Lessons For A Lifetime
When most students graduate from a college training program, they have a certificate to prove their achievements. When Josh Fog became a graduate of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), he carried away not only documentation of what he had accomplished, but also the experience of living nearly100 days in wilderness settings ranging from mountains to deserts.
Fog, a sophomore at the University of Wyoming, is studying education and wants to teach after he graduates. Both of his parents, David and Kelley Fog, are teachers in the Emmetsburg Community School District.
“I first heard about the leadership school when I was about ten,” explained Fog, who was spending time in the Wind River Mountain Range area of Wyoming with his father and brother. “We ran into people who were on the course. I’ve kind of had it in my head since then to get involved.”
“You learn a lot of really important skills out there, from being a good group member to camping skills, cooking, and taking care of yourself. It teaches responsibility,” he continued. “The learning curve out there was amazing–you learn a lot really fast.”
Fog spent a total of 94 days in the program, which started in early September and wrapped up on Dec. 5. The first five days of the course were spent becoming certified in wilderness first aid.
“It was a tight group of 12 people–you sleep with them and eat with them. You can’t really escape them. That’s the challenge, and it’s something that you really learn from.”
Fog’s initial foray was into Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range where they learned mountaineering over a 24-day period.
“I really felt at home there,” said Fog. “The highlight of this portion of the course, for me, was the climbs. We climbed the Pingora–it was like a big tower in the mountains–it was pretty amazing.”
He added that another remarkable part of being in the mountains was viewing shooting stars every night, as well as three different moon cycles, and each day’s sunrise and sunset.
Next, the group moved on into southern Utah, where they spent 25 days whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing in Desolation Canyon on the Green River and the San Juan River, leading into the Colorado River.
“That part of the trip was almost like a vacation,” Fog laughed. “It was pretty laid-back and very beautiful. I had never really spent a lot of time on a river, so it was a good experience.”
After their riparian adventure, the students spent 30 days canyoneering in the Escalante Wilderness area of southern Utah. They learned how to navigate the miles and miles of canyons and mesas by compass and map, and how to collect water from potholes.
“It was a ‘No Man’s Land’,” said Fog. “We would hike all day, doing water searches. The longest water search we went on was 19 hours.”
Fog shared that the most challenging part of the entire course was the 50-hour solo and fast experience. Fog was dropped off at a remote location in the southern Utah wilderness.
“I read a book twice,” Fog smiled. “I thought about food a lot. I actually planned out what I was going to do those first two weeks back home after the course. I planned out every hour of every day, and when I got back, I lived it out.”
The last section of the course was 12 days spent winter camping and skiing in the Absoroka Range in Wyoming. Fog and his course-mates built a snow shelter called a “quinzhee,” similar to an igloo, which they lived in to shield them from the elements.
“We would mound snow nine feet high and six feet around,” explained Fog. “One person would climb on top and start digging, and another person would start digging from the side, then meet in the middle. We’d wait for it to harden and then hollow the whole thing out.”
Following completion of the NOLS course, Fog is now certified in wilderness first aid and as a master educator in Leave No Trace, which allows him to teach Leave No Trace to others. He also earned 16 college credits through the University of Wyoming.
“The skills I learned I will have with me for a lifetime,” Fog said. “Now, I have the skills to go out and do it on my own.”