Somewhere at 19,000 feet on a Mountain in Ecuador…

February 11, 2011

While some Greenfield Community College faculty and students think of Spring Break as a “break” from teaching and learning, Outdoor Leadership Program Coordinator Austin Paulson and seven OLP students will use that time for an intense exercise in learning by doing. Austin and seven of this year’s 20 OLP students will travel to Ecuador from March 12-20 to climb 19,000 foot Cotopaxi and learn about international eco-tourism and high altitude climbing.The OLP students will develop high alpine climbing skills such as glacier travel and crampon and ice axe use, as well as experience and discuss socially and environmentally responsible eco-tourism practices. To help pay for the expedition, the OLP students have developed a fundraising project called “Quest for Cotopaxi.” Through Quest for Cotopaxi, the students will also donate ten percent of the money they raise to purchase socks for a project that supports porters who work with climbers on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

In addition to his work at GCC, Paulson directs an international adventure travel and eco-tourism business, Peak Expeditions. The March Ecuador expedition provides an opportunity for OLP students to understand the relationships Paulson has developed with business partners in Ecuador. Paulson said, “These students will have a unique opportunity to meet guides and business owners in Ecuador with whom I have had business relationships for 15 years. They will see why we are staying at these hotels and working with these outfitters. Peak Expeditions provides the students with a strong model of a sustainable business practice that includes professional and cross-cultural partnerships. This expedition is as much about learning skills in international outdoor program management as it is in learning technical mountaineering skills.”

Two of the OLP students who will travel to Ecuador have traveled internationally but had no prior mountaineering experience before starting the OLP last fall. Moira Murphy, at 28 the oldest student on the expedition, lives in Greenfield and grew up in Arizona. She said, “I never imagined I would do something like this expedition. What I’m learning in the OLP is that I can do anything I set my mind to. This expedition will be both a physical and mental challenge for all of us.” Alison Theriault, 23, currently lives in Greenfield and is from Littleton. She said, “I used to think this kind of mountaineering was an exclusive club only for people with lots of experience and knowledge. Now I know that’s not true. Austin, the instructors we have in the OLP, and the other outdoor professionals we’ve met are excited to share their knowledge and support our learning. This expedition is a strong example of that support.”

 Prior to the Ecuador Expedition, Paulson will give a lecture on March 4th at GCC titled “High Mountain Travel: Trends and Sustainability in Eco-tourism Around the World.”  The event will be held at the GCC Main Campus, Sloan Theater at 12 Noon.

For information about the Outdoor Leadership Program, contact Austin Paulson at (413) 775-1126 or visit For information about the Quest for Cotopaxi fundraising project, visit For information about Peak Expeditions, visit

By Mary McClintock, ’82