Leadership Adventure Gap Semester

74-Day Gap Semester in Western North Carolina

To be a well-rounded individual, one must possess a wide variety of skills, habits, and character traits; formal college education addresses many, but not all, of these skills people need to be successful. In these challenging times, when normal rules no longer seem to apply, we want to offer a semester program that supplements the traditional university experience. We want to help young people build skills that lead to a more enriching life, and we believe Adventure Treks can provide a different yet equally fulfilling learning adventure.

The Leadership Adventure Semester (LAS) will offer a profound and intensive opportunity to deepen many of the skills we teach during summer. Students will:

  • Gain mastery in outdoor skills
  • Take a wilderness first responder medical course and lifeguarding course
  • Participate in local and meaningful service projects
  • Improve essential and pragmatic, hands-on life skills

LAS will emphasize non-cognitive skills like leadership, communication, collaboration, and community-building—skills necessary to succeed in today’s world. These will be woven naturally and intentionally into the entire gap semester as an excellent complement to the higher education experience.

Our program will be based at 126-acre Camp Pinnacle in western North Carolina and utilize our world-class food service; here, we will operate in relative seclusion to reduce the odds of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

Program goals

  • To offer fun and exciting outdoor adventures that help young people gain life skills and a greater sense of self.
  • To inspire young people to develop a lifelong love of the outdoors and a conservation ethic.
  • To empower young people to create an inclusive and reflective community that maintains a culture of kindness, sense of humor, and spirit of cooperation and volunteerism.


Backpacking and advanced campcraft

Year after year, backpacking is the most highly rated activity at Adventure Treks for many reasons, including shared challenge, lack of electronic distractions, and what we call “shared humanity.” There’s magic in overcoming obstacles, and it’s even more powerful when challenges are shared with friends. Without electronics, people able to focus on what’s in front of them, and what’s important: themselves, their friends, and creating long-lasting memories. Students are able to step into different leadership roles, and backpacking highlights commonalities and interests that form strong, unbreakable friendship bonds. Backpacking offers opportunities for both type I fun (seeing beautiful views, having deep trail conversations, jumping into swimming holes) and type II fun (steep inclines, inclement weather, forgetting something and having to problem-solve)—both of which create rewarding, meaningful experiences.

Students will hike through the 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest on several extended backpacking trips, honing such skills as:

  • Expedition management and safety
  • Orienteering, map-reading, and navigation skills
  • Leave No Trace principles
  • Camp set-up and take-down
  • Building temporary shelters
  • Fire-building
  • Backcountry cooking

Extended canoeing trips offer much of the same magic as backpacking, minus having the extra weight on your back! Students will learn basic techniques on Camp Pinnacle’s private Wolfe Lake, such as:

  • Essential canoeing strokes (forward and backward, J, C, pry, sweep, draw, cross draw, etc.)
  • Reading a river and flat water
  • Ferrying, eddying, and bracing

They’ll also practices skills like:

  • Loading and unloading canoes
  • Basic rescue techniques
  • River packing, camping, and portaging techniques

Students will become fluent in paddling skills and drills and river safety on flat rock. They will then learn basic whitewater techniques on the Green, Nantahala, and Tuckasegee rivers before they head out on a multi-day wilderness canoe and camping trip on the 117-mile French Broad River Trail, from the headwaters in Rosman, NC, to the Tennessee border. Working together in tandem canoes is also a great way to improve communication and teamwork skills.

Rock climbing, mountain biking, and kayaking
Rock climbing

We’ll take advantage of the soaring, ancient granite domes in Pisgah National Forest for our rock climbing chapter, where students will learn basic concepts such as:

  • Knot-tying
  • Belaying
  • Rappelling
  • Anchor-building

We’ll also teach how to safely operate a climbing site; self-rescue; techniques such as movement and advanced knots; and how to manage problems like stuck ropes or lost gear.

