2018 Year in Review

Adventure Summer Camp

2018’s biggest project by far was Adventure Day Camp (ADC), a completely new product for us with students and locations outside our prior operations. We offered seven weeks of camp, three in June and four in August, for students entering 4th to 6th grades. After cancelling two weeks due to low enrollment, we ran five week-long sessions, with 9 - 10 students each.

Agility, creativity and flexibility were core tenets of ADC for our staff. Each day and each week brought different weather conditions, and we had to respond accordingly. Instead of creating a “fixed” activity schedule, we chose activities we wanted to be able to do (hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing, camping), equipped ourselves accordingly, then chose each day’s outings according to weather conditions. While we did have a “default” curriculum we would run if every day was dry, warm and calm, I don’t think there was a week where we did not call an audible or two. When big rains arrived in August, flooding the Wisconsin and Kickapoo Rivers and making planned overnights on the river impossible, we changed gears and mapped out really great trips to the Southern and Northern units of Kettle Moraine State Forest

The response from kids and parents to Adventure Day Camp was tremendous. So many kids told us camp was their favorite week of the summer. Parents have told me their kids were different after camp - more confident, more excited to get outside. We are really excited about what camp will look like next summer, when we anticipate offer sessions for older students (6th - 8th graders) in addition to the younger set. Maybe a week-long climbing camp too?


Staff Training at Boulders Climbing Gym

When I asked Kevin Baker at Boulders Climbing Gym whether he’d be interested in offering custom training sessions for our staff, I didn’t think he would say yes. Not only did he agree, but he put serious thought and planning into the sessions and created what was, for us, a fun, physical and social weekly routine that got our team together and pushed us toward our climbing goals. Our staff trained with Kevin on Sunday nights January & February; feedback from our staff was positive and enthusiastic.

We recommenced our weekly climbing training in late November to find Kevin’s curriculum thoroughly evolved and well established. Kevin ran a number of Shared Psych sessions in 2018, the commercial version of the experimental project we started in the winter. It was edifying to see Kevin translate our time together into a successful product for Boulders and its community. This felt very win-win. As a huge added bonus, Kevin ended up guiding bouldering trips for us through the summer, and we are beyond excited to have such an accomplished boulderer and trainer mentoring clients at Devil’s Lake and Governor Dodge.

Bouldering Trips at Governor Dodge

We first secured a commercial permit for Governor Dodge State Park in 2017, but never used it after the Park Superintendent refused to grant permission to retrofit the dated hardware on the Qual Wall. The Park also felt far away from our main audiences in Milwaukee and Chicagoland, so we let things rest.

In 2018, we began running bouldering trips there, with much success. Governor Dodge boulders are easier on beginning boulderers, and the landing there tend to be flatter and safer. We will continue offering bouldering at GDSP in 2019, and maybe even doing some sport climbing outings to the Qual Wall.  

Instructor Kevin Baker watches a Boulders Youth Team member start Another Daydream (V3) in the Lonely Boulders area.

Instructor Kevin Baker watches a Boulders Youth Team member start Another Daydream (V3) in the Lonely Boulders area.

Boulders Youth Team Trips

Boulders' Youth Climbing Team consists of a great bunch of kids with tons of energy and enthusiasm for climbing, and we wanted to help extend their climbing opportunities to outdoor boulders and crags. I reached out to then-coach Caleb Fitzgerald and we were able to rally team members on a few different weekend trips over the summer. We look forward to working with Youth Team members and Coach Chip next summer, hopefully for a more organized and consistent slate of weekend outings. 

First Descents

In June, we ran our first trip with First Descents, a non-profit that helps cancer patients get outside doing really exciting things cancer patients are not “supposed” to do. We had ridiculous fun with the FD folks, who were bright, enthusiastic, positive and dramatic about their climbing experience. I learned a TON about what it’s like to have cancer, and how much it helps to recreate with folks who share similar health challenges. We already have First Descents on our 2019 calendar and we’re excited to continue the relationships with these folks.

All smiles with the Chicago Adventure Therapy crew at Mississippi Palisades State Park, IL.

All smiles with the Chicago Adventure Therapy crew at Mississippi Palisades State Park, IL.

First Trip to Mississippi Palisades

When Andrea Knepper, who runs the amazing organization Chicago Adventure Therapy, asked us to run a climbing day at Mississippi Palisades State Park in Illinois, I was thrilled. While I had not visited MPSP since college, it’s always a treat to go somewhere new. Andrea brought a really fun and interesting group of young adults from Chicago, who climbed their hearts out with us. The most memorable part of the day might have been watching one of the climbers take on the most challenging climb, only to be surprised when a deep handhold suddenly yielded two mice scurrying out from it! Nobody was injured, but the mice spooked the climber pretty good and he decided he’d had enough. 


