Brett Zefting wished a NOLS course on his little sister
because she lacked confidence.
The wilderness can teach confidence and personal
says the National Outdoor Leadership School
By Gary Fallesen
Reprinted with permission of the:
He talked Lindsay, now a junior at the Harley
School, into signing up for a 31-day
backpacking trip to Alaska last summer with
the National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS.
Never mind that she'd never really backpacked.
Or that the 16-year-old from Fairport would be
spending a month in the wilderness with 14 strangers.
Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY
April 25, 2001
"She was more willing to follow people
around than take a leadership role," remembers
Brett, 21, who had graduated from a Leadership
Semester in the Rockies in 1999.
"She's a very smart girl. But she didn't
have a ton of confidence."
Lindsay was so nervous before her trip to
Alaska, she says, "I was asking my friends
to break my leg so I wouldn't have to go. I'm
glad no one took me up on the offer."My
mother was less worried about it than I was."
And we know how mothers worry. Especially,
Brett adds, when given a "four-page double-sided
risk form you have to sign and initial 20 times.
It's pretty intimidating to send your kids
to it, I'd think."
But parents do send them. At least a dozen
young people - ages 15 to 23 - went from the
Rochester area to a NOLS course last summer
"There's a certain element of 'What if?' " says
James Newman, whose 18-year-old daughter, Claire,
attended the 30-day Wind
River (Wyo.) Wilderness course. "But
we were pretty confident."
"We knew someone else who had been on
a NOLS expedition. We did all the checking
that we thought was necessary."
Claire Newman is a senior at Harley. She and
Lindsay Zefting are on the yearbook staff together.
"We were talking the first or second
day back to school," Zefting recalls. "I
said, 'What did you do over the summer?' She
said, 'I went to a NOLS course in Wyoming.'
I said, 'I took one in Alaska.' "
It's a small world - unless you have to hike
There are more than 43,000 NOLS graduates
worldwide. The not-for-profit school, founded
in 1965 by mountaineering legend Paul
Petzoldt, offers wilderness education to
anyone older than 14. It's not just kids' stuff,
though. Adults into their 70s have gone to
the Wyoming-based school that is similar to
Outward Bound but offers longer courses.
"Everybody goes out there looking for
an adventure," says Brian Fields, 18,
a McQuaid Jesuit High School senior who lives
in Fairport. "You always find one."
Like Zefting, Fields had a family connection
to NOLS. He had listened to two uncles talk
about their experiences.
When Uncle Fred offered to help pay his way,
Brian signed up for the 30-day Wind
River Range Mountaineering course last summer.
An instructor course student
practices the self-arrest during a mountaineering
course in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains.
© Deborah Sussex.
Courses are not cheap. The tuition for a month
in the wild is about $3,000. A semester can
Most of Fields' friends thought he was nuts
to want to climb two of the three highest mountains
in Wyoming. "Who would want to sleep on
a glacier?" they asked.
Zefting had the same response from her inner
circle. "No shower for a whole month?
This is where big brother's plan came into
play. She could listen to her peers and never
learn what she was made of - or she could follow
his urging and take a risk.
"I was the only one in the course who'd
never gone backpacking," Lindsay says.
But the lure of seeing Alaska and the challenge
of a new adventure convinced her.
Zefting learned, on the first day, how to
take care of her feet and how to step lightly
in the wilderness. Then she went for a one-mile
hike with her new acquaintances, three of them
The next day it was a three-mile hike. The
next, five miles. After that, about seven miles
The group carried its food and equipment wherever
it went in the Talkeetna area north of Anchorage.
"It was up to us to map out a specific
route," Lindsay says. "Every day
we'd sit down and say, 'OK, this is going to
be our campsite tonight,' and we made our route." They
also cooked what they ate using recipes that
can be found in NOLS
While climbing a mountain near the end of
the course, Lindsay's group found itself in
a rock slide.
"We had to duck behind a huge boulder," she
says. "I thought, 'What am I doing up
The group descended safely - and felt stronger
for the experience.
When Lindsay finished her course, her brother
was waiting for her at the farm near Palmer,
Alaska, that served as the wilderness course
base camp. He was in Alaska
to take a mountaineering course.
"We climbed five peaks," Brett says, "covering
about 80 miles in 31 days. For NOLS, that's
not a lot of mileage."
When Brett spent a semester at leadership
school, he says, "The only time we were
out of the backcountry was to get more food
and change gear."
They went from three weeks of whitewater paddling
on two rivers to three weeks of rock climbing
to 34 days of canyon backpacking - all in Utah
- to more than a week of telemark skiing and
winter camping in Wyoming.
A NOLS student braves
© Deborah Sussex.
"It changed the direction of my life," Brett
says from Lake Tahoe, Nev., where he is going
to college. "I knew I liked the outdoors
as a hobby, but it showed me I wanted to do
He picked up 12 college
credit hours while learning skills that
will last a lifetime. He shared this knowledge
with his sister, who also absorbed the true
"It definitely opened a lot of doors
to me," Lindsay says. "It encouraged
my leadership skills."
At the end of last summer, Brett and Lindsay
took some of Lindsay's friends camping in the
Adirondacks. She cooked for them. They went
rock climbing together.
"I was like the leader among my friends," Lindsay
Her follower days are behind her.
Learning about NOLS
The National Outdoor Leadership School offers
courses that last from 10 days to a full semester
in the Rocky Mountains, Pacific
Northwest, Southwest, Alaska, Western
Canada and elsewhere. Among the courses
available this summer: Absaroka
(Wyo.) Backpacking, Alaska
Sea Kayaking, Yukon
Canoeing and North
Cascades (Wash.) Mountaineering. Courses
cost $2,220 to $3,780. Financial
aid is offered.
For details on NOLS, call (307) 332-5300 or