Mazama Season Kick-off!

This month we had dozens of instructors, administrative staff, and board members gather together to celebrate the end of a challenging and inspirational instructor training season, and the beginning of Northwest Outward Bound School’s 2017 wilderness courses! As the sunshine trickled in through the tall, lush forestry and beads of morning dew rolled off our the leaves, staff trickled their way in from cabins, tents, and cars to re-connect with each other and welcome the newest members to join the NWOBS team.

Photo by Melissa Ulrich

Morning meeting started off with with sharing gratitude for those who worked hard to help each other reach their potential. Including our hard-working, top notch base camp cook, Jess, creating special lunch and dinner meals for resident and visiting staff. After meeting, instructors engaged in continual learning opportunities with staff-led training, including a Diversity training focused on empathy and compassion.

Later, staff showed up in their best-dressed to give it their all in a full-force game of snow-kickball with leftover powder from the North Cascades.

The energy continued as everyone emerged themselves in service projects from building new benches and restoring Camp Dube – where students practice their camping skills on base – to driving back into Winthrop, WA to volunteer with a variety of local non-profits.

Finally, the day resulted in all staff rounded up at the base camp to join their peers in bidding in silent and live auctions. Christa, a Washington Field Instructor, reflects, “I really loved hearing Jamie announce auction items and him talking about what course means to him and to the OB community…just got me psyched for the true OB experience. It’s really inspiring to me – at one point I thought this was an outdoor rec. program, but I continue to broaden my understanding of the true impact that students have and instructors feel.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, crowd, tree, outdoor and nature
Photo by Joel Reid

From hand-carved paintings made by staff and fresh baked cookies delivered by bike, to personalized magician lessons and one-on-one climbing guidance, staff at NWOBS came together to support each other and give back to our shared mission. “I loved that the auction incorporated school community and the Methow Valley community,” states Emily Nelson, a Washington Logistics Coordinator. Proceeds raised from the auction go directly back towards student scholarships and staff development opportunities to further our ability to change lives through challenge and discovery.

Post-auction, staff are reinvigorated to lead students around the San Juan Islands, through the North Cascades, and along the Salmon River to empower these youth to reach their full potential this summer. when asked what she is most excited for, Megan Fraser, Associate Program Director, says “looking forward to Tier 1 Training – staff in new role or new staff. And to going out to field see them utilize the skills with students, bring our mission to students, and to have high moments and be challenged in ways; I’m excited for people to get back out.”

Outward Bound Staff Ski-Expedition

Go forth, sons and daughters of the mountains, and seek to fill three cups.  One shall be the Cup of Wilderness, and it can only be filled by immersion in the world the way it was meant to be- natural and unchanged by humans.  The second shall be the Cup of Camaraderie, which is filled with the closeness of companions for long periods in high-stakes, and inspiring terrain.  The third, and most important, is the Cup of Self.  Only by drawing your well near to dry, digging down to the bedrock of your physical being, and exposing your frayed edges to the mountains, can you fill this cup.”  

-Dave Quinn

In April, NWOBS staff embarked on an expedition into the Canadian backcountry to “fill their cups” before the summer field season.  Carrying packs loaded with fresh food, the group of five set off on the hut-to-hut ski traverse located not far from Nelson, British Columbia.  The journey saw them skiing alpine ridgelines where they encountered fresh grizzly tracks, carved beautiful fresh powder turns through the trees, and slept long winter nights in the cozy cabins.  Despite it feeling like spring at low elevations, the crew dug snow profile pits to discover the depth of the snowpack was close to 400cm near the huts; at about 6500 feet elevation.IMG_0994

The buried outhouse and cabin windows blanked in deep snowpack, reminded us that winter isn’t over yet.  While pushing through many “I’m getting Outward-Bounded!”- moments on the nine hour traverse: from being amazed that we had a skilled mouse killer amongst us (by hand, in the dark!), to learning effective probing practices. Our conversations floated between deepening our understanding of ourselves and each other.  Most often though, was the evening chatter which boiled down to an appreciation for the opportunities we were given and the work that we do; all while exploring breathtaking places with beautiful people and bettering ourselves along the way.  The Staff Expedition on the Bonnington Traverse was no exception.



Thank you to Judith Robertson, a long-time NWOBS instructor,
for providing the above article and photographs.

