NIU Outdoor Adventures trains new trip leaders

This past fall semester, NIU’s Outdoor Adventure (OA) department hired and trained seven new trip leaders (NTLs). During this semester-long training, this relatively novice group of outdoors’ people had to show up for weekly skills training sessions, staff meetings, attend a two-day first aid training, participate in an overnight camping/hiking trip at Rock Cut State Park, and finally, design/facilitate a weeklong wilderness trip of their choosing.

Starting in September, our OA team interviewed 10 applicants and hired seven of the most qualified and passionate. This group became our 2019 NTL training cohort and consisted of: Ben Warren, Caleb Flynn, Heather Anderson, Joe Nelson, Maddie Grobe, Michael Gonzalez and Julian Cazares. Their training began with a welcome orientation, where we reviewed the semester training schedule, discussed expectations and outlined the timeline for acceptance into the trip leader role.

Throughout the fall, the NTLs attended weekly scheduled events and trainings. In November, NIU sent our NTLs to Chicago for a two-day NOLS Wilderness Medicine Training. During this intense 16-hour certification program, these students learned and practiced wilderness medical skills to deliver first aid in a remote wilderness context where access to definitive medical care may be hours or days away.

These NIU trip leaders learned and practiced the NOLS Patient Assessment System, which is used to provide care to students in a remote wilderness context. Students were asked to perform these newly learned skills in hypothetical medical scenarios during the training. They also were asked to demonstrate these skills a few weeks later on the weekend overnight training at Rock Cut State Park. This training provided our leaders with the knowledge to splint a broken bone, wrap a sprained ankle and assess a patient with less apparent symptoms to better serve future participants of NIU Outdoor Adventure trips.

One of the most significant hurdles that we asked our NTLs to jump over to work for Outdoor Adventures was the planning and execution of the end of semester training trip. Our NTLs planned out a weeklong trip to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico in December 2019. In organizing this trip, the new trip leaders had to practice vision and planning skills to prepare for every aspect of this weeklong course (transportation, gear, food, routes, permitting, risk management, time management, etc.). The NTLs had to successfully execute this trip as the final challenge in their semester-long training to prepare them to take on the trip leader role this spring.

In total on this weeklong trip our new trip leaders:

  • Drove an NIU van and trailer over 3,000 miles.
  • Hiked 10 miles.
  • Crossed an ice cold and partially frozen river 24 times.
  • Prepared 14 group meals (using backcountry cooking equipment).
  • Carried roughly 40 pounds of food, climbing gear and camping equipment in the wilderness on each of their backpacks.
  • Spent 7+ hours giving and receiving feedback to each other during debriefs.
  • Planned the trip and organized gear.

There were some hiccups, but these new trip leaders did a fantastic job rising to the challenge and thinking on their feet when things did not go to plan. By showing their competence in completing the entire semester of training, delivering wilderness first aid effectively and executing such a complicated cross-country weeklong course, we are certain that these experienced new leaders will help facilitate amazing NIU Outdoor Adventure Trips for years to come!

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