All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien


Adventure Travel

Jul 25, 2018

Meet The World Class Academy, the School Raising the World’s Best Outdoor Athletes

World Class Academy is a fully accredited private high school. Though it is based out of White Salmon, Washington, the students are rarely there. The school has three different programs for three different adventure sports- climbing, kayaking, and kite boarding.


Brooke Hess

This article supplements an upcoming feature in the print edition of The Outdoor Journal. Subscribe here for the full feature story.

Each program travels the world in search of stimulating academic environments and quality athletic training grounds.  The climbers travel the world in search of quality rock and good climbing temperatures, the kite boarders seek out the wind, and the kayakers move around according to river levels.  The three programs are scheduled to visit a total of twelve different countries in the 2018-2019 academic year.

From haggling with import/export hustlers in Uganda, to being escorted through back roads by military personnel, their stories are sure to fulfil even the most adventurous of minds.

Traveling the world with a group of 12-20 high schoolers can be a daunting task.  Add in the work of being a fully accredited high school, and you’ve got yourself a more than full-time job.  On top of all that, staff and students are all participating in highly dangerous adventure sports each day, often in developing nations.  The success of each World Class Academy program is highly dependent on their Program Director. The Program Director is responsible for the academic courses they teach and the athletics they coach, as well as the day to day schedule, logistics, and budget for the entire program.  I interviewed each Program Director to get an idea of how they deal with the challenges of keeping the program running smoothly. 

Where have you traveled with the school, and what has been your favourite destination?

Greg:  I have been to the Pacific Northwest, USA, Panama, Colombia, Morocco/Western Sahara, Brazil, South Africa, Sicily, Italy. It is really hard to choose a favorite.  There are so many redeeming qualities and fond memories from each place. I would say Morocco takes the cake in terms of cultural exposure and probably my best session in the waves.  Brazil is the clear leader in flat water freestyle and classic warm water conditions.

Robin:  In the last 2 years, The Climbing Academy has traveled to Wyoming, Utah, Spain, Mexico, Nevada, California, Greece, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Greece. I really liked Greece! It had a combination of interesting culture, cool history, good food, and fun climbing all jam-packed in one small area. We didn’t have to drive and could walk everywhere. One one side of the road, there was huge overhanging limestone cliffs, and on the other, the Aegean Sea. As a result, we could swim in the Sea every day after climbing. This location was dynamic and had so much to offer in terms of climbing, culture, and place-based education.

Riley:  So far I have been to Ottawa, Quebec, Uganda, Zambia, Chile and all over the West Coast USA with the school. Uganda and Zambia were amazing and such great experiences, but it is really hard to beat Chile. The rivers of Chile are so beautiful with crystal clear water and fun rapids. I think the Futaleufu has been my favorite single place from my time at the school so far.

Photo: Alina Karam, a student in the kite program.

What is the biggest challenge you face role at World Class Academy?

Greg: Again, it is hard to definitively pick 1 challenge as the biggest.  This job is so fluid and dynamic. I would say the biggest challenge is keeping the big picture in mind and understanding that I’m still doing a good job and the program is still a success even if it is not going according to the plan.

Robin:  The PD is in charge of planning a dynamic and rewarding schedule. I had a hard time finding enough hours in the day to pack in everything we wanted to do. In order to provide high-end climbing and academic programs, we need to allocate a lot of time towards these realms. It is also important to build in strategic time to rest and relax, which leaves little time for other extracurriculars. At the same time, we are traveling to amazing places, with such cool opportunities to see ruins, go to churches, shop at local markets, and see different interesting sights. I love building this stuff in when there is time but have a difficult time finding the time and space to incorporate them.

Riley:  Honestly, making sure we have food, water and everything else we need for school is a big challenge some days. 25 people eat a lot of food, and when we get low on food in a remote area, it is often a struggle to get more food that is also decent and nutritious. Also, dealing with injuries and sickness – especially while abroad – brings lots of challenges. There is never of a shortage of hurdles for the PD to deal with.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Greg: For me, I got a lot of value out of the last couple of days.  Lots of family members join us for the last week, the kids all are excited to finish the year, people are working hard to finish on a high note, seniors graduate and give speeches.  There is a lot of love and appreciation in the lost couple of days, which is really cool to see and be a part of.

Robin:  Working with a talented and motivated staff, and student body, who are passionate about rock climbing and alternative education. Because of the incredible buy-in to the program, we are able to push to new heights in both climbing and in school. The students and staff are all willing to work hard, support each other and make this program the best it can be. As a result, it continues to get better and better.

It’s the people that really make it a special place.

Riley:  I think finding the next spot for us to go when we are on the move is my favorite and most challenging part of being PD. When it is time for us to pack up the whole school and find a new drainage to kayak in, it takes a lot of effort from the PD to figure out the best move. Where are the water levels good? Do the rivers offer something for everybody? How is the weather? Can we find a good spot to stay? How far away is it? Are we going to drive a bunch of hours for nothing? All those questions dictate where is the best move is going to be, and it takes a lot of time, effort and communication to find the right spot. But when we move to a new spot and the kids and staff are stoked, it is very worth it and I feel very rewarded when we are having fun on a new river.  

