Leadership in the Rocky Mountains

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Leadership in the Rocky Mountains

Well, another expedition is in the books and it was a doozy. Compared to our spring retreat, we increased our group size from fourteen to twenty-one and drove over 3000 miles in eight days.  In that time, we visited three national parks, three national monuments and travelled throughout Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Utah.  The students learned about America’s exceptionalism at Mount Rushmore, the sacrifice and tragedy experienced by both sides at the battle of Little Big Horn, hiked above 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, saw bison, bears, foxes, mountain goats in Yellowstone, and even managed to sneak in a three-hour whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

We got in the habit of doing special effect panos where, as the camera passed a person, they would run behind the photographer and take a pose at the other end of the line. This produced an effect where everyone appeared in the photograph twice.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Prior to the expedition, the students were required to complete eight online lessons that taught them the basics of marketing including classes where they had to design their own logo, build a personal web page, write concisely, and learn how to correctly edit photos.  During the retreat, the days typically started around 5:00am and ended around 9:00pm. We usually departed the hotels between 6:45am and 8:00am, and no one, not a single person, was ever late.

The students rotated leadership positions where they made decisions for the group while ensuring everyone maintained accountability of all their personal items, luggage, and equipment.  To help them improve their communication skills, each student was required to complete a daily photo assignment and write a blog post describing the things they saw and the lessons they learned that day. All of this information was then edited by student editors and posted to the students’ personal pages at www.standwatch.org.   How hard did they work?  Over eight days, the student expedition members authored over 75 original stories and blog posts.  They did an amazing job.

The students also got to experience a real-life situation that was totally unexpected and had a far greater impact on them than anything I could have planned.  While hiking in the desert at Canyonlands National Park in Utah, our group came across an Australian couple who were trying to locate an older gentleman from Denmark who had gotten lost and severely dehydrated in the desert environment.  The man’s wife had experienced heat exhaustion at the bottom of a VERY deep gorge and he had left her there to find help.  You can read more about what transpired over the next four hours here, but the short version is that we were able to get the husband to safety, launch our own search, locate the woman, and direct NPS rangers and local responders to her location several miles into the gorge.

A photo of the adjacent gorge in Canyonlands National Park where we provided assistance to the woman from Denmark.

All of our students, who were kept safely in the parking area with chaperones and park rangers, later wrote in their daily summaries that this episode taught them how adaptability, decisiveness, and compassion for others are all traits that leaders must have. The fact that the husband and wife were both rescued provided the happy ending needed to make sure this lesson will never be forgotten.

While we develop plans for our next expedition, my hope is that we will be able to avoid any potentially tragic situations but still teach the kids lessons that will stay with them the rest of their lives. That is ultimately our goal, “To teach through experience those who strive to make their communities better places to live.” Our Rocky Mountain Expedition nailed it.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

NOTE: If you want to read the student’s daily updates, you can access them on their individual pages who simply go to the Expedition Reports link in the menu above. You should also definitely take a moment to view the expedition photo gallery.  


A Special Thanks

Even though the number of participants on this expedition increased by 50%, our expenses more than doubled compared to the retreat we took in April.  To cover these costs, we had fantastic support from some of the region’s largest corporations and small businesses.  Frankly, I was absolutely blown away by the assistance. I can’t thank them enough but want to make sure everyone appreciates the role these corporate citizens are playing in developing a brighter future for young social entrepreneurs in West Virginia. In no particular order, I’d like to thank the following companies and individuals:


  • American Electric Power (AEP)
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia
  • West Virginia American Water
  • ServiceWire Company
  • Charles Ryan and Associates
  • Huntington Bank
  • Putnam County Bank
  • Farmers Bank
  • St. Mary’s Medical Center
  • Dutch Miller Automotive Group
  • Advanced Technical Solutions
  • Standard Labs
  • Padget Business Services
  • Kanawha Scales
  • Tactical Tailor



  • Brian Bruce
  • David Casto
  • Ericka Duncan
  • Jim Freeman
  • Brad Hall
  • Megan Hannah
  • Kyra Harris
  • Carolyn Hicks
  • Janet Holdren
  • Susan Lavenski
  • Chad Prather
  • Bill Raney
  • Marshall Reynolds
  • Bethany Ross
  • Madison Sayre
  • Whitney Seacrist
  • Marisa Skaff
  • Gary Sims
  • Lecia Smith
  • Todd Stallard
  • Patricia Thomasson
  • Dennis Watson
  • Louis Weisberg
By |2018-07-23T03:38:49+00:00July 22nd, 2018|Comments Off on Leadership in the Rocky Mountains

About the Author:

Zac Northup is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of StandWatch.org. Zac served in the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard between 1992 and 2000, leaving the service as a captain. In 1996, he started his own publishing and consulting firm where he interviewed high-profile individuals including members of the joint chiefs of staff, service secretaries, elected officials, and soldiers in Bosnia, Honduras, and other locations. As a consultant, he worked for Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, 3M, and dozens of small firms that ranged from start-ups to multimillion dollar firms. He has proven experience taking a concept and growing it into a thriving business.