A dry (!) AAC Craggin’ Classic

Our fourth AAC Devil’s Lake Craggin’ Classic brought a number of changes. After running the festival in 2016 and 2017, I stepped down as Event Coordinator, handing the baton to Scott Wilton. Though we missed Scott as an instructor, he did a marvelous job running the show.

Probably the biggest change Scott made was moving the venue to Wheeler’s Campground, which had the right layout, infrastructure and proximity to Devil’s Lake to set us all up for great success. Angie Limbauch coordinated 14 event clinics (the most we’ve ever offered), which we taught on Saturday with the help of a number of visiting instructors. We finally had a tent for the Vendor Village this year (thank you, Kendra!) as well as a host of t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats on offer. We are finally getting our marketing game in order! 

Two students care for a patient in a wilderness medicine drill at the MacKenzie Center during our 5-Day Wilderness First Responder course taught by  Wilderness Medical Associates .

Two students care for a patient in a wilderness medicine drill at the MacKenzie Center during our 5-Day Wilderness First Responder course taught by Wilderness Medical Associates.

More Wilderness First Responder Offerings

We’ve had great success with our WFR programs the past few years, and we expanded our venues and offerings this year.

We held 5-Day WFR trainings at the MacKenzie Center in January and March, then ran our Memorial Day WFR course at Hoofbeat Ridge, and equestrian and environmental education center in Mazomanie, WI, which included room and board for all students (a first for us). The course was completely full and students really enjoyed the venue, so we will continue to offer courses there.

We also tried offering a 5-day WFR over Thanksgiving weekend, thinking it might offer some folks the opportunity to complete WFR certification without taking many or ANY days off work. This course was also a great success, and we brought Thanksgiving dinner to the group because we felt so bad about them being away from friends and family over the holiday (thank you, Maya!).


Nick Joins Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park Board

When Friends board member Doug Hemken asked me to consider joining the board of Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park last spring, I was hesitant to take on more responsibility. Nevertheless, I applied because the Park is part-and-parcel of our success and I felt the perspective of both the climbing community and a local business could help the Friends carry out their mission. Fortunately, I was accepted, and I feel really fortunate to be part of this non-profit group steering the public efforts of supporting one of the crown jewels of Wisconsin’s State Park system.

When I learned the Friends only have around 175 members, I was shocked. How could such a popular and beautiful park have so few members? It seems like we should be thousands of members strong. Please consider joining and becoming involved with the Friends. Membership is a mere $30 per year and links you into a great network of folks working to support the needs of Park staff, trails, buildings and visitors. We need you!


Shorewood High School

When I met Eric Mathews in an Anchors I course during the summer, he struck me as a really sharp, interested and thoughtful guy who was really psyched on becoming a strong climber and technician. As I got to know Eric more, I learned about the unique and powerful program he has developed at Shorewood High School that combines traditional studies like English, Geology and Environmental Science with expeditionary field learning to places like the Milwaukee River and Devil’s Lake.

Eric asked us to help out with a new fall course he and fellow teacher Eric Gietzen were planning, and we jumped at the chance. We climbed with his class for two days in September; I was really impressed with the caliber of his students, their interest in the course material and the interdisciplinary model Eric & Eric are using to weave many threads of knowledge together to create a wholistic, meaningful curriculum. This is the kind of experiential learning my peers at Teton Science School and Antioch New England dreamed about offering our students, and I was so happy to find innovative teachers making it happen in Wisconsin. Looking forward to collaborating with the Erics in 2019!

Bird’s eye view of pick-off rescue practice at  Brooklyn Boulders Queensbridge .

Bird’s eye view of pick-off rescue practice at Brooklyn Boulders Queensbridge.

CWI Certification

After Boulders Climbing Gym approached me about doing some instructor training for their staff this winter, I wanted to get a handle on what it means to be a professional, modern indoor climbing instructor. I suspected there might be a lot more to it than my outdoor commercial experience might allow me to imagine, and I was right. Indoor climbing instructors often have their hands really full, charged with teaching large groups of beginners foundational climbing skills with limited time and equipment. Being prepared with good curriculum, instructional strategies and experience with the most common problems is essential to succeeding in this difficult environment.

I travelled to Brooklyn in December for an AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor course at Brooklyn Boulders. The CWI is meant to train indoor climbing gym staff on best practices in risk management and climber education. I hope to become a certified CWI provider in the next year or two, so I can offer CWI certifications to various gyms, private schools, universities and community centers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.