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Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA Travel & Services Programs

BCCY-NOLS Leadership Expedition

Starting in 2017, BCCYMCA began a partnership with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to offer campers from our community who have completed the 10th grade a true wilderness experience in Alaska. With the guidance from experienced NOLS instructors and a BCCYMCA leader, participants learn foundational mountain travel skills, such as navigation, back country cooking, leadership, and decision-making. On the 21-day backpacking course, the group works together to master new skills as they carry everything they need on their backs. They will hike across varied terrain including tundra and glacier-fed rivers, experience near 24-hour daylight, encounter wildlife such as caribou, bears, and moose, and learn to live simply and care for one another. This program is designed for participants who wish to develop technical outdoor leadership skills, learn how to work together under challenging circumstances, and see parts of the country few people will ever experience.

Program Highlights

  • Learn the fundamentals of backpacking from experienced NOLS instructors
  • Travel through tundra, shrub thickets, gravel river bottoms, and possibly on boulders and through snow
  • Strengthen your leadership skills and learn to live simply
  • Wildlife you may see: Dall sheep, moose, caribou, brown and black bears, wolves, wolverines and coyotes
  • Experience near 24-hour daylight and backpack through parts of the country few people ever see


Accommodation and Itinerary

The program begins with a two-day orientation at BCCYMCA before the group flies out to Anchorage, Alaska. The group is picked up from the airport in vans and transported to a bed and breakfast for their first night. From there, NOLS buses will bring the group to Palmer, Alaska for their orientation with their NOLS instructors. NOLS purposely does not plan the group's route in advance, as it is dependent on a number of variables including but not limited to: the winter snow pack and spring conditions, the group's hiking abilities, the number of other groups in the region. Possible destinations for the 3-weeks of backpacking include the Talkeetna Mountains in southcentral Alaska, the interior Alaska Range, or the Wrangell-St. Elias Range along the US-Canadian border. At the end of the course, the group will return to Palmer for a debrief at the NOLS headquarters. The group will have one more night in Anchorage before flying back to BCCYMCA for their debrief at camp.


All NOLS participants will take part in two days of orientation at the Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA in the Berkshires prior to departing on their journey. During this time, NOLS participants will develop group-building skills and learn how to be ambassadors for the YMCA. The group will discuss the basics of travel, as well as other safety guidelines relating to camping and backpacking. They will become acquainted with fellow group members and discuss program goals and regulations, thus setting the standards for the success of their adventure.

After the group arrives at the NOLS Headquarters in Palmer, Alaska, they will have another orientation to get to know their NOLS instructors and to familiarize themselves with their gear. They will carefully repack their bags and make sure they have the correct equipment, select food for the re-rations on their expedition, and review how to set up and take down their tents. The following morning the group will set out on their course.


Due to the remoteness of the region the group is traveling through, communication with participants will be extremely limited. TSP administrators will notify families when the group has arrived out West and when they have completed their expedition. While the group is on their course, families will not receive any updates from TSP staff. NOLS staff will contact families directly only if there is an emergency on the course.

Because of the limited communication during the course itself, participants are allowed to bring their cell phones with them out to Alaska. The BCCYMCA leader will set strict limits on where and when cell phones can be used. Participants will be allowed to use their cell phone to call home before the course begins and after their course has wrapped up. When the group is on their NOLS course, participants are not allowed to have their cell phones.

Outdoor Skills

Group members will work closely with NOLS instructors to learn the fundamental skills needed to run a safe, successful backcountry expedition. Examples of skills include: appropriate gear selection, self-care, food selection and pack-out, water safety, cooking, navigation, leadership, tent site selection, hygiene, and risk-management.

Advanced Leadership Development

On trail, participants will learn to navigate varied terrain, work together to carry group food and supplies, develop decision-making skills, collaborate with others, and find the determination to carry on through challenging times. Participants will be challenged mentally to stay positive in the face of the daily demands of caring for themselves and their group members; cooperation and teamwork are vital to the success of the course. By the end of the program, participants will have the foundational skills, experience, and confidence to take their leadership development to a higher level.

BCCY Leader and NOLS Instructors

The program is led by a BCCYMCA leader and 2-3 NOLS Instructors depending on the size of the group. The BCCYMCA leader is certified in CPR and Wilderness First Aid and is required to participate in a 9-day training program prior to the beginning of their assignment. TSP leader candidates also complete a written application, submitted three references, and are interviewed by the Travel & Service Programs Directors.


NOLS participants will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world and will push themselves beyond what they thought possible. Participants will experience the struggles and successes that come from traveling through wilderness regions and will grow as individuals and team leaders. Good physical health and a positive attitude are essential for this leadership program. Independence, responsibility, achievement, fun - these qualities, and more, are the essence of the NOLS Alaska Program.

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748 Hamilton Road, Becket, MA 01223
Tel: (413) 623-8991 | Fax: (413) 623-5890