Santa Monica resident Thompson Gilhuly, 19, recently completed an 80-day wilderness expedition in New Zealand with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

Gilhuly and eight other NOLS students embarked on the 80-day wilderness expedition in New Zealand in 2013. The trip was free of modern conveniences like cell phones, video games and electricity.

The NOLS Fall Semester in New Zealand was divided into three sections: sea kayaking, mountaineering and hiking with each section accompanied by two instructors who are experts in the field. The duration of each section was roughly 25 days. Gilhuly and his eight course mates began their expedition sea kayaking on the Pelorus Sound in the South Pacific Ocean.

Gilhuly and his course mates paddled 90 nautical miles during the kayaking section of the course. The daily schedule entailed kayaking during the day and camping on a new secluded shore each night in time to review curriculum and cook dinner. On an average morning, students cooked breakfast, packed up camp, debriefed about the navigational route and were paddling on the water before sunrise.

As part of their backcountry curriculum, the students were taught to read topographic maps and use navigation instruments on their prearranged kayaking route. Each student was expected to lead on navigation multiple days throughout the section.

During the mountaineering leg of their expedition, the students and instructors explored New Zealand’s Southern Alps, just east of the Main Divide. Despite challenging weather, the students were able to gain exposure to glacier and steep snow travel for approximately 25 days.

After successfully completing the mountaineering and kayaking sections of their NOLS semester, Gilhuly and his course mates then moved on to the backpacking section. This section covered approximately 75 high-altitude miles of forests and meadows in New Zealand’s Nelson Lakes National Park. The route progressed from mostly on-trail forested terrain to mountain passes and alpine tops and ended with off-trail exposed alpine meadow terrain.

For more information about NOLS, call (800) 710-NOLS (6657) or visit

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