Photo: Alina Karam, a student in the kite program.

What do you think is the biggest challenge the students face while attending the school?

Greg: It is amazing to see the challenges that our students rise towards.  Depending on the student, there are a multitude of challenges. There is usually an adjustment period to the fast paced nature of life at WCA.  Kids are often challenged with time management and balancing some new found freedom with still needing to perform at a high level.

Robin:  It can be really challenging to be away from home and to live in close quarters with a small number of people. Although challenging, it provides the perfect space to work on life skills such as patience, conflict resolution, empathy, and self-care. The staff is aware that these skills are a work in progress, and that each student is at a different place with each. As a result, we have so many opportunities to help students grow as people and build their life skills, even if the process can be slow, challenging or frustrating. These are the moments that can really make a difference and having supportive, patient and thoughtful staff are critical to a positive process.

Riley:  I think the biggest challenge for students is spending so much time away from family and friends back home. Even though modern technology helps, we spend a lot of time in areas with no reception so it is not always easy for them to communicate with their family. Also the lack of private space and alone time definitely gets to them. When those two combine – no private space and missing family – students can get pretty on edge. But good kayaking always seems to make it better.

Students in the climbing program prepare for morning workout. Photo: Charlie Lerch, a student in the climbing program.

What is the weirdest experience you have had while working for the school?

Greg: Oh boy…there are a lot of wild stories that come out of a year with WCA, from sprinting through airports, racing through small towns in Colombia on the back of motorcycles, waiting for military escorts on thief-ridden back roads, trying to track down a stolen cellphone using a lost phone app, getting threatened by locals, and many more.  For me personally, I got a few stiches in the head at a hospital that was questionable at best. We had to barge through doors to find someone to help, and then instead of paying anything at the end I was told that a donation of $10 was appropriate, if I thought the service was good.

Robin:  Dynamite Day in Greece. To celebrate Easter on Kalymnos, they have an age-old tradition of throwing Dynamite off a local hillside for an entire afternoon. These are like fire-crackers on steroids. We went and watched for a couple of hours. Before the event starts, local business owners tape their windows, so the glass doesn’t shatter. It was an intense experience, to say the least.

Riley:  Well, when the school was going to Africa last quarter, South African Airways did not allow our kayaks on the plane in London headed for Uganda. Then, basically because I was the only one with a phone that worked, I stayed behind in London for 3 days to help figure out what to do with the kayaks. That was a pretty strange experience, made only weirder by the fact I only had Africa clothes, i.e. shorts and flip flops. This was London in October, so I received lots of strange looks from the folks in London. The worldwide shipping industry is also pretty weird it turns out and figuring out how to get 15 kayaks from London to Zambia was not easy.  But Capo and I figured it out eventually, even though the kayaks took about 2 weeks to actually get to Uganda. Picking them up from customs in Uganda was an EPIC process and took about 10 hours. That was a strange one for sure. Evan (the PD at the time) and I were haggling with the customs agents for so long and going through such strange bureaucratic processes that when we eventually got super hungry, the guys we were haggling with took us to the workers cafeteria and we ate an African style lunch with a bunch of import/export hustlers.

In the middle of that lunch I was looking around and I thought to myself, “Wow, this is quite an interesting  day of work.”

The Climbing Academy in Bishop, CA. Photo: Charlie Lerch, a student in the climbing program.

Can you tell me about your favourite memory you have from your time with the school?

Greg: This year, I think my favorite memory was graduation.  We had a large senior class of 8, most of whom had been in the program for 2 years or more. It was really cool to hear from each of them and see their excitement to take on the next chapter in their lives.  

Robin:  The students here work so hard throughout the year. There are a thousand small memories, challenges, and successes that make it special. It has been really cool to celebrate the year with a Graduation Ceremony that the students put on. This last year, families came to Greece to celebrate with us. Our students took families out climbing, cooked them a welcome dinner, built a podium for our ceremony and gave thoughtful speeches. It was an emotional and powerful experience for students, staff, and families.

Riley:  We did an overnight trip on the Futaleufu and it was one of my favorite moments. We had some hectic moments getting it started – flat tires, dividing up the food, chaotic rapids, but we found an amazing campsite on the river after a huge rapid. We settled in, ate a super simple dinner of potatoes wrapped in tinfoil and hot dogs and had such a fun evening. We had a huge bonfire on the beach and told stories, laughed, played music, danced… it was an amazing experience. In the morning, stoke was still high and no one wanted to leave camp, but we had to get back for school! That was one of my favorite memories for sure and I will never forget the kids stoke on remote, simple living.

Video: Cat Hardman, a student in the kayak program.

If you would like to read the full World Class Academy story, available in the next print issue of Outdoor Journal, then you can subscribe here.

For more information on the World Class Adacemy, visit www.worldclassacademy.com/

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Athletes & Explorers

Apr 21, 2019

Jess Roskelley, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer: How the World Reacted.

