Patagonia, Chile: Getting ready

Female urination device, headlamp, foldable silicone bowls and cups… The list of things that I never thought would end up in my Amazon shopping cart goes on.

For someone who has never been camping or trekking, I still wonder what drew me to sign up for a 10-day long backcountry expedition in Patagonia, Chile. I generally consider myself a risk-averse person, where most decisions I make are based on careful assessments of logistics, details and plan Bs. But this time it was different; Had I actually given much thought about the details of this trip (10 days with no shower, the physical burden of carrying a 50 lbs bag, being without a phone the whole time, dealing with the aftermath of your period, etc) I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to sign up. However, I’ve learned to become more comfortable with taking risks and playing with the unknown since I came to CBS. So instead of focusing on the details, I simply thought of a famous quote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” As someone who has always lived within a certain boundary of comfort, I figured this was a great opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and find out which version of me will show up at the end.

The current version of me takes a slew of vitamins each morning, is heavily dependent on freshly brewed coffee, applies multiple layers of skincare, and puts on a dental retainer at night. Geez, I never realized how high-maintenance I was until I started packing for this trip and decided none of these were worth the extra weight I need to carry on my back. Deciding which items are essential enough to make the cut is an interesting process of recognizing how much time and effort we allocate each day on trivial matters. I wonder if everyone else on this trip had similar thoughts while packing.

It is the day before the big expedition, and as I write this post in my nicely heated hotel room I’m still not sure what to expect for the next 10 days. Whether I’ll come out at the end as a disordered mess, a changed person with new life perspectives, or somewhere in between, I really have no clue. But one thing I know for sure is that it will be nothing close to my expectations, for better or worse.

Written by Christina (Tina) Kong, Class of 2020.

Patagonian Lessons in Leadership

Now that we’ve returned to the joys of modern plumbing and food that hasn’t had to be rehydrated, there’s been time to reflect on our expedition in Patagonia.

Some students refer to the trip as “Patagucci,” the implication being that an opportunity to earn 3 academic credits while hiking in the Chilean wilderness must be a business school boondoggle. I’m fairly sure the mental image conjured by most people is of a bunch of students decked head-to-toe in Patagonia mountaineering apparel, sitting around a campfire with marshmallows, singing camp songs. The reality was very different. As arduous as the journey was, each of us came back grateful for the experience. What’s more, we walked (or in some cases, hobbled) away with some important takeaways on leadership and team dynamics.

  1. Embrace uncertainty- don’t avoid it. There were so many moments when we faced risky and unpredictable situations. We had to make decisions with very little information. We’d start out on a promising route and have to change our strategy partway through because the way we’d chosen was impassable. In some sense, this was the way in which the trip was most analogous to the business world- leaders face constant uncertainty in daily operations. Sometimes the greatest measure of the leader is not how well they plan, but how well they adapt to circumstances.
  • Facts vs. the narrative. In every situation, there are the objective facts and the story we tell ourselves about those facts. E.g., We’ve been hiking for 6 hours. My pack is roughly half of my body weight. My feet are blistering in my sodden boots. These are all indisputable things that are happening- we have no control over the facts. The question becomes: will we choose to look for the best in a situation, or the worst? Some of the most effective leaders in history are those who are able change the course of events just by shaping the narrative around them.
  • When you make a decision, own it. On my day as designated leader, I had a lot of doubt regarding whether I was making the best decisions for the group, or if there was a better option. I felt personally responsible for the well-being of my team, and wanted to make the day as smooth and easy as possible for them. That was not to be! I had to do the best I could with the information I had, and then stand by that choice and not second-guess it. No one wants to follow a leader who is constantly apologizing for their decisions, or wishing they had done something differently. Leaders should learn from their mistakes, but should also be able to distinguish between mistakes and circumstances beyond their control.
  • Your team is crucial. We had a lot of really tough days during this expedition. Each of us was tested in different ways. No matter how bad things got, I always knew I could rely on the people in my group. I was so grateful to be part of a team that worked every day to be positive, supportive, and helpful to one another. There were days when it was so hard to stay optimistic, or even be pleasant, and hardly anyone complained, even despite great hardship. Our success was due to everyone’s positivity, selflessness, and work ethic. I realized how crucial it will be throughout my career to have a good team to fall back on when times are hard.

As challenging as the trip was, I miss it. There was a beautiful simplicity in having to do nothing more than get from Point A to Point B in a day. There was a sense of pride and resilience. There was a daily feeling of gratitude. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and also one of the most rewarding.

