Spend a semester in the Rocky Mountains and every day will be hands-on, from learning to climb to developing good expedition behavior with your coursemates. Wind River Range, Wyoming
Photo: Rainbow Weinstock
NOLS INVENTED THE OUTDOOR SEMESTER, and this course is where it all began.
A Rockies Semester will take you on a Wild West “tour de force” while giving you a complete set of skills to lead and teach in the backcountry, whether in the field of outdoor education or with your own friends and family.
Our grads are among the most well-rounded and self-sufficient backcountry travelers in the world. Learn to paddle a canoe down a class-III rapid, make sound first-aid decisions miles from the nearest road, and navigate through winding slot canyons.
You’ll see some of the great American West’s most treasured spots, carving a telemark turn through the winter wilderness on one section and jamming your hands into cracks while climbing one of Wyoming’s world-class crags on the next.
Because the Rockies are a hotspot for outdoor activities, this semester offers a variety of skill sets, allowing students to choose the combinations they prefer.
Backpacking (summer and fall) Map reading, route finding, cooking, and Leave No Trace practices will become second nature as you travel through Wyoming’s Wind River or Absaroka ranges. Advanced topics covered on this section include fly-fishing, baking, off-trail navigation, GPS use, and environmental ethics.
Mountaineering (fall only) The rugged glacier-carved Wind River Range is the ideal environment for learning wilderness mountaineering. The climbing, belaying, and rappelling skills you’ll learn on this section will enable you to challenge yourself on technical peak ascents while honing other fundamental backcountry living and traveling skills.
(fall and spring) The Rocky Mountains’ harsh and beautiful winter environment will create some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of your semester. After breaking trail from camp to camp, you’ll “dig in,” building a snow shelter for you and your coursemates to camp in. Much time will also be devoted to practicing your telemark turn on backcountry slopes and assessing snow and avalanche conditions.
This fast-paced section takes place in some of the West’s most famous climbing areas, from Nevada’s Red Rocks to Idaho’s City of Rocks and the Needles in South Dakota. It begins with a foundation of skills such as bouldering, belaying, rappelling, knots, and climbing techniques. We’ll also emphasize advanced topics such as anchor construction, direct aid, belay escapes, and gear selection. If you’re ready, there will also be opportunities to lead climb.
This multi-day expedition through Utah’s scenic river canyons will introduce you to the fun and excitement of whitewater. Whether in a kayak, a canoe, an oar raft, or a paddle raft, you’ll learn to read the water, scout rapids, and execute maneuvers such as eddy-turns, peel-outs, and ferries. Depending on your craft, advanced skills such as surfing, playboating, raft captaining, and solo canoeing, will also be taught and practiced on this very hands-on section.
(spring) From NOLS’ Three Peaks Ranch at the base of the Wind River Range, you’ll learn and practice the skills needed to enjoy an extended horsepacking expedition. Four days at the ranch encompass saddling, riding, packing, and getting to know your horses, then you’ll embark on a two-week trip exploring Wyoming’s wilderness on horseback.
(fall and spring) Developing and expanding your own leadership style and environmental ethics are the focus of this section, which culminates in a multi-day, student-led expedition. You’ll travel through the unmistakable red rock canyons of southern Utah where you’ll study Anasazi rock art and ruins, desert ecology, and land-use policies.
Wilderness First Aid (WFA)
(fall and spring) The Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS (WMI) presents this 16-hour section specific to wilderness emergencies. The course is the approved certification for the American Camp Association, the United States Forest Service, and many other governmental agencies and outdoor programs.
Wilderness First Responder (WFR)
(fall and spring) Offered by NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, this 80-hour section is for outdoor professionals and will give you the tools to make sound first aid and evacuation decisions in remote settings.
Leave No Trace
Earn your Leave No Trace (LNT) Master certification, which will allow you to teach LNT ethics to others in the future.