This course provides in-depth technical instruction while focusing on the interpersonal skills that support strong leadership.
You will have the opportunity to escape your usual routine, explore stunning wilderness areas, and enjoy yourself to the fullest. In addition to interpersonal skills like communication, feedback, decision making, and goal setting, you will also learn rock climbing, whitewater rafting and desert backpacking in some of the most scenic and wild areas in the United States. You will practice rock climbing skills at Smith Rock in central Oregon and then apply the skills that you have learned to desert climbing in Joshua Tree National Park in California. A hybrid Wilderness First Responder course will provide you with the opportunity to earn your Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification, an 80 hour course in backcountry medicine. You will whitewater raft on two iconic rivers, the Deschutes River and McKenzie Rivers in Oregon. After completing your WFR course, you will road trip south to Joshua Tree National Park in California. For the final month of the course, you will navigate through the Joshua Trees as you backpack across the park. Although there is time for rest and reflection during the course, it is an intense experience: ten weeks of skill development, backcountry living and physical and mental challenges in one of the most spectacular of outdoor learning environments. Wilderness travel can be challenging, but with appropriate pre-course preparation, using tools we provide, adults of various ages and body types can be successful. Arriving as physically fit as possible and excited for the opportunity for personal development will enhance your experience and allow you to take full advantage of the expedition.
NOTE: Outward Bound strongly recommends that all students be vaccinated against COVID-19 and up to date as defined by the CDC prior to arriving to their course start. For all open enrollment courses beginning on or after April 15, 2023, Outward Bound will no longer require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. For questions regarding this policy please see this page or call us at 866-467-7651.
Desert Backpacking, River Navigation, Service, Whitewater Rafting
Basic Paddle Strokes
Belaying a Climber
Food Preparation and Cooking
Map and Compass
Safety and Risk Management
Positive Risk Taking
Sense of Social Connection
This course is closed for the season.
APPLY NOW This means a course has several open spots and is actively processing applications.
APPLY NOW – Almost Full This means there are three or fewer currently available spots left on a course. To secure your spot click Apply Now to begin an application!
JOIN WAITLIST Once a course has reached capacity, three waitlist positions become available. To join a course’s waitlist, click “Join Waitlist” to begin the application process. A $500 deposit is required. This $500 deposit includes a $150 non-refundable application fee and a $350 tuition payment. The $350 tuition payment is refundable only if you cancel your waitlist application or if an open position does not become available. If a position does become available, the applicant will be applied to the open position and the Application and Cancellation Policies of the Regional Outward Bound School will be followed, including forfeiture of the $500 deposit if you cancel 90 days or less prior to the course start date.
Waitlist applicants are encouraged to complete all required admissions documents while awaiting an open position. Positions may become available up to two weeks prior to the course start date. Applicants may only apply to one course. We recommend applying to a course with open positions instead of a course that is accepting waitlist applications. If you have questions, please call 866-467-7651 to speak with one of our Admissions Advisors.
CALL TO APPLY This means a course is very close to its start date. Although it is unlikely to secure a spot this late, you can call the National Admissions office at 866-467-7651 to discuss your options.
COURSE IS FULL When a course has reached maximum capacity, meaning all spots and the three waitlist spots are occupied, a course will read “Course Is Full.” This means applications are no longer being accepted.
CLOSED As a course nears its start date, the availability status may read “Closed.” In this event, a course roster has been finalized and applications are no longer being accepted or processed.
The following is an example of what your course itinerary might look like. Your actual course plan will vary according to weather, student skills and abilities, and instructor preferences.