Mountain biking

In Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest, biking trails abound. In fact, western North Carolina is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top spots for mountain biking. Students will be assigned a mountain bike for the duration of their semester and will be in charge of their maintenance and repairs. Biking clinics will include:

  • Proper body positioning for climbing and descending
  • How to read the trail and pick a line
  • Balance and pedal strokes
  • Braking and shifting
  • Trail etiquette
  • Basic repairs: fixing flats, repairing chains, replacing derailleur hangers, checking tire pressure, changing brake pads, etc.
Whitewater paddling

The whitewater paddling community is almost as big as the mountain biking community here in western NC. Our local rivers offer endless opportunities for kayaking, and students will learn basics like:

  • Common strokes
  • Reading whitewater and picking a line
  • Surfing waves
  • T-rescues
  • Wet exits
  • Rolling and bracing
  • Properly swimming in whitewater
Wilderness first responder and lifeguarding courses

The 10-day wilderness first responder course is the standard minimum medical certification for outdoor leaders like guides, search and rescue professionals, and educators. It’s also an extremely beneficial course for anyone who takes extended backcountry trips and wants to pursue emergency medical training. Over 72–80 hours of classroom learning and hands-on scenarios, students will cover topics like:

  • Patient assessment systems
  • Risk management
  • Vital signs
  • Anaphylaxis, allergies, and airway management
  • Heat- and cold-related injuries
  • Spinal and traumatic brain injuries
  • Wounds and soft tissue injuries
  • Trauma and shock
  • Burns and blisters
  • Bites, stings, and wildlife safety
  • Splinting and patient packaging
  • Dislocations
  • And much, much more

Students will also become certified lifeguards.

Local community service projects

Leadership Adventure Semester students will get to enjoy all that western North Carolina has to offer, and we believe service that truly benefits the area will help them appreciate their surroundings even more. LAS students will participate in multi-day service projects, including trail maintenance and building and river clean-ups.

Essential life skills

In addition to helping students become skilled and competent outdoorspeople, we believe young adults must possess a wide variety of skills and habits to help them live rich, independent, and self-reliant lives. Thus, we will also include educational and hands-on blocks for:

  • Basic carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and landscaping
  • Basic auto maintenance and repair
  • Basic bike maintenance and repair
  • Cooking, menu-planning, budgeting, and kitchen management
  • Personal financial management
  • Interviewing skills and resume-building
  • Outdoor equipment maintenance and repair


Students will live at Camp Pinnacle for the duration of their semester (when they’re not camping during extended backcountry trips). The open-air cabins are screened-in and rustic (no heat or A/C) but have electricity and are comfortable.

All-inclusive tuition

Adventure Treks gap semester tuition will include the following:

  • All meals and lodging
  • Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, and group gear
  • Technical gear for mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing, and kayaking
  • Guided activities
  • Wilderness first responder course
  • Lifeguarding course

Not included in tuition:

  • Medical insurance
  • Personal clothing and gear

Download the packing list here and travel information here.

Packing list

Travel information

Adventure Treks’ Leadership Adventure Semester will not offer college credit for fall 2021. We are, however, communicating with several higher education institutions and working toward offering college credit for future programs.

COVID-19 safety measures

Students will receive a COVID-19 test upon arrival, and Adventure Treks will continue to adhere to current CDC and NC state guidelines. Students will not be able to leave the group for the semester, and will be essentially “quarantined” with each other for 74 days, allowing us the freedom to have a true in-person experience.

*More information regarding traveling to and from Adventure Treks will be available soon to enrolled students.

Instructors & Staff

View the Leadership Adventure Semester staff team here!

How to Apply

Applications for our fall 2020 semester have closed. 

Space will be limited to 24 students; we will operate at a minimum of 15 students. You can download the detailed application process here.

Step 1: Submit a student application.

Enroll now to complete the initial online application. Our application requires a parent’s email address to create a username and password, and this email and password is how you’ll access the account for all paperwork.

Step 2: Secure your spot with a $1,000 deposit.

The deposit must be made within 3 days of the initial online application and can be made over the phone with a credit card (plus a 2.5% bank processing fee), debit card (no processing fee), or checking account (we’ll need the account and routing number).

The deposit is fully refundable if the applicant is not accepted into our program, or if we do not meet our minimum number of students (15) by August 15. 

Step 3: Fill out a detailed application.

Once we receive the student application and $1,000 deposit, students will complete a questionnaire, two essays, and health form; submit two references; and schedule an interview with our director.

Step 4: Interview with our director.

After submitting your online application, students will contact us to set up an interview with our director, Dave “Dmac” McGlashan. This interview will be completed over video chat.

Step 5: Official acceptance!

We will notify you as soon as possible regarding your official acceptance into the program.

Enroll now

*Terms and conditions for the Leadership Adventure Semester will apply.