Leadership Adventure Gap Semester: Pacific Northwest Expedition

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Leadership Adventure Gap Semester: Pacific Northwest Expedition


Washington, Oregon, Costa Rica

Current Grades

12th, 12+


74 Days

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Meeting Place

Portland, OR (PDX)

Our goal at Adventure Treks is to help young adults lead a more enriching life, and we believe LAS offers a profound and intensive opportunity to deepen outdoor, interpersonal, and leadership skills. During their time in Costa Rica and the Pacific Northwest, students will gain mastery in outdoor skills like backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing, and whitewater kayaking; take a wilderness first responder certification and swift water rescue course; and learn essential life skills.

During the fall semester, students will have the opportunity to earn up to 14 academic credit hours through Western Carolina University. LAS graduates will also have the inside track to Adventure Treks’ internship program.

Adventure Treks’ gap semester is fully accredited by the Gap Year Association.

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LAS Fall Expedition Itinerary

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Backpacking & advanced camp craft

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 Goat Rocks Wilderness (spectacular alpine terrain surrounded by wildflowers and snow-capped volcanoes), North Cascades National Park (known for glaciers, gigantic Fraser firs, and emerald lakes), and the Olympic Peninsula (wild beaches filled with wildlife and sea stacks) 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
Wilderness first responder course

Not only is it important for outdoor enthusiasts to have a basic understanding of wilderness medicine, but the wilderness first responder course is also the standard minimum medical certification for outdoor leaders like guides, search and rescue professionals, and educators. (Adventure Treks alumni often go on to become instructor interns after having gained this certification.) 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
Whitewater kayaking & canoeing, plus swift water rescue course in Costa Rica

Students will become fluent in paddling basics, drills, and river safety for three weeks in the Turrialba region of Costa Rica. We’ll focus on canoeing skills to prep for a multi-day expedition to the Caribbean coast. Then, we’ll hop in whitewater kayaks on the Rio Pejibaye before transitioning to rafting on the Rio Pacuare.

Plus, two of our days will be spent on a swift water rescue course, which is designed for anyone who loves to recreate in moving water or who wants to become an outdoor professional! This course is designed for people with little to no rescue experience; students will learn the fundamentals of survival in moving water, plus gain knowledge in hydrology and river classification; swimming and self-rescue; and boat handling and anchor systems.

Skills covered in the canoeing syllabus:

  • Essential canoeing strokes (forward and backward, J, C, pry, sweep, draw, cross draw, etc.)
  • Ferrying, eddying, and bracing
  • Loading and unloading canoes
  • Basic rescue techniques
  • River packing, camping, and portaging techniques

Skills covered in the kayaking syllabus:

  • Common strokes, rolling, and bracing
  • Reading whitewater and picking a line
  • Surfing waves
  • T-rescues and wet exits
  • Safely swimming in whitewater
Mountain biking

Strap on your helmet for some of the country’s best singletrack trails. Learn the ins and outs of mountain biking with the 9,068-foot Mt. Bachelor in the background.

Skills covered in the syllabus 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 and basic repairs
Rock climbing

You’ll quickly realize why Smith Rock attracts climbers from all over the world as you test your grit on the welded volcanic tuff that comprises the impressive spires in the park. Over several days, try your hand at varying levels of both single-pitch and multi-pitch routes.

  • Advanced knot-tying
  • Belaying & rappelling
  • Anchor-building
  • Movement techniques
  • Self-rescue

Dates and Prices

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Academic credit through Western Carolina University

Spring semester students have the opportunity to earn up to 14 hours of academic credit through Western Carolina University’s Parks and Recreation Management department.

Students are responsible for pursuing academic credit, including completing the WCU application for admission and class registration and submitting the course fees ($65 application fee + $55 per credit hour for 4 credit hours).

Included in tuition:
  • All meals
  • Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, and all group and technical gear
  • Guided activities and certifications
Not included in tuition:
  • Transportation to the program, to Costa Rica, and at the end of the program
  • Medical and program insurance (more info here)
  • Personal clothing and gear (packing lists available for enrolled families)
  • Tuition and application fees for Western Carolina University (2022 pricing: $65 application fee + $55 per credit hour for 4 credit hours)
  • Spending money ($100–$150 recommended)



Whitewater kayaking


Rock climbing

Mountain biking

Wilderness first responder


Tori Gualario, Colts Neck, NJ

LAS is an amazing, transformative experience for any young adult looking to become a better version of themselves while exploring the outdoors. This program offers students a beautiful landscape and facility to learn countless useful backcountry skills and leadership skills, all while having so much fun! LAS is a great fit for anyone looking to broaden their interests and work on themselves—whether or not they already have experience in the outdoors.

Adelaide Lenihan, Louisville, KY

Imagine the happiest moment of your life. Now imagine if you felt that way every single day… that was my life for 74 days while at Adventure Treks. It wasn’t always easy—it was quite challenging at times—but I had never been happier with a group of once strangers who are now the best friends I’ll ever have. LAS gave me the best experiences of my life; I have the tools, knowledge, and connections to last me a few lifetimes, and that is a feeling you can only learn through a program that demands vulnerability, builds character, and adds depth. I woke up every day with a purpose and the motivation to challenge myself, and I am extremely proud of myself. I am forever grateful for this experience.

Trevor Buchan, Durham, NC

LAS is unlike any other program out there. It’s so unique in its wide range of activities and experiences offered, from all things outdoors to general life skills. Additionally, it’s so aptly situated in North Carolina, with premier locations for each activity no more than an hour’s drive. With incredibly experienced instructors and staff, expect to learn and excel at everything offered. Accumulating knowledge and skill at multiple different activities I had never experienced before is something I’ll be able to carry with me the rest of my life, and will provide a platform for me to jump into any of those activities again as a future hobby. Not only does the semester offer great strides in self-growth and knowledge, but it’ll leave you walking away from it with a tightknit community of close friends. And the instructors are truly amazing and incredible. They really made the semester what it was; without their mentorship and compassion it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as significant of an experience.

Matt Schneiderman, Mamaroneck, NY

Attending the Leadership Adventure Semester is the best decision I have ever made. I grew as an outdoorsman, leader, friend, community member, and person. Those were the most fun and rewarding three months of my life. I made amazing, lifelong friends, and the community was incredible and unique. Everyone was so supportive and willing to lend a hand, a shoulder to cry on, and just a great friend.

Laura Kephart, West Grove, PA

The 11 weeks I spent at LAS was the most personal growth I’ve ever experienced. I accomplished so many feats I never considered possible, from physical challenges to emotional breakthroughs. I feel like I now have the confidence to push myself in tough situations and the independence to do my own thing in life. I have LAS to thank for that. And I don’t think we could have had a better group of instructors. I always felt heard and valued; when I asked questions and showed more interest in certain activities, they jumped at the opportunity to teach me more. They all were funny and caring and made me want to spend time with them. Everyone was approachable. I also made so many close bonds—the community is more than a group of people with shared interests… it’s a family. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

Gio Befeler, Miami, FL

Doing the LAS gap semester was one of the best decisions of my life. The community created in this program had so much healthy energy and supportive relationships; the 20 other students in the semester now know me inside and out, and I couldn’t be happier about it. My peers are people I will be friends with for a lifetime. We grew together. We laughed, cried, walked, hiked, rowed, and loved each other. I could not have asked for a better group of people to have done this semester with and appreciate the application team for handpicking the best students and lifelong friends. You learn so much about yourself in this program and find yourself in situations and activities you never knew you could overcome, but you do. I came out of LAS an even more positive version of myself.