Outdoor Alumnus Survives Reality TV, Guides on Mount Rainier

IMG - Don Nguyen, ORL Alumni, at the summit of mount Rainier with the #CMCAdventureFlag
Don Nguyen, Leadville ORL Alumni, at the summit of Mount Rainier with the #CMCAdventureFlag PC: Dan Bott

Outdoor Alumni Feature: Don Nguyen, Outdoor Recreation Leadership, 2013 – 2015

Making an outdoor hobby into a career is a dream shared by all Outdoor Recreation Leadership (ORL) students. Hundreds of aspiring mountaineers, raft guides, and rock climbers have joined the ranks of Colorado Mountain College Leadville students, looking to gain the skills necessary to turn that dream into a reality.

Don Nguyen, a 29-year-old ORL alumni from Oklahoma City, is currently living in Washington state, working as a climbing instructor and mountain guide on Mount Rainier and Mount Shasta. He credits the CMC Leadville outdoor program and faculty for bridging the gap between hobby and career.

CMC’s climbing program and its experienced instructors gave me the technical skills, certifications and direction to work the dream job I have now.”

Developing Skills, Making Memories.

IMAGE - Don Nguyen, ORL Alumni, in Namibia learning from a local tribe.
Don Nguyen studying the survival skills of the Bushmen(Ju/wasi) in Namibia after filming Naked and Afraid.

Mountain Orientation on its course description seems like a very basic and easy outdoor camping course. I had already backpacked and trekked thousands of miles across the world, and felt very confident Mountain O had nothing to offer me.” Don reflects, “The course was challenging because I realized there were still many different techniques of trekking and camp skills to learn in addition to the methods to effectively teach others.”

Outdoor experiences have a way of hanging around, an endurance and longevity unmatched by other types of memories. Those connections and experiences evoke powerful feelings and are carried along for years, often transcending time and space when recalled. For Don, it’s a Canyon Orientation course in Eastern Utah that he remembers as being incredibly impactful.

“Our group was traveling off trail cross country. We found a flat shelf on the side of the canyon and even the instructors had not camped there before. We set up our camp and as we cooked dinner a friend in my group dusted off an arrow head, than another, and another. The flint arrow points were among piles of flint flakes. Hundreds of years past some other occupants of this place had also noticed this protected flat spot and set up a camp here and were creating tools and practicing their skills.”

Decades of Experience Build Today’s Professionals.

Colorado Mountain College Leadville has been a local leader in outdoor studies since the mid 80’s. The formal outdoor curriculum was originally known as ‘Wilderness Studies’, and was revamped and renamed in 2000 into Outdoor Education. The Leadville Outdoor Recreation Leadership program began in 1995.

“The outdoor studies students are so resourceful, so good to each other and so interested in making their world a better place.” Says Kent Clement, lead ORL faculty recently designated ‘Full-Time Faculty of the Year‘.

IMG - Don Nguyen, ORL Alumni, on the Pacific Crest Trail
Instructors may praise students for dedication, but reflections from alumni often shine recognition back onto ORL faculty. “My favorite class at CMC was Outdoor Leadership with Kent Clement. It was really enlightening to study with an excellent leader and long time outdoor professional.” says Don while considering his CMC experience, “I learned about the types of leaders, and how various leadership styles relate to the many fields of outdoor guiding and instructing.” 

Though he is currently quite content exploring the Pacific Northwest, Leadville will always hold a special place for Don. “I miss that beautiful mountain town charm of Leadville. Seeing Elbert and Massive out my window framed by conifers was a pleasure I will never forget. I miss the pack out day at CMC before each OUT class. The bustle and noise all around of people who were just as excited to learn and be outdoors.”

Don’s clear with his advice for future ORL students; Colorado Mountain College is a place where students that are dedicated and invested in their education will have all the tools necessary to succeed.

“CMC is a school where you get a return proportionate to what you put in. If you study hard, practice, and in your spare time get out and build on your skills, those skills become yours. I think I spent more hours studying, practicing and drilling the climbing techniques I learned than when I was at a conventional 4 year university.”

Don Nguyen starred in an episode of the Discovery channels tv show Naked and Afraid.Surviving Reality Television.

Truly a life-long learner, Don has found various unique opportunities to continue honing his outdoor skills, both on and off camera. He was recently featured on the Discovery channel survival series, Naked and Afraid.

“I was dropped into Namibia with a person the TV network chose to be incompatible personality wise with me.” says Don, “It was already hard enough to forage and camp with minimal supplies amongst dangerous African animals, so teamwork was critical to finish the shoot in style. I used every single teamwork building and conflict resolution exercise I had learned from CMC. I felt that having these techniques and strategies helped reduce conflict with my partner on the show, built teamwork, and gave a good frame work on running the camp and staying on mission to finish the 21 day challenge.”

Following the Naked and Afraid experience, Don found the opportunity to stay in Namibia to continue learning the survival techniques of the local culture. He spent an additional 21 days immersed in the village of Bushmen(Ju/wasi) – the last few hunter gatherers of Southern Africa. Armed with only an iPhone and a handy-cam he documented the amazing skills that allow Bushmen to thrive in the Kalahari desert. With the help of Renegade 83 Productions and the Discovery Channel, Don was able to gather footage for the “We Do It Outside’s Kalahari Survival Guide”, trailer below.

Sharing Outdoor Experiences.

Although being featured on Naked and Afraid was Don’s first reality tv debut, he is no stranger to sharing his outdoor experiences through media. In fact, Don has a blog with his partner and fellow CMC Leadville alumni, Emily Duncan, where they dish on their outdoor adventures together: www.wedoitoutside.com.

“Africa was never a blank place on a map. Humans came from here, It had always been known and charted in one way or another as long as there were men to do such exploring.” Don writes in the post, Naked and Afraid: A Prelude, “It is instead an uncharted space in the imagination of outsiders, such an ancient place where so much had been discovered to be forgotten again into the night which lies beyond the light of the fire.”

You can also follow their adventures on their Facebook page.