Winter in Mazama

One of the winter caretakers at the Mazama Basecamp, Cristina Woodworth, gives us a glimpse of life at the basecamp in the winter season, and the beauty of winter in the Methow Valley, WA.

Slow coffee mornings and potlucks are the epitome of winters here in Mazama, Washington.

Randi, Katie, Michael and I have watched out the large kitchen windows of the Outward Bound lodge as the crispy reds and browns of fall have evolved to bulky snow piles and long, spindly icicles traveling off the roof.


It’s been a treat living in the shadow of the hulking snowpacked Goat Wall for the past few months. I’ll be the first to admit I was a little apprehensive about living in such a small community for the winter, but have found there are always things going on if you want something to do, although it’s equally acceptable to stay in and enjoy a book in front of a crackling woodstove fire.

As Outward Bound winter caretakers, we’ve hung up our climbing gear and stowed our road bikes in trade for snow shovels and Nordic skis. A groomed classic and skate ski track dots its way through our backyard meadow, and many days have been spent kicking and gliding along, marveling at the crazy number of blue bird days we’ve enjoyed so far.

New projects seem to pop up each day at the basecamp, but it feels good to help upkeep such a beautiful place. Although, when the roof sheds powerful thunks of snow at night, there is sometimes a little bit of exasperation thinking about the big day of shoveling in store for us. Necessary duties.

As each of us have picked up part-time jobs and gotten more plugged into the community, it feels more and more like home here on Lost River Road. We come from Ohio, Nebraska, Colorado and other parts of Washington, but Mazama definitely feels like the place to be right now.

Portland Schools Program Ends a Successful 12 Week Session

Mrs. EY’s 8th grade AVID class at HB Lee Middle School

On one of the final sessions of an eight-week progression, a class-room of 8th graders at H.B. Lee Middle School looked more like family than classmates. As they reviewed the core values of Outward Bound, students gave examples of how compassion, excellence, integrity, and inclusion of diversity are displayed in their lives and at their school. One student commented, “in this class we are happy about how different we are.” This sentiment is what makes the AVID (Advanced Placement Via Individual Determination) Classes unique, and the Outward Bound Portland School Program helps these students to explore these themes, and gives them the language to discuss them.

This particular class session was designed to demonstrate diversity among the class, and how that diversity brings a richness of perspective, experience, and understanding that makes the group strong. Students were divided into two sides of the classroom and asked to cross over the middle if they could identify with the statement read, such as, “I am planning to go to college”, and “I am multi ethnic.” It showed a visual representation of diversity, vulnerability, and uniqueness and commonality of experience. Students were urged to use Outward Bound values to be respectful and observant as student chose to cross the room in response to questions.


To debrief the session, the Outward Bound instructors asked questions such as, “how did it feel when you were the only person to cross the room?” and “how do you make groups inclusive?” A major theme of the debrief was “lunchroom behavior” and how to be inclusive and make “outsiders” feel welcome. Mrs. E-Y, the class teacher, said she saw the group really come together on their ropes course expedition one month earlier with  Northwest Outward Bound School. “They have been closer and more open with each other ever since.” With one session left for these 8th graders in their 12 week progression, they are excited to have had the opportunity to participate in this Outward Bound programming.

Tribute to Mike Armstrong, Support Staff Development

Dear friends,
After twenty-two years of dedicated service to Outward Bound, the staff, and students, Mike is stepping down from his role as Northwest Outward Bound School (NWOBS) Oregon Program Director and NWOBS Safety Director to seek new challenges and adventures with me and our son, Aiden. As many of you have witnessed first-hand, Mike lives and breathes the values Outward Bound: Compassion, Integrity, Excellence, and Inclusion and Diversity. Throughout his tenure with Outward Bound, he has led with dedication, passion and commitment while excelling in inspiring staff and students alike to embrace the mission of the school. Over the past two plus decades, I think it is fair to say that Mike has positively impacted countless lives, particularly the staff who worked with him at Odin Falls.

I am pleased to announce that NWOBS will be honoring Mike’s legacy and service at the Black Tie & Tennis Shoes Benefit Dinner on November 19th. A large part of Mike’s Outward Bound legacy is his dedication to the staff. His desire to ensure that staff are given every possible opportunity for professional development, community building, and life enrichment is paramount. Consequently, NWOBS is establishing the first-ever Mike Armstrong NWOBS Staff Development Fund. The goal is to raise a minimum of $3,500 towards the fund in the first year. The funds raised will support professional development opportunities and staff expeditions. Your contribution, however large or small, will be immensely meaningful to Mike and our family.

