Patagonia Semester

Leadership & Guide Training Course
(80 days)

Students practice river crossing skills on a Patagonia Backpacking course. -Ted Roxbury

For students trying to rapidly gain substantial wilderness leadership experience an IWLS Patagonia semester is a solid choice.  Through active participation as an expedition leader while paddling fjords, climbing granite spires and trekking through some of the most celebrated wild places on the planet you will learn and refine the skills that make a competent, qualified leader. This is an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in South American culture, practice Spanish and advance your technical ability. A Patagonia semester will increase your experience level at a rapid rate while you have the adventure of a lifetime.

Mountaineering Our mountaineering courses take place on Patagonia’s famed southern ice field, one of the least explored mountain areas of the world. Here the rugged spine of the Andes meets the Patagonian steppe. More than 80 glaciers spill from the third largest non-polar ice cap in the world. IWLS courses access mountain areas around Fitzroy and Cerro Torre that provide an incredible environment for developing mountaineering and leadership skills.

Backpacking The IWLS Backpacking course is taught in the shadow of the unique glaciated mountains of Los Glaciares National Park. You’ll hike beneath the stunning peaks of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre while developing leadership skills. We begin our course in the small outpost of Chalten, located at the bottom of the South American continent. This wilderness area, comprised of 935 square miles (2,422 km), is an ecologically unique and visually stunning place to study and practice expedition backpacking leadership skills.

Sea Kayaking In Patagonia, you’ll explore lush fjords teeming with life on land and sea, tidewater glaciers spilling huge icebergs into the sea, and enjoy the long days of the austral summer. From our base in Puerto Natales, we paddle the Ultima Esperanza inlet and access stunning glaciers such as Balmaceda and Serrano.

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 your course will focus on.

  • Leadership: Opportunities to lead the group will be abundant and you’ll have the time to learn and practice multiple styles of leadership.
  • Navigation: Learn how to take a bearing, read a topographical map, triangulate your position, and navigate in a whiteout.
  • 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.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet it is our duty to respect the natural world. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace ® principles.

-Bryan Hinderberger

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:

  • Belaying: Should we use a fixed belay or a running belay? Our team will learn and practice the finer points of different belay techniques such as the hip belay, running belay, boot axe belay, fixed belay, and more!
  • Ascending: Fixed lines are an important tool for large groups and guiding applications. We’ll learn how to efficiently use, build and maintain them.
  • Rope Teams: Rope team travel is a complicated endeavor that requires skill, technique and teamwork. We’ll cover everything from prussic arrangement to team management.
  • Objective Hazards: Rock fall, river crossings, and avalanches are examples of objective hazards. Learn how to identify such hazards and minimize group exposure.

-Eli Fierer

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.

-Ted Roxbury

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

  • Pre-trip Activities: Learn how to plan and prepare for an extended wilderness expedition. We’ll cover everything from technical camping equipment to group and personal expectations.
  • 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.

-Jenn Walsh

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.

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

24 Day Guide Training Certificates of Completion
International Wilderness Leadership School


Level 1 Avalanche Certification*
International Wilderness Leadership School


ACA Certificates of Completion
American Canoe Association

*Dependent on weather and season

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