Guides & Instructors

 

We at The Northwest Passage are very proud of our family of adventure guides and instructors. And why shouldn't we? Our personable and professional guides love to share their passion for seeking adventure in the outdoors. We select our guides for their experience, attention to detail, safety consciousness, dedication to positive group experiences and in depth knowledge of the trip activities and destination. They hold certification in First Aid (usually Wilderness First Aid) as well as appropriate certifications and/or awards in their area of expertise. Our guides and instructors have honed their skills all over the world, and are passionate about sharing their knowledge and experience with you!

Rick Sweitzer
Crete, Greece

Rick Sweitzer

Passion can only describe his 26 years pursuing adventure. Having left no corner of our globe untouched and continuing to explore Rick is sure to share his love through confidence, experience and an uncanny knack for spinning the "fun meter". Never one to settle for the modest in 2010 Rick has already achieved a lifetime of firsts reaching the summit of "the big one" Denali with his 15 year old son, exploring the Galapagos Islands and planning on a full circumnavigation of the island chain of Thira including Santorini. Making adventure dreams a reality is not just the goal but a way of life. Make sure to join Rick on his next adventure. Click here for more.


keithheger
Greenland Crossing

Keith Heger
Program Director
Guide & Instructor

Growing up on Lake Michigan, I often searched the horizon for something that would help me define the unknown. As my horizon expanded beyond the Chicagoland community I continued to wander in search of that unknown.
Searching has taken me throughout the world- North, South and Central America, Western Europe, the Mediterranean, Antarctica and the Arctic. In that time, I have worked to gain skills in wilderness travel, group dynamics and leadership. Skills such as sea kayaking, white water kayaking, rafting, canoeing, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, mountaineering & sailing have aided in my search. Helping fuel the passion is the reward of introducing people to the unknown. I invite you to come join me!


nancyvedder
Crete, Greece

Nancy Vedder

Program Manager
Guide & Instructor

My first camping experiences were as a baby in diapers, and that was long before the days of disposables! I was fortunate to have parents who enjoyed the outdoors, would load us all in the station wagon and take off for beautiful parts of the US. ThoughI always enjoyed outdoor activities, I never considered any type of career in the field. I took a circuitous route to NWP, starting with a BA in French and English Literatures, lived in France, then got an MSW and worked as a clinical social worker for about 10 years. Burnout hit and by great luck, I ended up landing at NWP. I started here in 1995 and still am amazed that I'm actually doing this for a living! I'm an ACA open water kayak instructor and Wilderness First Responder certified.My favorite part of working here is the people- the people I speak with on the phone about potential trips, the guests who come on the trips, our hosts at the small family owned inns where we stay in Crete, our phenomenal staff of part-time instructors and guides. It's all about people having fun and I feel so grateful that I get to be part of that on a daily basis



North Pole

Annie Aggens
Director of PolarExplorers.com
Guide & Instructor

Annie Aggens, 34, fits the mold of the modern day voyageur. Vying at the top of her “things-she-would-rather-be-doing” list are canoeing the rivers of the Canadian subarctic and planning expeditions to the ends of the Earth, something she does on a daily basis as Director of Polar Expeditions for The Northwest Passage. Annie has led many expeditions throughout the US & northern Canada including backpacking, canoeing and sea kayaking adventures.

In 2000 she co-guided a ski expedition to the North Pole. In 2002 she and her boyfriend paddled their canoe from Chicago to New Orleans. Annie’s passion for the outdoors is contagious, and her broad experience makes her a valuable resource. In 2003 she co-authored The Encyclopedia of Outdoor and Wilderness Skills (McGraw-Hill) which provides practical information on 450 outdoor and wilderness-related topics. She regularly lectures on organizing Polar expeditions, paddling expeditions, adventure travel, and the history of Arctic exploration.


