Last weekend I was camping, (very, very soft camping mind you) and I put some of my leave-no-trace camping skills to use that I had learned on my NOLS course back in 2001. I started thinking about that experience last week when a co-worker and I were chatting about camp counselor jobs and outdoor awareness. Both provoked me to revisit NOLS’s, or National Outdoor Leadership School’s, website and see what they’re up to these days, and to dream about another amazing adventure.

Along the Trail on NOLS horsepacking course on Flee Fly Flown
[Above: That’s me with the yellow hat. My horse’s name was “Freckles” which I thought appropriate for my speckled Irish-skin.]

For my first course, I went on a 21-day horsepacking trip through the Wind River Mountains out in Wyoming. Basically, a week at the ranch to learn the essentials, a week in the desert and a week in the mountains. My small group of 7 learned everything from how to handle our horses in the wilderness to leave-no-trace camping, trail boss duties including successfully getting our group from one camp to the next.

Three Peaks Ranch
[Above: Three Peaks Ranch in Boulder, Wyoming]

It was an amazing and tough experience. From dealing with the full spectrum of the elements, snow storms to extreme heat, to encountering wild horses in their original habitat and learning the history of our campsites (think the Donner Party), the experience was one I’m so glad I had. While I don’t use my leave-no-trace skills as often as I would like and I don’t ride regularly, I learned useful skills and came away with a better understanding of our impact on the world.

Horsepacking in Wyoming on Flee Fly Flown
[Above & Below: Amazing scenery both in the desert and in the mountains of Wyoming.]

Fellow student and myself on Flee Fly Flown

The trip and my instructor’s feedback was also what inspired my summer as a camp counselor at a kids’ camp in North Carolina a few years later. But I’ll leave that for another post.

As I was checking out and connecting to NOLS via the social media sphere, I noticed they have a video contest running. I just might have to enter for my second wish-list trip: kayaking. I originally had wanted to do Sea Kayaking in Mexico’s Baja, however, I noticed that there is also a Scandinavian Backpacking & Sea Kayaking option which has also been on my wishlist. Ah to see the fjords of Norway from a kayak!

So at any rate, if you have a single ounce of outdoor curiosity, I highly recommend a NOLS course. Why not enter their sweepstakes? That’s one way to pay. But whether or not you win the contest, the experience is worth every penny. I’ve still got until October 31 to enter. Hmmm…let the brainstorming begin.

NOLS Contest

Now, how to work out more vacation time. I guess 2011 will be here before we know it!

Happy trails,

- Colleen