U.S. Service Academy & Officer Candidate Leadership Expeditions

Credit: Nicholas Valentine

U.S. Service Academy & Officer Candidate Leadership Expeditions

All courses listed below are open to midshipmen and cadets at service academies and college ROTC programs. Please contact Patrick Mettenbrink at NOLS with questions about participating.

"I didn't expect leadership training to be like this. I learned more about my strengths and areas for growth than I have at any other time." – NOLS Service Academy Leadership Expedition graduate, Yukon Canoeing

Every day, you prepare to lead others in times of adversity and uncertainty. Becoming the leader you're meant to be requires repeated practice, experimentation, risk-taking, and failure.

NOLS leadership experiences for United States Service Academies are field-based leadership practicums and emergency medical trainings that support and complement the leadership curriculum at your institution. On a NOLS expedition, you will learn to lead amid uncertainty and stay calm and positive in the most challenging times. You will try new things, learn from mistakes, and receive feedback from mentors and peers. No prior experience in the outdoors is necessary to take advantage of this opportunity. All you need is a desire to step out of your comfort zone and realize your potential.

In summer 2020, we're offering our U.S. Service Academy Alumni Denali Expedition! If you've taken a NOLS course, click on this link for more information.

Enrollment Procedures and Deadlines

  1. Explore training options with NOLS-Service Academy Alumni Representatives or contact NOLS with questions.
  2. Explore financial aid options such as scholarships and 529 College Savings Plan. Check out our scholarship application. To express interest in a full scholarship this year, fill out the scholarship application, and email patrick_mettenbrink@nols.edu.
  3. Complete online course and scholarship applications and submit with $300 enrollment fee. You will be notified via email of program acceptance. NOLS will place applicants on preliminary rosters for their first choice. Applicants whose first choice cannot be honored will be contacted and other options will be explored. There are four conditions under which the application fee would be refunded:
    • Financial constraints for scholarship applicants when NOLS is informed of withdrawal within 21 days of award determination.
    • Conflict with mandatory training
    • Athletic excellence
    • NOLS is unable to assign you to your first or second choice course
  4. Submit required student paperwork on your online student dashboard by April 15, 2020. 
  5. Pay tuition balance and equipment deposit.
    • April 14, 2020 for Block 1 expeditions
    • April 30, 2020 for Block 2 and 3 expeditions
  6. Any late registrants can contact Patrick Mettenbrink for more information on registering and paying for a course.

NOLS Cancellation Policies 

Rocky Mountain Backpacking

In the remote and rugged Rocky Mountains you will master skills as a backcountry traveler, leader, and team member. You will work with your team to navigate mountain terrain and live with only the essentials you carry in your pack amid the rugged alpine beauty of Wyoming or Montana. You'll take an active role in leading your team, fishing alpine lakes and streams, and will have an extended opportunity for independent student group travel.

Naval Academy Mountaineering course participants cross a stream while backpacking.

2020 Dates

Block 1: May 26 - June 19, 2020
Block 1 Tuition: $5800
Block 2: not running in 2020
Block 2 Tuition:   
Block 3: not running in 2020
Block 3 Tuition:  
Course Location: Lander, Wyoming
Fly in/out: Casper, Wyoming

Alaska Backpacking

Teamwork and leadership will play crucial roles in your group's development on this expedition that hikes in the remote mountains of south central or interior Alaska. You will be challenged to lead yourself and your teammates effectively and creatively with only the essentials you carry in your pack. At this time of year in Alaska, sunlight will be ample and you'll have an opportunity to hone your skills on days that are active and long.

Students standing on a green grassy hill in Alaska - while out backpacking - and looking off to snow capped mountains in the distance.

2020 Dates

Block 2: June 22 - July 17, 2020
Block 2 Tuition: $6,150
Block 3: July 20 - August 10, 2020
Block 3 Tuition: $5,350
Course Location: Palmer, Alaska
Fly in/out: Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska Mountaineering - Early Season

As you travel through Alaska's remote mountain ranges, a brilliant world of snow and ice will challenge you to increase your competence and confidence as a leader and team member. Through classically Alaskan routes that involve long, arduous approaches through vast valley glaciers, breathtaking scenery, and wintry weather conditions, you will learn how to manage challenging terrain, assess risk, and work together as a team.

Because of the terrain encountered on these courses, there may be fewer opportunities for independent student travel days than is common on other Service Academy courses.

Naval Academy students on a NOLS Custom Education course prepare for a day of mountaineering in Alaska.

2020 Dates

Block 1: May 26 - June 18, 2020
Block 1 Tuition:  $5740
Course Location: Palmer, Alaska
Fly in/out: Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska Mountaineering - Late Season

As the snow melts in Alaska’s high peaks, new challenges and opportunities present themselves. This crash course in alpine travel will test your ability to lead in an ever-changing environment, and adapt plans to changing conditions. While melting snow limits the opportunities to live solely on glacier, these conditions expand opportunities to build anchors and ice-climb, scramble through rocky glacial moraines, and travel independently on tundra. This on-your-toes course offers unique opportunities to experience a variety of terrain all in one course, leaving with new skills in adaptable leadership, and a diverse set of alpine travel skills.

Like the early-season mountaineering course, the diverse terrain encountered on this course may limit opportunities for the independent student travel days that are common on other Service Academy courses.

Students cross a glacier river in Alaska with towering snow-capped peaks in the distance.

2020 Dates

Block 3: not running in 2020
Block 3 Tuition:  
Course Location: Palmer, Alaska
Fly in/out: Anchorage, Alaska

Denali Alumni Expedition

The highest peak in North America—known as Denali or “Great One” by Alaska Natives—is the site for this expedition designed for qualified NOLS-Service Academy graduates.  Denali offers extremely challenging glacier travel and some of the most difficult weather in the world. This NOLS-Service Academy alumni course allows the opportunity to apply the leadership lessons you’ve learned at NOLS and at the Academy to one of the most physically and mentally demanding experiences NOLS offers.

Apply here, choosing only the Denali option, then fill out this questionnaire to complete your application. Participants on this course will be chosen based on outdoor skills, and proven ability to work well on a team, among other factors. Please submit your application for this course by January 22nd. 

Members of the Expedition Denali team pull gear sleds across a snowfield.

2020 Date

Block 1: May 25 - June 19, 2020
Tuition: $9,000
Course Location: Palmer, Alaska
Fly in/out: Anchorage, Alaska