictures from the summit of Mt. Elusive as I looked out at Mt. Chitiea. While I wasn’t able to find the pictures, I take comfort in knowing that the views from Mt. Elusive remain vivid in my mind and the camaraderie with the students on that climb will forever be a part of me. As is the case for all NOLS graduates, the lessons and experiences from that course will stay with me for a lifetime.
John Gans, NOLS Executive Director