Wilderness Education: The School Bell Tolls...

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1995

Wilderness Education: The School Bell Tolls...

Five ways to get the backcountry skills you need
By Dana Sullivan

Thus far your treks up marked trails, where other campers are within shouting distance, have gone off as smoothly as expected. But what if you were to venture into true wilderness and, two days out, watch your topo map wash swiftly downstream? Or if a freak snowstorm were to render your tent sorry protection from the elements? At times like these, solid wilderness skills would not only come in handy, but might save your life. The following courses run from two days to two weeks, and what you'll learn ranges from the primitive to the progressive. Any way you choose to go, the tuition is a good investment in yourself.

Appalachian Mountain Club
Box 298, Gorham, NH 03581; 603-466-2727

Course: Beginner Backpacking and Camping: a short but thorough two-day hike for novice backpackers that covers gear, meal planning, map reading, low-impact camping, and basic first aid.

Philosophical Emphasis: This 119-year-old East Coast club preaches as Puritan a conservation ethic as you'll find.

Know Before You Go: If you have any experience in the backcountry, this cram course might be too basic. Otherwise, you get a lot, fast.

Cost: $122 for AMC members, $135 for nonmembers

Boulder Outdoor Survival School
Box 3226, Flagstaff, AZ 86003; 602-779-6000

Course: Earth Skills I: seven days at base camp in Utah's high desert, learning primitive skills--constructing tools and shelters, gathering edible plants, and trapping small game.

Philosophical Emphasis: Do more with less; technology isolates you from nature.

Know Before You Go: Don't expect any down time; you'll be playing hunter-gatherer from dawn till dusk.

Cost: $625

The Hardt School of Wilderness Living and Survival
Box 231-A, Salisbury, VT 05769; 802-352-1033

Course: The Basic: a six-day stay in the Green Mountains, building fires, shelters, and traps; collecting edible plants; and overnighting in rustic cabins.

Philosophical Emphasis: Small, family-run school proselytizes neo-hippie, back-to-the-land knowledge.

Know Before You Go: This is a relatively cushy way to learn survival skills; half of the teaching is in a classroom setting.

Cost: $525

The National Outdoor Leadership School
288 Main St., Lander, WY 82520; 307-332-6973

Course: 25-and-Over Rocky Mountain Wilderness: a 14-day trek through the Wyoming Rockies, focusing on navigation, minimum-impact camping, basic first aid, fly-fishing, and rock climbing.

Philosophical Emphasis: NOLS has espoused the "Leave No Trace" ethic for 25 years, and it's still arguably the best place to learn low-impact techniques.

Know Before You Go: Since pack animals accompany part of this trip, your backpack will be, thankfully, lighter than on NOLS's longer courses.

Cost: $1,850

Outward Bound USA
Route 9D, R2 Box 280, Garrison, NY 10524; 800-243-8520

Course: Alpine Mountaineering: a ten-day course in the Cascades, Sierra, Rockies, or Blue Ridge Mountains, covering navigation, low-impact camping, and rock climbing, and culminating in a one-day solo.

Philosophical Emphasis: Since 1961, the OB way has been to put you in stressful situations so you'll learn to work with a team and conquer your fears.

Know Before You Go: For maximum self-discovery, you're encouraged to leave your spouse and friends at home.

Cost: $1,350

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