Shelburne resident completes NOLS Wilderness Expedition

Julian Lacroix, 24, of Shelburne recently completed a semester-long wilderness expedition in India with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
NOLS functions on the precept that challenge leads to growth, leadership can be learned, and that a challenging outdoor environment is the best place for both of those things to happen. During the semester in India, students did not have access to modern conveniences and were challenged to step outside their comfort zones.
After Lacroix and his nine course mates landed at New Delhi International Airport, they took an overnight bus journey from New Delhi to reach the NOLS India Base at Ranikher.
Before heading into the backcountry, the students completed a 40-hour Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) course. Students learned how to monitor patients over time and improvise treatment method when traditional medical care is not available.
The ten students and three instructors continued the semester-long adventure with 30-days of backpacking in the Kumaon and Garhwal regions of India’s Himalaya. As students traversed these rugged, glacier-carved ranges, the thick conifer and broad-leaf trees found in lower altitudes turned to evergreen, rhododendron, and juniper forest areas in the high ridges. On this section, students carried all belongings on their backs while hiking through soaring mountains, surrounded by perennial snow and ice of the Himalaya. Lacroix and his course mates worked hard traveling over steep, rocky terrain at high altitudes with heavy packs. The curriculum focused on the basics of backcountry travel: camping, cooking, map reading, stove use, and leave no trace techniques.
From hiking the group transitioned to river rafting on the River Kali, which forms part of the border between India and Nepal. First, they focused on paddle rafting, captaining skills, mastering stroke combinations, timing and communication skills. As students mastered basic skills, this section progressed to learning hazard evaluation, hydrology, and rescue techniques such as flipping and raft rescue.
Next, the course entered a cultural section, which is unique in that students had the most extensive cultural experience of any NOLS course. In India, attempting to learn about the culture is a sign of respect. The village of Kalika was the location for the 11-day cultural experience. This tiny hamlet sits at 6,200 feet and has a spectacular view of the Greater Himalaya range. Lacroix and his course mates participated in a homestay, where they learned first-hand what it is like to live in remote, rural India. Students helped with household chores and ate meals with their host families. Curriculum during this section focused on yoga, forest use, landscapes, and traditional farming practices.
The culminating section of the semester was a 10-day independent student expedition. After instructors deemed the group competent wilderness travelers, the students planned and executed a travel route without instructors for the final days of the course. Students saw pristine Himalayan wilderness and interacted with local villagers along their route.
The semester in India was full of exploration, cultural immersion and bonds that will last a lifetime. Students learned risk management, judgment, outdoor living, and environmental studies lessons not taught in a traditional classroom setting. Lacroix and his course mates graduated from their NOLS course competent and responsible wilderness travelers and leaders. They join the NOLS alumni network of over 221,000 graduates.