On the Trail with CBLE2

Other global immersion programs can keep their 3 and 4-star hotels, their balloon rides over temples, their drinks by the beach and their multi-course meals. On GIP Patagonia, we sacrificed toenails, patches of skin, broken trekking poles, and boots whose soles detached mid-trip. With our blood, sweat, and tears, we put the “immersion” in global immersion program. It was worth every blister and bruise.  

This is an account of Columbia Business Expedition 2’s (CBLE2) trek through Cerro Castillo National Park.

DAY 1: The Expedition Begins!

The class travels to NOLS headquarters outside of Coyhaique, Chile to sort our gear, collect rations, and pack backpacks. Most packs weigh in at about 50lbs each. CBLE2, which consists of 10 CBS students and 2 NOLS instructors, is transported 2 hours to the drop-off point, where we make camp in a field for the night. Our instructor, Pablo, delivers a memorable and extensive demonstration on the proper technique for defecating in the woods. We learn how to light WhisperLite stoves and pitch tents. Then it’s early to bed in anticipation of our first full day of hiking.

The entire class for GIP Patagonia, pre-departure

DAY 2: Into the Breach

Distance Traveled: Approximately 2km in 8 hours

Our goal for the day is to follow the river through a forest, about 6km to camp. We set a route based on the topographical map, avoiding areas with closely-grouped contour lines, which denote steep elevation gains. Each contour line represents about 20m rise in elevation. What the map does not show is gain below 20m. Nor does it show the state of the forest itself, which consists of lenga trees. These trees, along with thorny calafate bushes, grow thickly throughout the terrain.

The lenga forest
Photo: Katherine Bergstrom

This translates to 8 hours of bushwhacking through the forest, struggling through vegetation, pulling ourselves up 10-12m ravines by prickly calafate bushes. We go as far as we can until the sun is close to setting, and then we make camp. We know that we haven’t made our intended destination for the day (we will later realize that we have only trekked 2 of the 6km we’d set as a goal for the day), but the terrain is too technical to risk hiking in the dark. There isn’t any flat land on which to pitch tents, so we hack shallow pits into the dirt and string up tarps as cover overhead. Our backpacks go under our feet to keep us from sliding down the slope, and we sleep shoulder-to-shoulder, 5 people per tarp. In the middle of the night it starts raining, but we are too tired to care.

Jamie Merolla (’19) executes our first river crossing

DAY 3- And Then There Were Nine

Distance Traveled: 2km in 4 hrs

On day 3, we encounter our first group setback as a team member is medically evacuated. She experienced significant knee pain during the hike the day before, and was afraid that she had aggravated an old injury. In consultation with our NOLS instructors, she decides that she should turn back and not complete the expedition. NOLS instructor Pablo, Jamie Merolla (’19), and Lorenzo Casalini (’19) mobilize as an evac team to hike her back to the drop-off point, where NOLS will collect her and bring her back to base camp for medical examination.

The rest of the group, led by NOLS instructor Mita, will continue to the site where we had intended to camp the day before and wait for the runner team to return to us. Four hours of bushwhacking later, we make camp next to a huge drainage.

DAY 4- And on the Fourth Day, They Rested

The group rests and waits for the evac team to find us, which they do my mid-afternoon. The bad news: after 3 days of hiking, we still haven’t reached our destination for day 1. This effectively means that we have no cushion in our route; we will have push harder to make up the time lost.

DAY 5- La Playa, Found

Distance traveled: ~6km in 6 hrs

For the first time, we split into two student-led teams of 5-6 people. Over the course of the expedition, each student will have an opportunity to lead a team for the day, setting the route, navigating the terrain, and engaging in consultative decision-making. Each team is self-sufficient, carrying enough gear and supplies so that if for some reason we don’t reunite at set meeting point at the end of the day, we can still camp comfortably and safely.

Fortune finally smiles on the group. My team, led by Thirza Koppert (’19), drops out of the lenga forest to the river. We hike along the dry river bed and make good time to camp. We even overshoot our goal for the day, making it further than we’d hoped, which is a real morale booster. Both self-sufficient teams celebrate by washing our clothes in the river, sunbathing, and building a small bonfire on the bank after dinner. Spencer Flasjer (’19), whose rallying cry has been, “Vamos a la playa!” (“Let’s go to the beach!”) is delighted.

