Rock Climbing and Conservation Semester

Program Highlights

  • Develop and practice skills in sport, traditional, and multi-pitch climbing at world-class destinations.
  • Summit iconic sandstone towers and remote alpine walls.
  • Hike through Colorado’s highest peaks, the canyons of Utah, and awe-inspiring glacial valleys in Patagonia.
  • Learn to comfortably live, travel, and rock climb in the wilderness and international destinations.
  • Investigate pressing conservation issues while working with service partners to protect and restore these wild places.

Program Overview

Colorado Wilderness Expedition

You begin the course with an 8-day backpacking trip through the rugged Rocky Mountains right outside Leadville, Colorado. Even if you’ve never backpacked before, you learn to live and travel comfortably and confidently in remote and challenging terrain, cooking delicious meals on a single-burner backpacking stove and sleeping in lightweight tents. During these first few days, you come together as a community, getting to know each other through evening discussions, being part of a small tent group, and supporting each other as “Leaders of the Day.” During this expedition, you’ll also spend a few days at a backcountry alpine rock camp, where those with no climbing experience acquire the basics while experienced climbers get to challenge themselves in a new and beautiful setting.

Utah Section

After transitioning back from the wilderness expedition, you’ll be at three different base-camps in the other-wordly landscape of the Greater Canyonlands near Moab, Utah. On the sweeping sandstone walls and iconic towers of the desert, you learn and practice more advanced climbing skills including lead climbing, placing removable protection, building anchors, rock rescue, and multi-pitch tactics. Within this extensive skill development, there is ample time simply to have fun climbing and pursue your personal goals. Rock climbing isn’t the only way to explore the desert, however. In addition to the time we spend climbing, you’ll explore the area through day hikes in labrinthine canyons, running on world class trails, town days in Moab, and visits to ancient Puebloan cultural sites.

During our time in Utah, you will participate in a 10-day volunteer project with local conservation partners to mitigate the impact in climbing areas that have seen increasing visitation and environmental degradation. Whether building trails, restoring overgrown campgrounds, or creating belay platforms, you’ll be part of important projects that help protect the fragile desert environment.

Patagonia Section

For the culminating section of the course, you will travel to the heart of Patagonia. Here, you apply your climbing and backcountry skills to a new environment, using your knowledge and experience to explore some of the wildest lands in the world. You’ll arrive in Chile Chico, a small town on the border of Chile and Argentina. After a few days in town, exploring the culture and settling in to a different way of life, you’ll set off on a backcountry climbing expedition to Cerro Colorado. After a few days backpacking over expansive pampas to get to the mountain, you’ll set up camp beneath the towering peak for several days to practice traditional climbing and attempt to summit the mountain.

The final leg of the Patagonia section is spent in Piedra Parada, Argentina, a world-class destination for sport climbing. Here, you’ll stay at an estancia along the meandering Rio Chubut, venturing into the nearby canyon each day to climb. You’ll take more ownership for the day’s climbing activities, deciding where the group climbs, the schedule for the day, and managing setting up and taking down routes. You’ll also get to push yourself physically and solidify the skills you’ve acquired and practiced throughout the semester.