“The more you focus on the outcome, the worse you do. Be mindful and focus on the move. You’ll be more successful.”

That’s the lesson Abigail Mayfield took home from a recent NOLS expedition. It’s a lesson she will carry into all aspects of her life. That’s the beauty of time spent with NOLS. The participant is encouraged to take home a lot more than technical knowledge. Rising in the still morning hours, she drove under cover of the pink lighted sky to join the group at the coordinated spot. Surrounded by the rising Pinyon-Junipers and a variety of shrub and brush, she met with her teammates at the foothills of their ascent.

The National Outdoor Leadership School is a wilderness education school that strives to instill its students with environmental ethics, technical outdoor skills, safety, judgment, and leadership moxie. It’s a unique wilderness experience. The most reputable in the industry, according to another member of the group that Abigail spoke with. This member felt that joining a NOLS group would ensure her ability to work as an outdoor leader.

When Abigail met the man who would become her husband in Austin, he tried to interest her in his climbing hobby. The flatlands of Texas and the indoor walls didn’t inspire her. It wasn’t until they relocated to Vegas for her doctoral program that she could hear the Nevada ranges outside her kitchen window calling. A conversation with a university colleague ignited her interest. It was a great way for Abigail and her husband to integrate into their new community. So she headed for the gym. She learned basic skills but it left her yearning for the real thing. She joined a NOLS group in this last autumn for her first outdoor climbing trip at Red Rock Canyon.

She’d already spent time hiking and camping the majestic scenery of the locale. The Aztec Sandstone provides easy routes for new climbers that make it a perfect location to become an expert climber. As enthusiasts gain skill, there are plenty of challenging courses as well.

She found that one of the most important technical skills to learn is the fall. There is a right way and a wrong way to fall. Knowing the right way, and knowing that falling didn’t have to mean injury or death removed the fear in climbing. It gave her the confidence to be mindful and enjoy the moment, and ultimately to be more successful.

“When you’re worried, you cling and grip so tightly that you exhaust yourself and your muscles.”

Even courage learned in warfare didn’t necessarily translate to this environment. The group included a military conflict veteran. His training jumping out of helicopters into battle didn’t mean that he had no fear of falling. He needed to learn the skill just as much as any other member of the group.

The problem solving aspect of climbing forced Abigail to be creative and generate new ways of getting up the wall. Indoor climbing had allowed her to choose courses suited to her height. Without the same arm and leg extension of someone taller, she had to figure out new techniques to accommodate the disadvantage. She did not have the luxury to worry about pulling off the move elegantly. Again, she found that what she was doing would apply in many life situations, “There’s times when it’s messy but you got up there.”

There was no patronizing on the expedition. Days were 6 to 8 hours a day. It’s a collaborative not competitive effort with people from a diversity of backgrounds. Fellow climbers included members ranging in age from their early 20’s to early 30’s, veterans, elementary and high school teachers, and college students. The spectrum varied just as widely as the people from those who had never climbed to those were already teaching the craft. Shared experiences and communal meals built strong bonds among the disparate students.

[bctt tweet=”The NOLS student is learning to be a teacher.”]

The NOLS student is learning to be a teacher. Once a skill is learned, the expeditionist is given the opportunity to pass the knowledge along to the next person. Progression was built into the program. Climbers had to demonstrate adequate skill behind a lead climber before they could lead climb. There was a mock lead before actual lead climbing. The course included shared roles. Students broke into groups in the morning and shared the task of carrying gear. Instructors were firm about their guidance and boundaries but not authoritarian. They explained the reasoning behind decisions and were open to feedback. A male student who removed his shirt was asked to put it back on. He resisted the interference but complied when the group leaders explained that it wasn’t a balanced environment for the female students.

The unexpected downside to the event was the high level of the quality of the course. It opened Abigail’s’ eyes to poor skills she’d picked up from the less experienced indoor climbers at the gym. But at the same time gave her the skills to help transfer the knowledge to other climbers. The course placed great emphasis on safety and proper climbing skills. Even with all safety measures in place, a climber is literally trusting his or her life in the hands of others when they work together. Everyone wants to know that¬†trust is well placed.

[bctt tweet=”Everything learned in the NOLS environment transfers to daily life.”]

Everything learned in the NOLS environment transfers to daily life. Students simultaneously learn self-reliance and teamwork, responsibility, and perseverance in accomplishing a goal. All much needed and easily transferable skills off the mountain. Abigail is working on her doctorate in Neuropsychology and completing a thesis study on genetic predisposition in Bipolar Disorder patients. She has assisted with research presentations at several National Neuropsychology Board conferences. She walks away from her time with a renewed strength and confidence to achieve the goals she has set for herself.

Guest Contributor

Ariella AbrahamsAriella Abrahams is a US expatriate currently living in Jerusalem, Israel. She earned her degree in Journalism at Webster University in St. Louis Missouri. She currently works as a medical coder and specializes in writing on medical topics but will accept any excuse to take the reader on an adventure. You can find her portfolio at ariellaabrahams.com