Though Mike is leaving his position at Outward Bound, I know he and our family will be involved with Outward Bound for the rest of our lives. I would like to personally thank you for the love and generosity that you have shown our family over the years. Many in the Outward Bound community have positively contributed to the upbringing Aiden. I hope you know how much each and every one of you have greatly impacted Mike’s life and are a part of his journey in becoming the leader that he is today.

Again, thank you for your passion, service and commitment to NWOBS. I hope you will join our family in contributing to the Mike Armstrong NWOBS Staff Development Fund. Together, we will continue to ensure that staff are afforded the opportunity for professional development, community building, and life enrichment.
Warmest regards,
Bea Armstrong

WA Instructor Development Course Reflection by Ben Elukin

My name is Ben and I was a student on this fall’s Instructor Development Course, if it wasn’t the most epic than I’d be surprised to hear what is. 50 days of amazing people exploring the sea, mountains, and ourselves, what else could we ask for? We started by heading straight to the sea for our two weeks of Kayaking in the San Juan Islands. With better weather than we could have imagined, less than twelve hours of rain on the whole section. Despite the freezing water, the sun made the daily dip in the sea very entertaining as it seemed every day was colder than the last. Arguably the best nine days were coming out of the kayak section when we headed back to base to complete our Wilderness First Responder Course. The days were spent with both hours of classroom and our best acting skills as we did simulations to test our skills.

Next we went into the mountains to continue our plethora of learning in a new environment and with new challenges.


First mountain section completed, time for practicum, our chance to practice the skills we have been learning. Giving students from Upward Bound a small taste of the Outward Bound experience. We had also planned a day of climbing for them that they were extremely enthusiastic about. We only had 48 hours with the students so we had to make the most of it. Every Instructor Development Course student was nervous at the challenge but faced this challenge head on. As soon as the practicum students arrived the rain started, but that didn’t deter us from teaching what we had planned. We even were able to teach the students belay and climbing skills in the torrential downpour, all with the supervision of our instructors of course. With smiles on their faces, the students climbed the crag that had turned into a waterfall, proving to themselves that they can enjoy the outdoors in any conditions. We wrapped up the practicum with a close to home service project, cleaning the trials that surrounded the Outward Bound base to complete the experience. This was not the the end by far, oh no.


Finals! The section we as a team have the most autonomy in. Performing the skills technical and teamwork skills that we have worked so very hard at. Choosing our route, delegating the logistics work amongst ourselves and completing all the pre course tasks that our instructors did for us on our prior sections. Once again we headed to the mountains to say ou goodbyes to the Northern Washington wilderness for the time being. An experience to remember forever!

Lili’s reflections on challenges and triumphs from her Washington Kayaking and Mountaineering Course


In the spring of my junior year, I started carrying small, black Moleskine journals in which I write­ incessantly–thoughts, quotes, to-do-lists, poems, assignments, letters, book recommendations, etc. Having kept these little journals for the past two and a half years, I know that there is a correlation between my wellbeing and how much I write.  When times are trying and I am low, my pages stay blank. When I am healthy and well, my pages are darkened. If things are going moderately well, I’ll finish one of these journals in the span of four or five months.

Over the summer, I spent three weeks on a sea kayaking and mountaineering trip in the San Juan Islands and North Cascades of Washington. The three weeks of my Outward Bound trip are themselves an entire journal.

I explain the journal situation to underscore how incredibly happy, healthy, and true to myself I felt whilst out traversing the wilderness, and I want this to be the primary context for everything else I write here. I have never in my life felt better than I do now, and I owe that to Outward Bound. My newfound positive self-image goes beyond the fact that I didn’t wear makeup or look at myself in a mirror for three weeks; it is a deeply rooted peace in knowing what I need, what I don’t need, and how to take care of myself. It is a feeling of strength and confidence. This wellness, peacefulness, and inner strength is what I value most from my course; hopefully I can retain it in the long term.