Introduction to rock climbing systems; development of skills and techniques; progression through climbs of varying difficulty; campcraft & Recreate Responsibly principles; focus on intentional group culture and leadership; service project
Clean and store climbing gear, re-supply, pack for river section
Whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River: development of paddle skills and captaining a raft; lessons on hydro-dynamics and risk management, including throw-bag and flip drills; rapid scouting and navigating through Class III rapids
Student river finals on the McKenzie or Deschutes river
In person-section of WFR class
Pack and prepare for transition to California
Road trip transition to Joshua Tree, California
Rock climbing section (climbing, belaying, rappelling, anchor building)
Desert backpacking section, Solo
Final desert backpacking expedition
Closing activities and goodbyes, transportation to airport
Most College Savings Plans, including the 529 College Savings Plan, may be used to attend an Outward Bound expedition, thanks to a partnership with Western Colorado University. Anyone can register – you do not have to be a current Western Colorado University student. Registration is easy! Click here to learn more.
Develop outdoor skills. Enhance your leadership and communication abilities. Strive to increase your knowledge of the environment – all while learning wilderness travel techniques in a variety of stunning environments. The ultimate goal of our Gap Year expeditions is to help you develop the confidence, knowledge, and integrity essential for effective leadership. Whether you are learning how to safely tie in on belay, deciding as a group how to navigate through new terrain, or setting up a minimum-impact campsite for the evening, you’ll be honing and practicing skills for life.
Build skills, form connections: Amidst rugged natural landscapes, learn to lead and to follow; to give and receive feedback; and to trust in your own capabilities as you expand your technical and personal knowledge base. Find connections with your crewmates based on support and respect (and fun too!), and in the thick of challenges, discover there is more in you than you know.
Value strengths and strengthen values: Uncover your unique character strengths, exercise your independence as you gain life experience and learn how to let compassion in to everyday life by pushing your own limits and supporting your crew as you tackle obstacles together, big and small.
Demonstrate mastery: As you gain confidence in new skills and a better understanding of the natural world around you, take on more decision-making responsibilities. Work together to achieve team goals, solve problems and succeed both as independent individuals and as a group.
What you’ll learn: Examine your personal values and discover more about your true self. Hone your technical abilities as you become a master at ropes courses or swiftwater rescue techniques and Wilderness First Aid. Numerous certificates are available depending on the course, and up to 18 credit hours can be earned along the way.
Exploring new environments and building new connections will put your tenacity to the test. You’ll return with broader understanding of the natural world around you, deeper appreciation for small kindnesses and greater confidence in yourself and others that will serve you well long after you return.
Outward Bound is accredited with the American Gap Association and is the longest running program in this elite group dedicated to providing safe, meaningful and high-caliber educational experiences to students.
Students will receive individual instruction and test their skills against the vertical cracks, steep faces and boulders of the Central Cascades and the desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Students will focus on skills associated with technical rock climbing, including knots, anchors, movement over rock, top rope, belaying and rappelling techniques, use and care of harnesses and other equipment. An emphasis on climbing site assessment and management will ensure participants go back with sound judgment to implement safe and challenging experiences. Participants will have ample opportunity to actively improve their personal skills with various types of climbs including, face climbs and cracks, that involve many different climbing techniques.
Students will travel on the river in four to six-person paddle rafts, and learn to “captain” (maneuver) their paddle raft team through Class II to III rapids. After lessons in basic river travel and safety, students will learn to read currents, anticipate obstacles, and scout rapids. Students will also learn river hydrology, swimming in currents, and paddle techniques. There may also be an opportunity for short day hikes.
The Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification is a hybrid learning environment, with some time spent online before the course, along with partial in-person learning. During this portion of the trip, students learn advanced backcountry first aid and evacuation techniques. Each day, time is devoted to lectures and exams as well as practical hands-on sessions and rescue simulations. Evenings are reserved for study and assignments. Full participation is required. Upon successfully completing and passing the course, students receive WFR, Anaphylaxis, and Basic Life Support-CPR certification cards. These are the industry-standard medical certifications required for professionals working in the outdoors.
The desert backpacking section of the course includes both on-trail and off-trail terrain. The trails, when present, are usually of high quality. The off-trail routes can be especially challenging as these routes travel through boulder-filled canyons and across vast desert plains. Students will work to develop sound navigational skills as they practice using their map and compass in a new environment. They will continue to build relationships with their group members and further their efficiency traveling and functioning as a unit. It’s difficult to backpack in Joshua Tree because of the lack of freshwater, but our Logistics staff make it possible by placing water and food caches around the park to enable extended backcountry travel through this unique wilderness.
