Outdoor Adventure Leadership School: Whitewater River Guiding

The School’s Mission Statement & Objectives

Mission Statement

This school’s mission is to facilitate the exploration of what it means to be an effective and ethical leader within the field of outdoor adventure leadership. The school is taught in a manner that embodies its philosophical roots and is committed to being ethically grounded. This school utilizes a perspective that acknowledges being a student is an ongoing process and encourages the students to reappraise the concept of an “expert.” The expert necessarily has a limited mind, but the beginner has an unlimited mind. We are all students, and should strive for maintaining the beginner’s mind.

IMG_0040 - Version 2This leadership school explores the technical skills required to safely lead people down a wilderness whitewater river. The majority of this school will focus on the technical skills required to boat rivers at the professional level (e.g., safely boating the river, successful camp experiences, etc.). However, compared to the interpersonal skills required for effectively and ethically leading a group of people down a wilderness river, the technical skills required may seem quite simple. This is why a core component of the leadership school will be focused on exploring what it means to be an outdoor adventure leader.


The objectives of this leadership school are to:

  • Meet the student where they are starting from, and empathically support their journey in this experiential learning process.
  • To maintain open communication with the students and encourage their direct and specific feedback with respect to how they are experiencing the school.
  • Establish a solid foundation of the technical skills required to safely navigate a whitewater river.
  • Establish a safe-container atmosphere for self-exploration and challenging one’s held assumptions and sense of self.
  • Help the student become more aware of their social conditioning and how it is related to their ability to effectively and ethically lead others, especially from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Provide ongoing support to the student with their professional goals, which are associated with outdoor adventure leadership and leadership in general.
  • Provide the opportunity to have a peak experience.

The School’s Expectations

ImageThis school has high expectations of all its participants, including its teacher(s). The school’s philosophy is rooted in a belief that expectations should be openly communicated as an integral part of the social contract binding the school’s community together. A vital aspect of these expectations being realized is a dialogue about why they are important to the school’s overall success.


The following are the school’s expectations of the participants:

  • Preparation
  • Respectful
  • Reciprocity
  • Responsibility
  • Engagement
  • Stewardship
  • Leadership
  • Community
  • Feedback

IMG_3472All of these expectations work together to create a successful experiential learning opportunity for all participants. It is critical that the school’s community agrees to establish these as social norms for the group’s time together. If there are additional expectations the group would like to adopt as norms, then those will have to be agreed upon by consensus. Any and all of these expectations are open for debate. This school sincerely wants you to believe in how you are participating within the overall process of experiential learning.

The Philosophical Questions Behind this SchoolDSCN2390_2

The following are some questions that will guide our exploration of the topics within this school:

  1. What does it mean to be an effective and ethical outdoor adventure leader?
  2. What is leadership?
  3. What types of leadership are appropriate for use within the field of outdoor adventure leadership?
  4. What is your ecological identity (the person-nature relationship), and what does it have to do with being an effective outdoor adventure leader?
  5. What does it mean to lead people from their starting point?
  6. What do “social and emotional intelligence” mean, and why are they so critical for being an effective outdoor adventure leader?
  7. What is the difference between adaptive and maladaptive coping mechanisms, and what does this have to do with being an effective leader?
  8. How does a professional guide simultaneously balance the need of running a safe trip and also providing an atmosphere of having a great time?
  9. What are the most meaningful memories guests take home with them, and why is this critical to being a professional guide?
  10. Why is the end of the trip experience just as critical as the beginning?
  11. What skills and qualities does it take to be an effective outdoor adventure leader at the professional level?
  12. What does it take to effectively lead groups in a way that will exceed their expectations and maximize the outdoor experience for all?


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This school takes place on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River in the beautiful state of Oregon. Our shared journey in learning will be lead by a teacher-guide, Eric Peterson, who has worked in the outdoor adventure leadership industry for over twenty years and has guided trips in rafting, sit-on-top kayaking (rivers and ocean), fishing, canoeing, biking, skiing, as well as taught swiftwater rescue, avalanche awareness, and other professional river guide schools. Eric also holds degrees in psychology and cultural anthropology, which he utilized in the development of this school as well as the teaching of its curriculum. Eric is currently working on a Masters in Transformative Leadership, which directly influences his teaching of this school. This leadership school utilizes a holistic perspective on what it means to be an effective and ethical leader in the wilderness environment. What does it take to effectively and ethically lead groups in a way that will exceed their expectations and maximize the outdoor experience for all?


The majority of this eight-day school will be based on an experiential learning format (e.g., learning and practicing skills through hands-on experience). However, due to the nature of some of the topics being presented within the school, there will be regular assigned readings and group discussions of those readings. All required readings will be provided to you, but your commitment to actually doing the readings is a must! Just as the quality of a guided river trip is interdependent upon all of its participants engaging within the group, so too, the quality of a student’s learning is interdependent with all the students’ active participation within the entire school.

IMG_0072This exploration of what it means to be a professional river guide and an outdoor adventure leader is sure to be a unique offering within the realm of guide schools. No prior experience is required to participate in this leadership school, but we also welcome experienced boaters who are simply interested in learning more about running rivers and have no interest in becoming a professional guide. With that noted, the school is designed to accommodate a wide variety of experience levels, and we welcome the participation from even an experienced river guide. A varying level of experience within the group of students affords opportunities for the more experienced students to assume leadership responsibility earlier in the course. Please come join us for this adventure in learning what it takes to be a professional river guide within the outdoor adventure leadership industry.DSCN3492

Note – This course is run through a partnership with an outfitter who operates under a special use permit for the Wild & Scenic Rogue River.