DAY 6- Alpinists

Distance traveled: ?km in 7 hrs

We leave the lenga forest to hike into alpine territory, almost 600m up. Now that we are out of the forest and above the tree line, I’m finally able to enjoy the scenery past my own boots. Our route is up through a mountain pass, over a saddle, and down to a glacier lake. The ground is nothing more than loose scree over sheer cliffs that drop into the valley. The higher we get, the more thrilling the view, and the more dizzying the drop. The terrain makes several of us uneasy (especially those afraid of heights), but we press on without complaint. Also troubling is the fact that the tops of Moni Vinuales’s (’19) brand-new hiking boots have started separating from the soles. Pablo has attempted to cobble them back together using duct tape and needle and thread, but it’s a losing battle. We’re not sure what alternative Moni has, since her only other pair of shoes is an old pair of running shoes- not ideal for trekking.

After a tough slog upwards, the glacier lake is a beautiful sight- the blueness of the water is inconceivable. There’s only one problem: there’s no shoreline around the lake, and we have to pass to the other side. There is, however, a ring of snow that has accumulated around the rim, and we hike through it. At one point, Mita says to me, “Elizabeth, please slow down. If you slip and fall into the lake right now, I can’t help you.” I pick more carefully over the snow.

We make camp on the other side of the lake. The view is spectacular- on one side the lake, on the other a cliff that drops down over 100m into the next valley. There is no dirt in which to drive our tent stakes, so Pablo and Mita show us how to anchor the tents using big rocks. We try to find spots next to boulders to shield our tents from the wind, which is gusting forcefully. Once it gets dark, we stay up as late as we can stand in the cold and watch the stars come out. We all agree that it’s one of the most incredible sights we’ve ever seen.   

Before we turn in, the instructors casually remark, “So tonight we need you all to make sure you’re packed up so if the wind gets too high and we have to evacuate in the middle of the night, you can grab your stuff quickly and go.” When we ask if that is likely, Pablo shrugs and says, “Yeah.” Each time the tent is buffeted by the wind during the night (read: several times an hour), I’m up like a shot, waiting to hear Pablo and Mita yell for us to leave. We make it through without incident, however.

DAY 7- Taking the Helm for the Day

Distance traveled: ~6km in 8 hrs

 “Oh [expletive],” is my first thought on day 7. It is my day as designated leader, where I will take one of the two self-sufficient teams through our planned route. Today we are descending back into a valley, down a very steep and precarious rock face, with lots of small, loose rocks. What concerns me when I wake up is the sound of rain- and wind- on the tent. Safety is my primary concern, and the already technical route has become riskier with the inclement weather.

We make it down safely, thanks in large part to Max Esteves (’19) and Ben McCabe (’19), who act as scouts, helping determine the best path for the team. At this point, Mita has traded her hiking boots for Moni’s old running shoes, and is hiking with very little support or traction. I am trying to be mindful of her situation as we hike. Once we get properly into the valley, we are dismayed to find that the forest along the river is much like the one we’ve just left two days ago- filled with steep ravines, huge drainages, and thick vegetation.

I start kicking myself- I feel personally responsible for leading the team through this situation. I’m convinced that I made a mistake, and if I had chosen a different path, we’d be making better time. At one point I turn to Max, an experienced mountaineer, and say, “What could I have done better here? Where did I go wrong?” He looks at me and says, “Hey, this is a tough day. There’s no right or wrong answer. We’re all here making these decisions with you- you’re not alone. This terrain is just difficult.” I appreciate his support, but have a hard time getting out of my own head.

We make it to the designated meeting spot about 10 minutes after the other self-sufficient team arrives. They had a similarly arduous day, climbing way up into the forest in a fruitless search for a flat way forward. During our team debrief, my group encourages me to be a more assertive leader, and to work harder at fighting off self-doubt.

DAY 8- A Taste of the Good Life

Distance traveled: ~8km in 8 hrs

Eureka: my cooking group realizes at breakfast that hot oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate transform into an alchemical combination. Try it at home, it’s delicious.

The expedition is winding down, and we are racing towards the finish point. Our goal for the day is to get out of the lenga forest once and for all, and make our way to a lake, where we will camp. The next day we’ll locate the first trail of the expedition and follow it to the pickup point. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Probably a close translation of what Icarus said right before he took his wax wings for their first test flight.

Somehow my self-sufficient team is incredibly fortunate, and after a steep ascent, we find a cattle trail. No longer required to bushwhack, we make our way into a series of lush fields, with tall grasses, sweet-smelling clover, and small clumps of cattle. We are giddy with happiness. We arrive at camp at around 6pm, and pitch tents under a grove of cherry trees, which we raid and stuff ourselves with fruit.