In order for profound learning to take place, students need time to reflect on their experience, and Solo is that opportunity. The Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. With sufficient food and equipment, students will set up camp at sites of their own, using the wilderness skills learned during the first portions of the course. The amount of time students spend on Solo is based on length of course, weather, student condition, age, and Instructor preference. Solo campsites are chosen to offer as much solitude as possible (yet be within emergency whistle-signaling distance of other group members). Most students spend their Solo time journaling, drawing, reflecting, thinking and resting as they process lessons of the course to focus on their goals for the future. Instructors check on each participant at regular intervals, as safety is always the top priority.
Service to others and to the environment is a core value of Outward Bound and is integrated into each course. Groups follow Recreate Responsibly ethics as part of their service to the environment and engage in acts of service while leading and supporting fellow participants. Seeing the impact of their actions firsthand, students develop an ingrained appreciation of service and transfer this desire to serve their communities back home.
Deschutes River, Oregon The Deschutes River is part of the national Wild & Scenic Rivers System. The river flows north from the Oregon Cascades to the Columbia River and then on to the Pacific Ocean. The Lower Deschutes is a popular river for both whitewater rafting and fly fishing. The river is spring-fed, which results in an unusually constant water flow and cold water. Excellent geologic evidence is present all around this area. This course will travel the entire 96-mile stretch of the Lower Deschutes. The rapids on the Deschutes are rated to Class IV, mostly Class II-III, and are excellent for learning paddle skills, hydrology and teamwork. The group camps each night along the banks of the river. The Deschutes River Canyon has a long human history boarding the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs for the first 60 miles, and follows a railroad for much of the length of the Lower Deschutes. These regions are the ancestral lands of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Tenino nations.
McKenzie River, Oregon The McKenzie River flows down the west side of the Central Cascades. This 90-mile tributary to the Willamette River, travels through forests of Douglas fir, western hemlock and western red cedar. Chinook salmon and trout populate this popular fishing river. During this section of the course, the group will do day trips on the river, testing the skills learned on the Deschtues. The McKenzie River is part of the ancestral lands of the Kalapuya and Molala peoples, who traveled nomadically along the river banks.
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon Smith Rock State Park is a world-renowned climbing destination that attracts climbers of every ability level. The Crooked River winds its way through the canyon, and to the west, the snow-capped volcanoes of the Cascade Range rise on the horizon. One of the most striking features is a prominent spire, Monkey Face. Given the dry and temperate climate, rock climbing is feasible most of the year. This park is the ancestral land of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs - the Warm Springs, Wasco and Northern Paiute peoples.
Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its high desert moonscape, where rugged mountains and desert plateaus were sculpted by wind and rain. Three distinct ecosystems come together to form this land of extremes: the dark, cold, star-filled nights against warm sand and boulder-filled days. This landscape has been an important touchstone for a variety of Native American tribes over the centuries, including Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Serrano people, as well as the ancient Pinto culture that preceded them.
Weather In Oregon, temperatures typically range from freezing to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The Oregon course area is primarily on the eastern side of the Cascades, and thus tends to be drier; however, rain and thunderstorms are not unusual. Conditions in Joshua Tree National Park are generally dry and rainfall is sparse, though unpredictable, irregular, and sometimes persistent thunderstorms do occur. Temperatures can vary, averaging 50-80 degrees during the day to a cool 30 at night and potentially hitting 100 early or late in the season.
If you are ready to enroll on a course click the enroll button next to the course you wish to select or you can enroll over the phone by speaking with one of our Admissions Advisors (toll-free) at 866-467-7651.
To secure your spot on a course you must submit an enrollment form and $500 deposit that is applied toward the total cost of the course and includes a $150 non-refundable enrollment processing fee.