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Wilderness leadership courses combine many important elements. You'll receive leadership training in the world's remote wilderness combined with intensive outdoor skills education. On your course, while you learn to live and travel through the wilderness, you develop your leadership abilities and qualities in stages. As your skills progress, so do you.
Early in your course, you will be faced with an array of things to learn. That's okay. Your instructors will teach those skills to you, starting with the basics. You'll practice. You'll accomplish. And you will become adept. It may be as simple as pitching a tent, or more complex like learning how to set up a safe top rope anchor for rock climbing. You'll practice tying knots or doing Eskimo rolls. You'll learn about the natural history and environment of the wilderness and begin to feel comfortable living outdoors. As your outdoor skills grow, your leadership abilities will also progress. After getting through the initial days of learning how to live and be comfortable in the wilderness, your instructors will begin to encourage you to make more decisions on your own. At first, instructors will travel with you in small groups, giving your group input when decisions are made. Over time they will step back more and more, allowing you to learn from your successes and mistakes and become a leader. Eventually, you and your fellow students may travel on your own, making all the decisions together. As you get more skilled, you'll gain a new respect for yourself, which naturally leads to . . .
Confidence grows from practice and competence. Sure, it might be difficult to do some of the things you are faced with at first: route finding, outdoor cooking, knot tying, leadership . . . . But your hard work and practice soon leads to a new confidence, both with your outdoor skills and your emerging leadership qualities. After about the first ten days on many wilderness courses you will travel with groups of fellow students while the instructors travel together separately. Each travel day calls for a "leader of the day." This person is head architect and guardian of the travel day, making decisions and assigning tasks with input from the rest of the group. This isn't "lemming leadership" where you follow blindly after your leader. You're responsible for seeking clarity, giving input, supporting the leader, and working for the betterment of your group and its plan. You'll gain confidence in other ways too. It may be catching that first trout on a fly, or tying a perfectly dressed figure-8 knot during climbing class.
On your NOLS course, you should feel comfortable speaking up with an opinion, asking if you don't understand, supporting someone if you agree, or voicing a disagreement if you don't. On the final days of your wilderness leadership course, your full range of skills will come into play as you get ready for your small group expedition. Not all NOLS courses offer this unique opportunity, but most of the wilderness leadership courses do. On this expedition within an expedition, you will split into peer groups, develop a travel plan, and head off. For the next few days as you hike out of the wilderness, your group will travel without instructors, making decisions and choices as a group, and learning from each other and the outdoors. Those skills you learned in the early days of your course will come into play as an outdoor leader.