Tentative Schedule

The following is a basic overview of the tentative schedule for the school:

Day 1: Introductions, Overview of Course, Gear Orientation, Knots and Ropes, Rigging Boats (Note – We will not be rafting the first day.)

Day 2-3: Day trips of rafting on the Rogue – We will be primarily working on technical boating and safety skills – Trip Preparation, Safety Talks, Introduction to Technical Rope Systems, Rescue Throw Lines, Swimming Drills, Etc.

Day 4-8: Wilderness trip preparation and pack. Four-day Wild & Scenic rafting trip on the Rogue River – This is where we will be applying and expanding on the first three days of learning as well as getting into the more subtle aspects of what it takes to be an effective and ethical outdoor adventure leader. During the four-day rafting trip, the students will be given opportunities to practice leadership roles within the group.


Course Outline

1. Adventure Preparation

Personal & Group Gear

  • Protective Gear
  • What to bring, & what not to bring.

Packing for success

  • Using Pack-Lists
  • Dry Bags, Dry Boxes, & Coolers
  • Rigging Boats

Specific Beforehand Knowledge

  • Forecasts & Flows
  • River Traffic: Other Users?
  • Clients Specifics: Sizes? Special Needs? Cross Cultural? Language Barriers?

Leader/Team Self-Care

  • Stress: Distress & Eustress
  • Ascribing Meaning to Life
  • Adaptive vs. Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms
  • Living Proactively: Do you have a wellness plan?
  • Understanding Human Wellbeing & Development

2. Navigation

River Hydrology

  • River Terminology & Associated Concepts
  • What’s the Water Doing? And Why?
  • Specific River Hazards

Boat Handling

  • Oar Rafts
  • Paddle Rafts
  • Paddle-Assist
  • Inflatable Kayaks
  • Stand Up Paddle Boards
  • River Boards
  • Other Craft

3. Safety & Rescue

Safety Talks

  • Put-in Group Talk – Covering Water & Land
  • Ongoing In-boat Talk
  • Safety vs. Fun & Relaxation – The Balance

Swiftwater Rescue

  • A Brief History of Swiftwater Rescue
  • Rescue Philosophy & Preparation
  • Swimming – Defensive & Offensive
  • Knots, Ropes, Hardware, & Systems
  • Rescue vs. Recovery – People & Gear
  • Self-Rescue – A Way of Life!
  • Legal Concerns

Wilderness Medicine – The Basics

  • What is Wilderness Medicine?
  • Patient Assessment
  • Medical Kits – In Line with Level of Training
  • Improvised Splinting
  • Knowing When to Evacuate
  • Special Considerations for the Backcountry/Wilderness

Equipment Maintenance & Repair

5. Wilderness Camping

Minimum Impact Ethics

The River-Side Kitchen

Food: Prep, Serving, & Clean-Up

Pack It Out!

  • Human Waste – Poop!
  • Garbage
  • Recycling

Personal Hygiene & Sanitation

6. Outdoor Adventure Leadership

Leadership Styles & Philosophies

  • What does being and effective and ethical leader mean?
  • What does context have to do with leadership styles?
  • What does it mean to be a relational leader?
  • What do social power-dynamics have to do with leadership?

Leading, Serving, & Instructing vs. Teaching

  • Technical Skills
  • Area-Specific Knowledge – History, Geology, Wildlife, Etc.
  • Social Skills – Emotional & Social Intelligence
  • The Psychology of Survivors

Group Dynamics

  • What constitutes an effective group?
  • Conflict-Positive Groups vs. Conflict-Negative Groups
  • Wilderness Psychology & Groups
  • The Contagious Nature of Emotional States

Managing Risk – Safety Exists Along a Spectrum

  • The Spectrum of Safety & the Concept of Safe
  • The Role & Importance of Mental Models – Cognitive Maps


  • What is meant by the term ethics?
  • Responsibilities to the…
  • The Environment
  • Public
  • Industry
  • Outfitter/Company
  • Clients
  • Aspirational Guiding Principles


  • Competence & Expectations
  • The Client-Leader Relationship
  • Boundaries – Crossings & Violations
  • Mindfulness as a Foundation

7. Ecopsychology and Ecological Identity


  • What is Ecopsychology?
  • Ecological Identity & the Future of the Outdoor Adventure Leadership Industry

Ecological Identity

  • The Rewilding of the Human Spirit & the Ecological Self
  • The Western Wilderness Concept – Nature as “Out There”
  • Identification & the Concept of The Self
  • The Power of Perspective Taking
  • The Expanding Sense of Self
  • Specific Rewilding Practices
  • Some Closing Thoughts on Rewilding

8. Where do We go from here?

What Now?

Recommended Trainings & Continuing Education

What does it mean to be a student for life?

Cost & Dates

This eight-day course is offered at $800. The cost includes food *, transportation, course materials, and instruction (*Note – Part one of this school is run on a day-trip format and students are responsible for their food and lodging). Students can also sign up for part-one or part-two independently: part one costs $350, and part two costs $550. If you are ready to sign up please send us a message (see below email address) or call 541-261-9218.IMG_0149 - Version 2

Students of this guide school can earn college credit through the Outdoor Adventure Leadership Program at Southern Oregon University.

We currently offering this school in a two-part format. Part-one will be on March 11th through the 13th, and part-two will be on March 22nd through the 26th.

This course can also be provided as the custom format to meet your specific needs and dates. Please inquire about arranging a custom river guide school for your group by sending an email to info@outdooradventureleader.com

All content within this website is copyrighted to The Outdoor Adventure Leader, 2015.