Chris Paustian
What's SUP? Lake Michigan

Chris Paustian
Polar Explorers Assistant Program Director
Guide & Instructor

How to pursue serenity in the Earth’s wild places (or, my fortunate life in outdoor world):
First:
 Make sure to get born into a family that appreciates and respects the outdoors.
Second:
 Get hooked young. Experience the thrill of car camping and leisurely bike rides or hikes through state parks.
Third:
 Don’t let your older brothers leave you behind. When they learn to SCUBA dive, go on backpacking expeditions and paddle whitewater in canoes, you’d better tag along.
Fourth:
 Surround yourself with respectful and respectable outdoor people who love to share their passion for the wilderness.
Fifth:
 Share your passion for the wilderness.
Sixth:
 Learn as much as you can about thriving in the outdoors and don’t forget to stretch your limits from time to time.
Always:
 Revisit the thrills of short state park rides and hikes.
Always:
 Appreciate and respect the outdoors.
Always:
 Remember that you are small and the wilderness is big. Discover that it’s great to be small.

 


Andrew Leary

Meramac Cavern, MO

Andrew Leary

Assistant Program Director

Guide/Instructor

"My love for the outdoors started at an early age and flourished in my college years in Oregon. Since then, I've kept the outdoors close to my heart, both personally and professionally. I love helping groups experience the outdoors and facilitate intraspective learning that can be taken back home once a group's time in the wilderness is concluded."

Andrew has worked professionally in the outdoors since 2005, everything from guiding wilderness experience for urban youth in Chicago, to ski patrol and avalanche mitigation in Utah, to working for numerous collegiate outdoor programs. His personal passions include Rock Climbing, Backcountry Skiing and board games. Andrew is a certified Wilderness EMT and ACCT Challenge Course Manager.  Andrew is a Greece kayaking guide and Lead Climbing Guide for The Northwest Passage.



Dana Paskiewicz

Crete, Greece 

Dana Paskiewicz

Marketing Director

Guide/Instructor

My passion for the outdoors started when I was very young, traveling out west with my family. I have always been in love with mountains, and have fallen in love with the water, as well. It is an incredible feeling to share this passion with others!! When I'm not guiding with The Northwest Passage, I'm out on personal trips out west! Just this year, I have backpacked in the woods of Wyoming, Colorado, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, Waterton International Peace Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park! You could say that I can't get away from nature.  My favorite program I've worked with The Northwest Passage is our Crete Inn-to-Inn Kayaking Trip - it is a magical experience I love to share with others. See you on the water (or the trail)!!


Elena 

Crete, Greece 

Elena Arrigo

Guide/Instructor

Finding the Passage in 2008 was a life changer for me. In the beginning, my preference was backpacking, rock climbing, or canoeing. I took up kayaking reluctantly. But after a taste of paddling the Libyan Sea along the southern coast of Crete, I was hooked. I'm now an ACA certified kayak instructor, and when I am not working as an editor I lead kayaking trips in the Midwest and Europe. 
As far as adventure travel goes, I was a late bloomer. Although I never wanted to come inside (or come down from a tree) as a kid, I didn't discover camping or adventure travel until after college when I headed west to Colorado to taste the mountains. I started hiking, backpacking, biking, and floating down rivers and realized what I had been missing!
My favorite Passage trips to lead are the week-long trips in Greece--whether Crete, Santorini, or Milos. I'd love to see you there sometime, so you too can let the deep blue water and magical Mediterranean sunlight do their work on you.

Eric Lillstrom

Northern Wisconsin 

Eric Lillstrom

Assistant Program Director

Guide/Instructor

Eric came to NWP with an extensive, well-rounded background in a wide variety of outdoor skills with emphasis on aquatics. He grew up in a rural setting surrounded by dogs, horses and other animals and immersed in all types of outdoor recreational activities. Over the years he specialized in teaching aquatics skills to young people and adults, most recently working with the Boy Scouts of America, serving on the National Aquatics Training Staff. Eric is an avid backpacker, bow-hunter, and fisherman. He also enjoys scuba, trail riding and all winter sports. His advice is, “Take every opportunity offered to enjoy nature. Whether you have the time and resources for an elaborate trip overseas, or only have a few hours here and there, experiencing the outdoors is what keeps us grounded and allows us to appreciate our day-to-day lives.” Eric is well versed in a variety of wilderness survival techniques but with him as your guide, chances are you won't need them.