Because I have previously been a student of an experience-based school (CITYterm semester), I think I was hyper-receptive to Outward Bound School’s experiential learning approach, and I could maximize my understanding of their teachings. The language my instructors used to foster autonomy, critical thinking, leadership, and group cohesion was at once familiar and also newly challenging. Most importantly, the skills I learned out there don’t apply exclusively to packing kayaks or ascending a cliff; the skills I learned are ones I use to talk with my roommate, make sure I get enough sleep, and focus on my work. The transferability of the skills I gained during my Outward Bound course–to my home life, to Carolina, to living in a dorm, etc.­–speaks to the brilliance of the program.

Now, to speak of the experience in concrete examples and not just vague post-course meditations!

The joys of my Outward Bound trip were of a variety and intensity so new and wonderful. If only I could explain the exuberance I felt each day while on the ocean, thinking about how dry I would be that evening in camp; or, how thrilling it would be to wade in a freezing cold mountain stream, or find a block of cheese in my beans, or wake up as late as seven am! There were these rather small measures of joy, of course, but there was also great happiness and triumph in self-repelling off a cliff, or navigating a challenging section of land with positivity.


One of the best moments of the trip was when my group landed our kayaks on Turn Island in the San Juans the afternoon I was sea navigator. I anticipated that our paddle would take six hours, and we made it in just over three. As we pulled our kayaks up onto the darkly pebbled beach, group morale soared. I circled up with everyone and encouraged them to unpack the kayaks quickly so that we might go for a swim. While usually our daily swim is met with tentativeness (due to the temperature of the water), the group high-fived, lunged to unpack their kayaks, and in a matter of minutes was frolicking in the 39 degree water. Usually we are in and out in thirty seconds, but a newfound tenaciousness took hold. As parents do with young children at the pool in the summer, our instructors had great trouble getting us out of the water. This moment of group cohesion marked one of the best moments of the trip. Everyone’s basic needs were met, allowing for an afternoon of fun, ubiquitous joy, and maximum productivity.

Now, challenges. Personal challenges are starkly different from group challenges. Days 9 and 10 were the worst for me, but I gained perspective on the extent of my perfectionism, and how my emotional stability seems to decline alongside the decline of impeccability. I also acquired an overwhelming guilt, knowing that my own troubles were negatively effecting the group. Through an ongoing dialogue with my instructors, and taking time to prioritize emotional wellbeing, I overcame the worst low I have ever reached.  It feels really good to say I have that under my belt, and am equipped with the skills to face such a struggle again when it comes.

There were also physical challenges…namely, belaying down a cliff. The experience of walking backwards off a mountain with my trust in my instructor’s rope skills and my whole weight in a flimsy looking harness is an experience not many people have. Being able to point to that and say, “yes, I did it, I had tears streaming down my face, but I did it” feels AWESOME.

Group challenges are a different animal. They, too, are so emotionally taxing that I struggle to revisit them now. On the second to last day, my group was trekking down from the heights of the mountains into the valley where we’d make camp that night. We were travelling without the guidance of our instructors, and the authority of one 18 year-old “Top Banana” (the day’s leader) over the other nine of us was barely holding. It took everyone’s patience, conflict resolution skills, and motivation to walk the last miles to camp. I’ll take the rose-colored-glasses off and acknowledge that we didn’t really end on a good note; in fact, the way my group finished was somewhat disappointing, but living with that and admitting it with honesty is healthy, I think.


I can’t write this report without mentioning the 40-ish hour solo each of us had. For someone intensely inclined to write, think, or stare into space in her free time, this is the best luxury! Other than the fact that I wrote from dawn to dusk, solo provided me with a time to reflect empathetically on my group.  I thought a lot about how other people would spend their time, and I acknowledged that for those not oriented towards writing or deliberately thinking, solo was a formidable, maybe even scary time. I had to give up the idea that I would have some grand epiphany during my solo which would restructure my entire paradigm of existence, but I came to terms with this and thought a lot about concrete things instead (my family, the durability of polyester, oysters). I’m not sure yet of the long-term benefit of a solo, but in the short-term it is extremely rejuvenating. One of my goals for my post-Outward Bound life is to have a solo at least once a year.

Those are the highlights, at least for now. I’m not sure what will be stuck in my mind six months or six years from now. I’m curious to see which memories are the most long-lasting and which adventures feel the most recent and immediate. Either way, I hope my Outward Bound experience doesn’t really ever end…I wish for it to continue to manifest in my daily life, and I also have a silent hope to make it back to the Pacific Northwest some day…maybe as a student, or maybe even as an instructor. Who knows? I’ll live the questions for now. Thank you, Outward Bound, for a great summer!