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First Ascent Wilderness Orientation


Discover. Explore. Transform.

Already love what you’re seeing and hearing about life at Western Carolina University? The First Ascent wilderness orientation program gives you the chance to make new friends and discover the beautiful region that surrounds WCU.

Whether you want to simply dip your toe in and spend an afternoon rafting on the Nantahala River or want to immerse yourself in an experience that will take you beyond civilization and deep into the mountains, First Ascent has a trip for you. You’ll return with lasting memories and friends for future adventures.

First Ascent Wilderness Students Navigating


Wilderness hiking



Pre-Orientation Rafting Adventure

Show up early for your orientation session and bond with other incoming students on one of the nation's most exciting whitewater destinations, the Nantahala River. The Nantahala is 9 wet miles of class II-III fun!


rafting 2017


rafting 2017


Wilderness & Adventure Trips

Connect with other adventuresome Catamounts the week prior to the start of the fall semester! You'll spend the week exploring everything our beautiful mountains have to offer.


first ascent wilderness 2017


rock climbing



If you don't see the answer to your question here, please contact Jeremiah Haas.

At 12:30 p.m. after check-in, you will head to the Campus Recreation Center's Adventure Shop and meet your rafting guide, we'll take care of you from there. Please come having already eaten lunch or bring a bag lunch for the drive.

Don't worry, many of the participants have never been done any of these outdoor adventures before. On the trip, your leaders will teach you all the basic skills you will need to be comfortable and successful.

You should be in good physical condition for all of the First Ascent options. The least physically demanding option is the First Ascent RAFTING trip. The most physically demanding option is the First Ascent WILDERNESS trip where you will be traveling 2-5 miles a day with 45lb backpacks in mountainous terrain. Contact Jeremiah Haas at Base Camp if you have questions about the physical requirements of the program or concerns about pre-existing medical conditions.

For all of the First Ascent options, you'll need to provide your own clothing and footwear. Information and clothing lists for each trip is available at Base Camp Cullowhee will provide all the specialized equipment for the specific activity and has camping equipment (backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, etc) for you to use free of charge.

All of the First Ascent rafting trips tackle the class II/III whitewater of the Nantahala River. Located a short drive from WCU, the Nantahala is America's most visited whitewater destination. Throughout the 9 miles of river that the trip covers, you'll encounter numerous exciting rapids. Along the way, you'll see beautiful wild flowers, breathtaking mountain views, and may even catch a glimpse of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad steam train.

The First Ascent 5-day backpacking and rock climbing (Wilderness) trip will traverse the fantastic mountains and river bottoms of either Nantahla National Forest or Pisgah National Forest.  These hills and valley's contain a thick concentration of granite domes, beautiful waterfalls, and excellent scenery. The First Ascent Adventure program takes place at various locations around WNC based on weather and sports.


The First Tracks ski/snowboard programs head to the great Cataloochee Ski Mountain located just outside of Smoky Mountain National Park.  Given its western facing aspect, this mountain can get hit by some great snow offering great turns!

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