On Friday, the world was forced to come to terms with the passing of three climbing pioneers. Perhaps the biggest loss to the outdoor community in decades, respects were paid from around the world.



The Outdoor Journal

On Friday, news outlets from around the world reported that three world-class mountaineers who were climbing Alberta’s Howse Peak on Tuesday, April 16th were caught up in a large avalanche, that carried them to their likely deaths. Those mountaineers were 28-year-old Austrian David Lama, 36-year-old American Jess Rosskelley, and 35-year-old Hansjörg Auer.

Loved and admired by many, people from all walks of life have paid their respect. A few of those messages that have been shared on social platforms can be found below.

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David lebte für die Berge und seine Leidenschaft für das Klettern und Bergsteigen hat uns als Familie geprägt und begleitet. Er folgte stets seinem Weg und lebte seinen Traum. Das nun Geschehene werden wir als Teil davon akzeptieren.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Wir bedanken uns für die zahlreichen positiven Worte und Gedanken von nah und fern, und bitten um Verständnis, dass es keine weitere Stellungnahme von uns geben wird. Vielmehr bitten wir David mit seiner Lebensfreude, seiner Tatkräftigkeit und mit Blick Richtung seiner geliebten Berge in Erinnerung zu behalten. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Die Familien von Hansjörg und Jess schließen wir in unsere Gedanken ein⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Claudia & Rinzi Lama⁣⠀ ____________________________________⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ David dedicated his life to the mountains and his passion for climbing and alpinism shaped and accompanied our family. He always followed his own path and lived his dream. We will accept what now happened as a part of that.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ We appreciate the numerous positive words and thoughts from near and far. Please understand that there will be no further comments from our side. We ask you to remember David for his zest for life, his enthusiasm and with a view towards his beloved mountains. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Our thoughts are with Hansjörg’s and Jess‘ family⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Claudia & Rinzi Lama

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I will walk by your side forever.

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We all go to the mountains because there is some innate part of being human that seeks challenge and there is endless challenge to be found in our wild places. I’ve always seen mountains as a blank canvas that lets me be an artist by choosing my unique path when amongst them. It’s freedom in its purest and most simple form. But, like many things in life, what you originally set out to do isn’t always where you end up. It’s the unexpected adventures along the way that create the true magic. There’s so much more to this passion than just the climb or the ski, there are the human connections created along this journey that have been some of the deepest and most profound friendships of my life. There is also tragedy. The mountains are both majestic and fierce. They give so much and they take so much. It is with profound sadness, frustration and even anger that this week we have lost so much passion, kindness, ingenuity and unadulterted talent with the passing of these three human beings. *** My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of David Lama, Hansjörg Auer and Jess Roskelley. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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It hurts to feel the crushing magnitude of losing people you not only really care about, but also that are such iconic figureheads of our community. My heart breaks and I am praying for the direct family members and loved ones involved. Jess was one of the most driven, positive, humble, goofy, and kind friends. He accomplished daunting mountains with a smile and inspiring ability to encourage you to see no limits, too. Despite the magnitude of his accomplishments, he wasn’t “above” anyone. He was a genuine, radical guy and husband to an equally inspiring, kickass woman, @alliroskelley David Lama- who in our direct community doesn’t have a story…? Soft spoken, genuine BADASS. Footsy (@magmidt 😭) It’s been some time since the three of us hung out together but I will never forget how you have always been the number one climber I have looked up to’s career…the childhood prodigy turned all-rounded mountain climbing technician. He was the guy that could probably come back from a long expedition and still fire 5.14’s like he never left the gym. Hansjorg; an Austrian legend, I didn’t know you as personally so well but man, your accomplishments were so damn legendary. It’s so hard for me to wrap my mind around this except for the fact that the mountains are at once beautiful and merciless. These guys knew what they were doing in the mountains. They were straight legends. That’s what is terrifying to me. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your resume is: extremely unlucky circumstances can still happen. 💔.

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🖤💫🙏🏻 no words.

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No sabemos ni como empezar este texto, son momentos tan duros que no nos salen ni las palabras. La pérdida de Hansjorg Auer, David Lama y Jess Roskelly es tan grande que nos hemos quedado vacíos. Son tantos los amigos perdidos en la montaña qué se nos encoge el corazón. Muchos ánimos a las familias y amigos. Conocíamos a Hans desde hace mucho tiempo. Le queríamos y admirabamos mucho, era una gran persona , muy entrañable y fuente de inspiración para muchos de nosotros, con el cual tuvimos la suerte de haber compartido mucho tiempo y aventuras. ¡Siempre estarás con nosotros! Tus latín brothers Eneko & iker. We do not know how to start this text, they are such hard moments that we do not even get the words. The loss of Hansjorg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelly is so hard that we are left empty. There are so many lost friends in the mountains that our hearts shrink. Many encouragement to families and friends. We had known Hans for a long time. We loved and admired him very much, he was a great person, very fond and a source of inspiration for many of us, with whom we were fortunate to have shared a lot of time and adventures. ¡You will always be with us! Your latin brothers. Eneko & iker

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Read Next: Hansjörg Auer: No Turning Back

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