I'm trying to plan my last *truly free* summer and have my eye on some NOLS courses. The Waddington mountaineering course looks particularly fun and exciting, but I would love to hear someone's experience with it before committing if I can. Has anyone taken this course before? Would it be worthwhile for someone with some mountaineering and climbing experience?
I used to work for NOLS and worked two of those courses. They're a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. (heavy loads and somewhat real bushwhacking) That being said they're a great way to see that part of the world while getting a solid introduction to glacier mountaineering and outdoor skills. They're pretty light on the technical climbing side of things, but those courses are usually where student groups progress the furthest into steep climbing curriculum compared to other mountaineering courses I worked. (it depends a lot on the group, weather and conditions; the Waddington trips certainly have the best terrain)
I'll be surprised if no one tells you to spend that money just hiring a guide instead. Focused 1 on 1 attention from a certified guide is a great way to download a lot of climbing knowledge much more quickly and efficiently than you would on a NOLS course. That being said, there are a lot of other reasons to take a NOLS course besides learning to climb, so it really depends on what you kind of experience you want for your money.
I did one of these courses in 2006. A great way to get good at living well in those conditions, which matters a lot, and glacier travel/snow climbing. The best part was the learning about humans and myself. Lots of adversity to face together. Humped huge loads with real bushwacking (one of the early days we went like 5k in 8+ hours), ran out of food twice, but we had great weather. I started out at a pretty fit 195 or so and lost 25 lbs on the trip... I'll never forget the overwhelming smell of the forest after a few weeks on the glacier.