We at The Northwest Passage are very proud of our family of adventure guides and instructors. And why shouldn't we be? 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
Founder, Adventure Visionary, Guide

After 35+ years passionately pursuing adventure, Rick continues to set the highest standards for adventure travel. Making adventure dreams a reality is not just a goal, but a way of life. Having left no corner of the globe untouched and continuing to explore, Rick shares his love of adventure with an uncanny knack for “spinning the fun meter."

The Northwest Passage grew out of Rick’s natural drive to find the most desirable and pristine adventure locations—and his skill at crafting intimate, off-the-beaten path itineraries that always figure in the perfect sunset view.

World traveler and explorer that he is, Rick still lives just a few blocks from his childhood home in Wilmette, IL.

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!

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 The Northwest Passage.
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 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 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

Annie Aggens
Director of PolarExplorers
Guide & Instructor


Annie Aggens 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.

 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
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
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.

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
Assistant Polar 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.