Lander, Wyo. — Sydney Read, 18, of Santa Barbara, Calif. recently completed an 80-day wilderness expedition in Patagonia with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
On September 25 2013, Sydney Read, a Santa Barbara resident, and 16 other NOLS students embarked on an 80-day wilderness expedition deep in the incredibly lush and diverse landscapes of Patagonia. The Fall Semester in Patagonia took the students on an adventurous educational expedition through the exotic landscapes of Patagonia, free of modern conveniences like cell phones, video games and electricity. A NOLS education is all about remaining focused and present as well as resilient and enthusiastic about leadership education, environmental sustainability and attaining outdoor technical skills.
From hiking across glaciated mountain peaks and camping in alpine valleys to sea kayaking through a multitude of beautiful island chains, Read and her coursemates learned invaluable skills in one of the most breathtaking backcountry classrooms the world has to offer.
After flying into Balmaceda, Chile, Read and her coursemates travelled by bus for an hour through Chilean flatlands to reach NOLS Patagonia, just outside of Coyhaique, Chile. The first section of the semester was a three-day Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course. Going beyond standard first aid, the WFA prepares students travelling in the wilderness to prevent, recognize and treat medical emergencies when 9-1-1 is simply not an option.
After being medically trained, Read and her coursemates embarked on an exhilarating 30 days of mountaineering through breathtaking scenery. The group experienced outdoor educational opportunities during snow and glacier travel, peak ascents, river crossings, technical mountaineering classes and wilderness travel skill classes. All classes were held in the backcountry of Patagonia’s expansive and beautiful wilderness, dubbed the Garden of Eden.
Read and her coursemates covered 75 miles during the mountaineering section of the course, backpacking through Rio Engano valley, traveling for three days on Glacier Colmillo and summiting three different peaks. An immense amount of outdoor education took place over the 75-mile hike, especially when Read and her coursemates broke off from their NOLS instructors to set off on a two-day independent student group expedition (ISGE), putting their newly attained outdoor skills to use. The ISGE portion of the course allowed Read and her coursemates to experience exhilarating wilderness independence and instilled a lifelong appreciation for independent wilderness travel. Read and her coursemates experienced travel through mountain ranges, rivers and valleys, through dry land, snow, rain, sunshine and wind—a feat within itself but just the first half of their expedition.
Read and her coursemates then moved on to the sea kayaking section of their NOLS expedition. During this month-long journey, Read and the other 16 students and four instructors paddled 210 nautical miles in the Aysen Region of Chilean Patagonia. After receiving technical training, the course paddled in waves of up to six feet tall and wind speeds of over 20 knots. The section started near Raul Marin Balmaceda and traveled southwest to the Chonos Islands before ending at the North end of Fiordo Aysen.
Read and the rest of the course received curriculum training focused on leadership development, Leave No Trace, technical outdoor skills and tough water paddling. They also received regular training in regional environmental studies when instructors and students discussed the Pacific Ocean, regional river corridors, regional wildlife, flora, fauna and issues facing the regional ecosystem. The students even experienced paddling with a pod of saltwater dolphins. During this time, Read and her coursemates set up camp on island shores in the evening and cooked their food on gas stoves. They slept under the stars using weather-dependent modes of shelter like tents, sleeping bags, bivy sacks (bug nets) and tarps.
Like all NOLS students, Read and her coursemates had the option to earn college credits for their course; 75 percent of college-age NOLS students choose to do so. They all graduated from the course competent, confident leaders and outdoorspeople.
About NOLS – The National Outdoor Leadership School
Founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, NOLS is the leader in wilderness education, providing awe-inspiring, transformative experiences to 17,000 students each year. These students, ages 14 to over 80, learn in the wildest and most remote classrooms worldwide—from the Amazon rain forest, to rugged peaks in the Himalaya, to Alaskan glaciers and Arctic tundra. Graduates are active leaders with lifelong environmental ethics and outdoor skills. NOLS also offers customized courses through NOLS Professional Training, and the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute is the leading teacher of wilderness medicine worldwide. For more information, call (800) 710-NOLS (6657) or visit www.nols.edu.