Darkness gathers, and around 9pm, we realize that the other team isn’t coming. We assume that they were unable to find the trail that we stumbled across, and had to make camp for the night elsewhere. NOLS protocol dictates that if one team isn’t able to make it to the meeting point on the designated day, they have until noon the following day to catch up.

DAY 9- Sweet Reunion

Distance traveled: ~6km in 10 hrs

By noon, the other self-sufficient team hasn’t yet arrived, and we are starting to worry. Our team has had a leisurely breakfast (a makeshift cherry cobbler made from leftover granola, butter, sugar, and local cherries), filled our water bladders, packed our gear, and enjoyed spotting wildlife- 3 condor and a fox. We are about to strike out in search of the other team, when they straggle in around 1pm, clearly exhausted. They have been hiking since 7am, after a particularly grueling previous day. While we had crossed the river and ventured across the left side of the forest, they had stayed on the right, only to learn that there was no way to reach the lake from that side. They had to backtrack and cross the river to make it to the meeting point.

I ask Spencer what had been the toughest part. He says, “Where we camped, there was no real water source. There was ground water falling down the mountain, but it was more of a trickle than a stream, and we had to dig to get to it. It was getting dark, and I was sitting alone, holding my water bottle in one hand, and tapping drops of water off of a leaf into the bottle with the other hand. All of a sudden, my nose started bleeding, and I realized I didn’t have enough hands, so I sat bleeding until I finished filling my water bottle.”

We give the other team an hour regroup and rehydrate before setting off for our final hike. We hike up into the mountains, searching for a part of the trail that the map indicated would lead us down to a flat plain, where we can walk on a service road out to the pickup point. However, we never find the split in the trail. We keep ascending until close to sundown, at which point we realize we have to get off the mountain quickly before dark. We have already called NOLS to see if we can push back our pickup time for the next day, but they respond: “Pickup is at 7am. We can’t change the schedule.”

Finding our way off the mountain is the first time I have seen either Pablo or Mita a bit unsettled. There is no trail, and we are forced to find our own way down a sheer cliff face. At certain points, we remove and lower our packs down the mountain, and then rappel down without ropes or harnesses, using only califate bushes (we have all taken to wearing winter gloves while hiking to minimize the number of thorns that embed themselves in our hands), or cracks in the rock as hand and footholds. Everyone is tired and dehydrated, particularly the team that has been hiking since 7am. After a hairy scrabble down the mountainside, we reach the plain around nightfall. We ford our last river and hike another 4km up the service road to the pickup point. We make camp at midnight. We have hiked about 10 hours all together; the team that was delayed has hiked 16 hours in one day.

Lorenzo Casalini (’19), looking at the mountain we had just rappelled down

DAY 10- Back to NOLS

We are up at 6am to pack up and ready ourselves for the bus back to base camp. We fill out evaluations and paperwork en route. Once we unload at NOLS, we have to go through gear check, cleaning out tents, washing backpacks, returning unused rations. Then we are allowed to shower for the first time in 10 days. My hair is so greasy that I have to wash it twice before the shampoo suds. Our legs boast constellations of bruises.

We are too exhausted to really reflect on the experience. We head back to Coyhaique to eat our way through the town.

Patagonia Recap Video

Since coming back from the Patagonia Global Immersion trek I’ve been asked a lot about the trip and have found it difficult to express the details of the trip with words alone. Describing natural beauty is hard. Describing life-changing experiences is perhaps harder.

To help make sharing the experience a little easier, I created this short video shot over 8 days, during moments of physical challenge, personal reflection, and joy.

Sho Fujiwara ’18

Patagonia 2018: Reflections from the wilderness

26 CBS students split into 3 separate groups recently made their way through the backcountry of the Patagonia wilderness over 8 days of hiking. Each group was led by two instructors from NOLS who taught us essential backpacking and navigation skills while instilling in us an appreciation for the power and beauty of the wilderness. Each day, the groups split up into hiking teams led by a Designated Leader from the team, responsible for delegating roles and leading their team to that evening’s destination. Each night at camp, the hiking teams would sit down to reflect, debrief, give feedback, and set plans for the following day.

Resting both body and mind mid-hike

Despite these structural guidelines for the trek, there was plenty of uncertainty and ambiguity to manage. Routes planned the night before were often revealed in reality to be impossible to traverse, requiring significant backpedaling or consideration of more difficult terrain. Beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine would be blown away before our eyes, replaced with strong gusts of wind and rain which forced us to scramble to put up tarps to keep dry. Aches and pains in our backs and legs would make us question whether we had the physical strength and fortitude to put on our 60-pound bags the following day for another full day of hiking.

