Pacific Northwest Semester

Leadership & Guide Training Courses
(80 days)

The IWLS Pacific Northwest semester has it covered, whether paddling among the mysterious inlets and intriguing islands of the coastal rainforest, climbing the peaks and glaciers of the North Cascades, backpacking through a meadow of wildflowers, or crashing through wild rapids. Best of all, you’ll work with a group of professional guides and instructors intent on teaching hard skills and nurturing your leadership potential as you progress through the program. An IWLS Semester typically involves three 24 day courses, but our structure allows you the flexibility to create the schedule that best serves your goals. Consider combining the following programs to customize your semester.

Sea Kayaking With abundant wildlife and a wide variety of paddling conditions, the San Juan Islands are meant to be explored by kayak. And explore them you will. Take time to see the more remote and spectacular islands, like far-flung Sucia Island with its honeycomb cliffs, sea caves, arches and orcas.

Mountaineering Climbers from across the country have come to the North Cascades National Park for generations to learn skills and gain mountaineering experience. Often referred to as the “American Alps,” it is a well-respected training ground for climbers looking to gain skill for a lifetime of mountaineering.

Backpacking & Whitewater A hidden jewel of the Northwest, the Owyhee River runs through terrain that has been referred to as “Oregon’s Grand Canyon”. Along with some of the most phenomenal scenery in the Northwest, this wilderness classroom includes wild rapids, hot springs, birds and wildlife, and a rich cultural history.

The backpacking portion of the course travels from the forested shores of Ross Lake to the heights of the Enchantment Lakes. The variety of terrain in the North Cascades makes for an unrivaled wilderness backpacking experience.

After each segment you will have a few days to unpack, clean up, reconnect with all your loved ones, and prepare for the next portion of the program.

If your first aid isn’t current, consider adding our 10-day Wilderness First Responder course to your semester. This course is available for additional university credit and is the minimum standard for instructors and guides in the outdoor industry.

Upon completion of your summer semester in the Pacific Northwest, you will be a competent and confident leader in variety of terrains and techniques. Qualified students may have the opportunity for employment as a guide or instructor with IWLS.

THE INSTRUCTORS AND GUIDES OF IWLS are widely recognized as some of the very best in their field and have practical leadership experience from around the globe. They are well trained and have an uncommon enthusiasm for sharing their skill and knowledge, borne out of a passion for outdoor exploration.

The International Wilderness Leadership Schools’ educational model nurtures leadership development and creates an awareness of the guiding mentality that is essential for leading safe, fun adventures in the mountains. The combination of technical skills training, experiential education and practical leadership experience make the IWLS curriculum world class.

THE IWLS GENERAL CURRICULUM outlines the essential components for effective outdoor leadership. Here are a few points that the course will focus on.

  • Equipment/Clothing Selection and Use: You’ll learn to choose the right gear for the correct application, whether enjoying a sunny afternoon on a snow slope or trekking through a tropical rainforest.
  • Leadership: You’ll have the opportunity to lead the group in a variety of activities and objectives.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet, it is our duty to respect the natural landscape. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace® principles.
  • Safety and Risk Management: Safety is always the #1 consideration. As the course progresses, you’ll develop an awareness to appropriately asses risk and make safe decisions.
  • Wilderness Emergency Procedures and Treatment: Learn how to effectively manage safe, efficient, and timely backcountry rescues.

-Ted Roxbury

IWLS KAYAKING CURRICULUM is oriented to providing students with a solid skill set of paddling techniques to be safe and confident in a coastal environment. Here are a few of the topics students will learn on the course.

  • Braces: Paddling in rough conditions requires solid bracing skills. We’ll learn and practice the low brace, high brace and sculling brace in a fun, controlled environment.
  • Rescues: What happens when you’re paddling with clients in the frigid waters of Southeast Alaska and a boat capsizes? We’ll learn everything from the paddle-float rescue to the assisted bow rescue to kayak rolling.
  • Towing: Whether you are pulling an injured kayaker away from booming surf or lending a helping hand to a seasick client, you’ll learn the finer points of a towing system and the criteria for towing.
  • Tides and Currents: Southeast Alaska is home to some of the largest tidal changes in North America. We’ll learn about tide charts, the “Rule of 12’s”, and how to identify and avoid strong currents.

-Darsie Culbeck

IWLS MOUNTAINEERING CURRICULUM is built from countless expeditions in Alaska and around the world. You’ll learn how to be a competent and proficient mountaineer in a variety of different environments. Below are some topics we’ll cover.

  • Self-Arrest: What happens if you fall on a steep now slope? Learn, through hands-on experience, how to stop a fall quickly and efficiently.
  • Anchors: Anchor building is a fun, yet intricate subject. We’ll examine single, double, triple and complex anchors, and their different applications. Learn how to place anchors in snow, rock, and ice.
  • Crevasse Rescue: Traveling in glaciated terrain requires that every member of the team be proficient in crevasse rescue. We’ll learn how to get a team mate out of a crevasse quickly and efficiently.
  • Technical Climbing: Rock climbing, ice climbing and steep snow climbing are all included in the IWLS’ curriculum.

-Ted Roxbury

IWLS AVALANCHE CURRICULUM is a nationally recognized progression of material that prepares students to be safe backcountry travelers.

  • Avalanche Characteristics: We’ll examine loose snow, wet snow, soft slab, and hard slab avalanches along with some potential triggers. You’ll learn the definition of terms such as stauchwall, alpha angle, and bed surface.
  • Snow Stability Evaluation: Is this snow capable of avalanching? Learn tests such as compression test and rutschblock test that will help you evaluate layers within the snowpack. Develop your documentation skills for accurate recording and analysis of information.
  • Safe Winter Travel: As a group, we will travel safely through avalanche terrain. Considerations will include cornices, equipment selection, route finding, campsite selection, and effective communication.
  • Avalanche Rescue: Someone buried in an avalanche has an 87% chance of survival if found within the first fifteen minutes. We’ll practice using probes, beacons, and effective search patterns in order to quickly and efficiently find a buried person.

IWLS BACKPACKING & RIVER SKILLS CURRICULUM prepares students for exploration into remote, backcountry settings. Here are some points we’ll cover on your course:

  • Swiftwater Rescue: You’ll learn the skills necessary to descend a river safely and how to correct things if problems occur. From learning how to pluck swimmers from rapids to righting flipped rafts, this comprehensive course sets the standard for river rescue.
  • Stoves and Campfires: The ability to repair a broken stove, make an emergency fire after being submerged in an icy river, and melt snow efficiently for water are key components for leading a group in the wilderness.
  • River and Stream Crossings: In river crossings, attention to detail and safety are #1. You’ll learn and practice safe techniques for wading across a small stream or doing a Tyrolean traverse across a raging river.
  • Geology: From plate tectonics to granitic batholiths, you’ll learn the history of the land you are exploring and how these forces create and influence the environment around you.

EXPERIENCE LEVEL No previous experience is necessary for this course. However, with a desire to learn and an enthusiasm for adventure, you’ll develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of wilderness exploration.

CERTIFICATIONS Upon completion of the 80-day semester, participants may qualify for the following certifications:

ACA Certificates of Completion
American Canoe Association


ACA Assessments Levels 1-5
American Canoe Association


Level 1 Avalanche Certification*
International Wilderness Leadership School


Swiftwater Rescue Technician, Level 1
Rescue III International


24 Day Guide Training Certificates of Completion
International Wilderness Leadership School


*Dependent on weather and season

DATES & PRICES Please see our schedule for current dates and price information.