 Will Thompson

Apostle Islands, WI

Will Thomson
Guide & Instructor

As a young kid growing up on the North Shore I have always been looking for escapes and new places to explore.  Starting at a young age I had an active role in Boy Scouts which naturally led me to The Northwest Passage.  I have been assisting and leading trips for about the past 6 years and have been to almost every trip or program that we offer in the Midwest.  As my paddling skills improved my horizon expanded to not only sea kayaking but to rock climbing and white water kayaking as well.

 

 

 


Ryan Allen
Lake Michigan

Susan Thomson
Guide & Instructor

I have been guiding for the Northwest Passage for the past six years.  My love for the outdoors started as a child because I grew up in rural southwest Pennsylvania where the opportunities for outdoor adventure were endless.  My childhood home was just a few miles from the Youghiogheny River and surrounded by creeks and forest.  As a child, I spent countless hours and days playing in the forests and swimming in the local creeks and the “Yough”.
After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, I devoted many years to a career as an investment advisor.  The work was interesting and my clients were wonderful, but I felt like a prisoner in an air-conditioned office. As the years passed, I found myself staring out the window and longing for the outdoors. 
Finally, the thought of spending another day indoors became absolutely unbearable, so I transitioned into a career as a personal fitness trainer and earned a British Canoe Union certification for kayaking and my Wilderness First Responder Certification.  This life change allows me to help others stay healthy and spend plenty of time hiking, skiing and paddling in the great outdoors. 
For me, it doesn’t matter whether the day is sunny with low humidity and blue skies, or if the temps are below zero with blowing snow.  Outdoors is always the best place to be, and I enjoy sharing that love with others.   


Chris Paustian
Lake Michigan

Bethany Kondiles
Guide & Instructor

Unlike most of our guides, I was a lame kid who was afraid of bugs and never slept (or peed) outside.  Yet, when I discovered climbing in college, it opened a whole world to me I never knew, and I learned just how great it is to sleep on a tarp under the stars.
I’ve been guiding for The Northwest Passage for several years, and though I started out solely as a rock climbing guide, I’m happy and grateful that The Northwest Passage has opened many doors to me.  Since 2008, I’ve expanded my guiding skills to kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (even though (don’t tell) climbing will always be my greatest love).
When I’m not getting dirty with The Northwest Passage, my big kid job is in traumatic brain injury research.  My favorite outdoor accomplishments includes my first alpine summit, Colchuck Peak in Washington (2010), and climbing all over the country.


 Ryan Allen

Ryan Allen
Guide & Instructor

In this day and age the possibilities for travel are endless.  I'm lucky to have adventurous parents who took me to Mexico and around the American West while I was a kid.  This seemed to have planted a desire within me, and I continue to travel thanks to their lead.  I started working at The Northwest Passage in 2003 and over the years have been able to visit many exotic places as a result.  The experiences have been phenomenal! 
I've been able to interact with locals from many cultures, and share with other adventurers on holiday.  I try to share my fortuitous adventures with others in the form of stories, photos, and souvenirs  While the lifestyle of being a guide is not an easy one, I feel lucky and often have to pinch myself to make sure that what I'm experiencing is a reality.  As an instructor, I take my job seriously and seek out education to support my ability to teach.  I've worked with many experienced mentors over the years to continue to improve many technical skills and methods for teaching them to future newbies.  Oh yeah, and I like to have a ton of Fun too!  
Cheers to everyone with an adventurous spirit and the willingness to help protect Earth's beautiful venues for future generations!"