We quickly learned that dry feet are a luxury in Patagonia

MBA students are natural planners, and leading teams under this adversity and ambiguity was a challenge for many. Luckily, MBA students are also adaptable and quick to learn, and by the last few days we had the technical competency to navigate through the uncertainties of the wilderness with little guidance from our instructors. Instead of fearing the remaining adversity and uncertainty that no level of skill or experience could overcome, we learned to tolerate and at times even welcome it (an ability that we all hope to bring back into our “frontcountry” lives).

Sunny skies quickly gave way to cold rain and wind during the Alpine pass

As business school students in New York City, our minds are always one phone buzz, ping, reminder, or alarm away from being pulled into a world of coffee chats, interview preparation, and social media interactions. Removed from those distractions in Chilean Patagonia, we experienced a level of flow and focus on the present that is almost impossible to capture in our daily lives. The expedition allowed us to press pause on the constant stream of information, responsibilities, and deadlines that run through our days, offering us the opportunity to reflect on personal goals, to appreciate the privilege that allowed us to experience such beautiful landscapes, and to center ourselves before facing head-on the last semester of business school.

Strong Patagonian winds not pictured

Sho Fujiwara ’18

Anticipating Adventure in Patagonia

Ever since I signed up for the GIP Patagonia excursion this past summer, I’ve been trying to imagine the upcoming expedition. Through reading previous year’s blogposts and looking at photographs of past treks, I have a vague idea of what to expect from the Patagonian landscape – magnificent scenery, starry night skies, and volatile weather that can swing from downpour to sunshine within an hour. However, I’ve found it almost impossible to imagine the emotions and feelings I will experience, from the full-body fatigue after grueling daylong hikes with a 60-pound bag to the euphoria of conquering a particularly challenging climb or river crossing.

As someone who likes to plan ahead, the ambiguity and uncertainty of how I will handle a 10-day hike is admittedly a bit nerve-wracking. To offset the anxiety, I’ve spent the past few months mentally and physically preparing myself, including a daylong hike in the Catskills with the Leadership Lab and carrying a 40-pound backpack (full of weights and textbooks) around Brooklyn and Central Park. Of course, New York City is not Patagonia. Similar to practicing for a competition, performance, or presentation, it’s impossible to simulate the conditions of the actual event, but hopefully the practice (no matter how artificial) has prepared me to better deal with the unexpected.

My classmates and I will be flying to Chile in less than a week, and I think all of us are walking the fine line between excitement and anxiety for what’s to come. Outside of individual preparation like mine, as a class we’ve spent the last semester discussing decision-making under pressure, learning about trekking gear and equipment, and practicing wilderness techniques like administering first aid and reading topographical maps. I think we’re as ready as we’ll ever be for the expedition, and I’m looking forward to finally stop anticipating and start experiencing.

Sho Fujiwara ’18

One GIP to the Next

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ‘17

While returning from the recent GIP Nordic Family Business trip I found myself reflecting on the differences in GIP programs and my experiences as part of GIP Patagonia. While the bulk of our time in Sweden and Denmark was spent visiting companies to hear about the strategic challenges of management in a family business context, in Patagonia our focus turned inward to reflect on how developing as a leader will impact management capabilities. As I reminisced I wanted to share some of my biggest takeaways from the 10-day expedition in Patagonia –

Flexing Your Style as a Leader:

Our NOLS instructors led us in an exercise to understand our natural leadership style. On the horizontal axis we ranked ourselves on how freely we shared our opinions and on the vertical axis how freely we shared our emotions. The axes produce four quadrants for the four leadership styles people use to approach challenges, conflicts and problem solving. As it turned out our group had a number of drivers and a sprinkling of the other leadership styles. We learned that while each style had its unique strengths and potential weaknesses, our real focus should be on flexing our natural style given a situation or the audience you are working with. We also learned that as leaders we will need to recognize how our natural style can be perceived by others and how to shift into other quadrants in order to best collaborate with and motivate a team.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 10.56.44 AM

Learning While Leading:

The capabilities of our group ranged from a first time camper to an experienced outdoorsperson and yet despite this range we each were called upon to be the leader of the day during the expedition. This real world simulation represented a classic management challenge – when managers lead people in something they have no personal experience with. Because of weather shifts and the countless outdoor survival skills needed (everything from map reading to how to safely cross a rushing river) we each experienced this challenge and built our comfort in learning and leading simultaneously. The team certainly enjoyed tackling glacial climbs and river crossings and I look forward to real-world opportunities to continue practicing!


Reflections on GIP Patagonia

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ’17

Over the course of ten days in January among the trees, mountains, and glaciers of Patagonia, 29 CBS students pushed themselves physically and emotionally as part of the Global Immersion Patagonia Trek. With the support of NOLS instructors and amid the crisp mountain air we each had the opportunity to practice leadership and teambuilding skills. We learned first hand that plans change as fast as the weather and how important it is for leaders to be able to clearly communicate changing plans and motivate their teams.

Our group consisted of nine students from the Columbia Business School community who, while we did not know each other well at the outset of the trip, quickly got to know one another closely around our campfire stoves and over meals of cous cous and soup. Each daily expedition gave us the opportunity to support the designated leader of the day – examining his or her leadership style and providing constructive feedback. We traveresed numerous streams and used the “train technique” to cross an especially strong waist-deep river. The groups persevered amid steep uphill climbs, constant variations in weather, wet socks, heavy bags, and one instructor’s ailing health. We built strong relationships, discovered new passions for wilderness survival techniques, and returned to CBS excited to share our learnings with the broader school community.

By the end of the expedition my team had covered over 35 miles of rough terrain and scaled a mountain to spend time reflecting on group feedback next to a glacial lake. We travelled the furthest south of any of the teams and it felt particularly significant to reflect on my growth as a leader while gazing at stunning glaciers at the bottom of the world.

Photo Credit – Matt Levine

Ready, Set, Take off to Patagonia

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ‘17

CBS students are currently in transit from all over the globe toward Chile to begin our Global Immersion Patagonia expedition. Thirty students will be spending the next ten days working in teams to scale glaciers and explore the wilds of Patagonia. With well-worn hiking boots, cameras, and fingers crossed we are taking to the skies.

Knowing that I’m going to be away from phones and all technology for the next 10 days I have been catching up with family and friends before takeoff. In those conversations I find myself answering the same main question – “Are you ready?” This triggers my internal checklist: Do I have my waterproof jacket? Did I bring the coffee? Can I carry my hiking poles aboard the plane? Is my flight delayed by the recent storms? However while all of these considerations are relevant for my physical arrival in Chile with my equipment, people are really asking about my readiness as a person and as a leader.

Our host in Patagonia, the Northern Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), emphasizes the wilderness living and leadership skills students will practice amid the expedition. NOLS will require each of us to navigate the terrain safely, serve as the designated leader, take initiative, and balance group and personal goals all while living outside. Thus I’ve come to understand that each time someone asks “Are you ready?” they are really asking about whether our CBS cohort is prepared physically and mentally to spend 10 days together actively honing our skills and forging strong relationships. Based on our teamwork throughout the semester and our combined training miles, the answer is “Yes, CBS is ready for NOLS Patagonia and here we come!

Patagonia Preparations

Sonja Weaver-Madsen ’17

With just under two weeks to go until 30 students embark on the GIP Patagonia trip throughout the Coyhaique region, I have found myself reflecting on my preparation throughout the semester. The fall months have been dominated by studying team dynamics, researching waterproofing techniques, and steadily building up a tolerance to carry a 50-60lb. backpack over uneven terrain for 10 days. While I have learned more at my local hiking store than I ever thought possible, in this post I want to share more about our in-class preparation prior to our upcoming meeting with the Northern Outdoor Leadership School guides.

This semester has called on each of us to explore our personal leadership style and think through our goals in taking on this journey. Our first of three intensive sessions with Professor Morris brought us into the field where teams practiced group communication when completing 15 obstacles in Riverside Park. While I was initially unsure about simulating a medical evacuation of a critically injured peer or purifying water using a filtration system just two blocks from campus, I left the session feeling more confident about the upcoming trip. Our second session pushed us to complete an Everest climbing simulation, afterwards debriefing how individual goals impacted each teams’ success. Finally, in our last session we dissected a disastrous expedition to understand the importance of authentic leadership. To close out our offsite preparation we established personal goals and shared them with a teammate who will help to hold us accountable and provide feedback throughout the trek. I’m happy to be embarking on this trip with my committed peers because it is one thing to think through goals from a comfy armchair and quite another to be accountable amid Patagonia’s notoriously volatile weather and long days of hiking. I’m so excited to learn from the men and women who have signed up to share this experience in Patagonia.