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.

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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.

Patagonia: Reflections on the Best Trip Ever

It’s been almost 6 weeks since we got back to toilet paper, heat and the comforts of New York City living. I don’t think any of us miss dipping our hands in the cold streams to fill the drom with water or the twenty minutes it took to boil water before we could even start to make our meals — but there’s a lot we do miss. We had our reunion lunch on Friday, January 30 and it was clear that, if nothing else, we missed each other.

It was hard during the trip and immediately following it to really reflect on our experience. In the moment, we were all too consumed by thoughts of how we’d get through this bush, when we’d take a water break, how we’d get down this cliff, where we’d set up our tent to avoid sleeping on cow dung, what we could make for dinner other than cheesy pasta… you get the idea. It’s amazing how different (and liberating) it is to remove the stressors of the real world and literally think about nothing but, “Where will I put my food next?” Now, we’re all back to the real world — our heads swirling with thoughts about interviews, new first years and Thursday’s after party — but it was important to take the time to get together as a group and reminisce.

At our reunion lunch, being just enough removed from the adventure, we were able to reflect on our struggles, triumphs and lessons learned from the trip. Having written papers about our goals for the class, feedback from peers and our achievement of these goals, we shared excerpts with each other — many lessons we had talked about on the trail, but some we had not. Paraphrased, here are some of our collective reflections:

  • I came to recognize the importance of self-care; understanding my needs and meeting them, before I was able to help meet the needs of others (“in the event of a change in cabin pressure… put on your air mask before assisting others”)
  • I used to think that resilience was about not caring, forgetting about something and moving on from it, but I came to realize it’s the exact opposite. Resilience is about caring, caring deeply, learning from something and growing, having the courage to care so much that no obstacle is too great.
  • We all wanted to complain at some point, but I tried to be conscious of what I complained about. We all experienced the rain, so whining about being wet only brought us all down. But when I had a personal need, sharing that allowed the group to help me solve it. Some complaints are best left for my journal, and some are important to say aloud. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • I didn’t realize how much impact my choices, my behavior and my attitude could have on others. It would have been easy to choose to be negative when times got tough. Instead, we all consciously made the decision to bring others up instead of letting ourselves get dragged down.
  • Life moves fast… if we don’t take the time to enjoy the sights, we might miss them.

In addition, we also learned a lot about our own leadership style — as a designated leader, as a peer leader and as an active follower. We learned how to use our style to motivate and support others, how our style is perceived by others, and how to work with other styles that may be quite different.

I’m confident that our group will continue to reflect on these learnings in our ‘front country’ life, in addition to savoring the memories of our adventure and enjoying the beautiful pictures — see a few below. (Photo credit: Yingtao Sun)


One of our few hiking days on a ‘trail’… and a great view of our 60 pound packs.


So many stars in Patagonia, though it was quite late before it got dark enough to see them — the sun set at about 9:30 and rose at about 4:30.


One group climbed up this, the other climbed down…


When it wasn’t raining or snowing… mornings looked like this!

Patagonia: Out of the wild

The electric wires stopped running at least 10 kilometers from where we entered Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo – making it a little challenging to blog. So here’s the belated recap of the trip…

Our class of 28 students traveled almost 6,000 miles (but only two time zones) to Coyhaique, a small town south of Santiago, Chile, where we entered Patagonia. Coyhaique is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) base camp for the Patagonia region. NOLS runs outdoor leadership classes throughout the year in many different parts of the world, typically offering 30- or 80-day courses in camping, mountaineering, sea kayaking and more, including a “semester abroad” opportunity for college students. (Yes, an entire semester, no shower.)

After one last dinner of pizza and beer, and one last sleep in dreamy hotel beds, the class arrived at base camp early on the morning of December 13. We reviewed our gear, rented and bought what other gear we needed, divided our group gear among our tent teams, learned how to pack our packs, and perhaps most importantly, had our last meal of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Then, with our 55-70 pound packs, we rode a bus to the entrance of the park and the adventure began.

The two teams of 14 students and 3 (AMAZING!) instructors each planned to travel the same route, but in opposite directions. Some days we walked on trails, other days we bushwhacked through the dense lenga tree forest and crossed rivers up to our knees; some days we walked uphill all day, other days we went up and down and up and down river drainage after drainage. Each day we were awake early to boil water, make breakfast, tear down camp and hike all day. When we arrived at the “X” at the end of the day, we’d find a good place for camp, pitch our tents, set up our “kitchens” and make dinner (cheesy pasta was a team favorite, but pizza, pad thai and risotto bolognese were also on the menu). With all the work to be done to get our basic needs met, there wasn’t exactly time for sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories.

The “peak” of the route was a pass, or saddle, in the shadow of Cerro Castillo, with snow-covered terrain on one side and a steep boulder field on the other. On Day 1, it seemed impossible that we would get to this point, but both teams made it triumphantly. We all took some time to reflect on the incredible journey we had so far, and what we were starting to learn about ourselves and our own strength – physically and mentally. The way down wasn’t exactly “easy” but after what we had accomplished, anything was possible.

During our route we encountered all types of terrain, temperature swings from 80 degrees to 25 degrees, sun, rain and snow. At times, we thought there was a NOLS instructor sitting in a control room somewhere watching for when we got comfortable and sending obstacle after obstacle our way. (“Oh, it’s warm and dry, let’s send in the horseflies.”) Every day was different, and every day was rewarding. Every day we were faced with a different challenge, and every day we were proud of our ability to tackle them, while maintaining high spirits and learning something new. On our last night, we shared what we would take with us to our “front country” life – it was amazing how many lessons were transferable to our very different world of excel spreadsheets and conference calls.

After 9 nights with no electricity, we returned to the land of cellphones and Internet. We eagerly checked in with friends and family (we made it!) and exchanged stories (and wilderness recipes) with the other team. We enjoyed one buzz-inducing glass of wine and asado at basecamp before heading to our hotels for multiple showers and pillows! Most of us made it back to our families in time for the holidays or on to our next adventure.

I know I’m still reflecting on the experience that we had – I miss sleeping 4 inches away from my amazing tent mates, but I don’t miss waiting forever for the water to boil for hot drinks. We have a reunion class in a few weeks, after which I’ll share more about what everyone learned on the trip. Until then, Happy New Year to all – may 2015 be filled with many memorable adventures, like this one!