Greencastle resident completes semester-long wilderness expedition

Sunday, August 10, 2014

One Greencastle resident recently completed a semester-long wilderness expedition.

Hunter Barr, 19 of Greencastle, recently completed a semester-long wilderness expedition traveling in the Rocky Mountains with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

On Feb. 18, Barr and 14 other students joined NOLS for a multi-activity expedition during which the students did not have access to modern conveniences and were challenged each day to banish their self-doubts and step outside their comfort zones. A NOLS education stresses leadership can be learned and is based on the belief that the outdoors is a challenging environment where students will learn hard skills and about themselves.

The NOLS Spring Semester in the Rockies was split into four sections: winter, rock climbing, canyon and river; two to four instructors who are experts in the field accompanied students on each section.

This semester also included a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. This 80-hour backcountry first aid course was taught by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute during an eight-day base camp. This course provided students with the tools to make medical and evacuation decisions in the backcountry.

The expedition began with a winter section where Barr and his 13 coursemates carried all supplies on their backs and on sleds as they ventured into the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming. The semester began with community building during physically challenging and stormy travel days. Curriculum focused on leadership, telemark skiing, avalanche awareness and winter camping skills. This winter expedition lasted 12 days, during which group traveled 15 miles and established two dig-in camps where they built and lived in snow shelters. In this challenging environment, the students experienced over three feet of snowfall and freezing conditions. Highlights of this section were multiple days of ski touring, regular campfires and learning to be comfortable in these challenging conditions.

Next Barr and his coursemates traveled to Red Rocks, Nev. to begin the rock climbing section. During the climbing section the group made a base camp where they set up tents, established a kitchen and stayed in one camp. Despite windy weather and busy climbing areas, the group learned top rope and lead belay skills. Students were encouraged to have a positive attitude and develop their climbing abilities. All members of the group improved their climbing techniques and movement on rock.

Transitioning to the canyons in southern Utah, students spent 22 days exploring the area where the weather was calm and clear. On this section, curriculum emphasized building a strong community, giving students real risk management opportunities and developing a signature style of leadership. Barr and his fellow students had the opportunity to be "leader of the day" in their hiking groups and become competent canyon travelers and map-readers. This section culminated in an independent student group expedition, where students traveled without instructors.

Barr and his coursemates began a new method of travel for the final section of their course: river. The travel means on the river was tandem canoes, used for navigating through sections of flat water and rapids up to Class III. Along with three instructors, students traveled 123 miles in 14 days down the Green River in eastern Utah. Instructors taught classes on developing strong canoe skills, adapting to river conditions and honing leadership skills. On this final section, students spent time on self-reflection, thinking back on the whole semester as and how to transfer their learning to life back home.

Fifteen students began this expedition three months ago, and all 15 students graduated competent and confident leaders and outdoor travelers. They join the NOLS alumni network of over 20,000 graduates.

About NOLS - The National Outdoor Leadership School:

Since legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt founded the school in 1965, more than 230,000 students have graduated from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the leader in wilderness education. Whether through field-based courses offered in some of the most awe-inspiring locations in the world or classroom-based courses, the school provides transformative educational experiences to students of all ages. Graduates emerge as active leaders with lifelong environmental ethics and outdoor skills. To discover the NOLS experience or to bring a course to your business or organization, call (800) 710-NOLS (6657) or visit

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: