The wilderness pilgrim's step-by-step breath-by-breath walk up a trail... carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to bring a profound sense of body-mind joy. – Gary Snyder
Embark on a rare and transformational journey through the majestic and seldom-traveled backcountry of Big Sur, ending at the sacred coastal grounds and healing waters of Esalen. Among the fleeting gifts of Spring – free-flowing creeks, boundless wildflower fields, and vibrant wildlife – immerse in nature with an intimate wandering village, practice awareness and community, and learn fundamental skills to feel at home on the earth.
We will embody the ancient and culturally universal practice of pilgrimage on this journey of body, heart, mind, and soul. Inspired by Esalen’s co-founder Dick Price, who found healing and transformation wandering the Big Sur wild, we will carry only what we need, walk with presence and curiosity, awaken our senses, and gather meaning from our inner and outer landscapes.
We will rise with the sun, hike on historic pioneer and native trails, ascend wind-swept peaks, rest and meditate in tranquil valleys. As the sun sets behind the mountains, we will share stories and meals by the fire, and sleep beneath a blanket of stars during April’s new moon.
As we wander, we will respond to what the Big Sur landscape reveals and our souls call for, engaging awareness-expanding and nature-connecting practices. Our wild pilgrimage will unfold over four days/nights on the trail, and complete with a weekend at Esalen to connect with its powerful land, community, and psycho-spiritual offerings.
Excursion Details | April 1-7, 2019
Monday, April 1 | Meet at Esalen at 2pm. Shuttle to a beautiful remote campground for an orientation, camp cookout, and our first night under the stars.
Tuesday-Friday, April 2-5 | All-day backpacking through the magnificent Ventana Wilderness. Hikes ranging from 6-8 miles per day. The terrain can be steep, but our pace will be moderate, and we will take many breaks to rest, replenish, and drink in the beauty of the land. We supply delicious, nutritious, and energizing breakfasts and dinners on the trail. In the evenings we will share stories of the day around the campfire. We will sleep beneath the sheltering stars.
Friday-Saturday, April 5-6 | Arrive at the Big Sur coast on Friday afternoon and check into Esalen. Enjoy Esalen's extraordinary grounds featuring cliffside hot springs, organic gardens, and sweeping ocean views. At Esalen we will meet twice to practice nature connection and awareness, explore the land together, share stories, and integrate our wilderness time. Spend two nights at Esalen.
Sunday, April 7 | Savor a half-day at Esalen, including breakfast and lunch in the lodge. Depart Esalen by 3:00 PM.
Wildtender tuition: $985, tuition includes backpacking food, shared supplies, permit and shuttle costs.
Your Esalen accommodations for the weekend of April 5-7 are not included in program tuition, and must be booked separately. After applying and registering through Wildtender, you will receive a password to book your accommodations through Esalen. Go here to see accommodation pricing.
Payment & Cancellation Policy
A $350 non-refundable deposit is required upon registration to hold your space. The remaining balance is due by March 1, 2019.
Cancellations made over a month from the program start date will be refunded minus the $350 non-refundable deposit. We are not able to refund cancellations made within a month of the program start date, since we will have already confirmed lodging and shuttle reservations, purchased supplies, and turned away other potential participants. However, if you or we are able to find a replacement for your spot, we will happily refund your full tuition/deposit minus a $75 administration fee.
Because space is limited to only 10 participants, and we want to ensure participants are prepared for the journey, this program is by application. We suggest inquiring or applying now and we will be in touch shortly.
While previous backpacking experience is not required, hikers should be physically fit and capable, free of bodily injury or serious health conditions. Participants must be at least 18 years of age. If you are unsure of your capacity or have any other concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via the form below or by e-mail.
Preparing for your pilgrimage
Wildtender will supply some shared backpacking essentials: water filters, camp stoves, first-aid kit, and more. A complete list of what you will need to pack for this excursion will be provided upon registration, and we are happy to provide more specific guidance. But here are few things you will definitely need to purchase or rent for this excursion.
hiking boots (broken in)
lightweight sleeping bag
lightweight sleeping pad
Meet your guides
Noël has been in an ongoing apprenticeship with sacred gardens and wilds of California. Her work and interests are dedicated to helping people relate more meaningfully with the land, themselves and each other. Noël served as the Program Coordinator for the Esalen Institute Farm & Garden in Big Sur from 2010-2015 – organizing its land-based educational programs and practice of Relational Agriculture, rooted in Esalen’s Gestalt lineage. Noël found a deep sense of belonging in the Big Sur wild while hiking the steep trails, learning the history and stories of the place, and experimenting with wild-crafting and homestead arts. Noël is certified with NOLS Wilderness First Aid.
Fletcher is a California Central Coast native, and a former inhabitant of Big Sur. Having hiked and backpacked throughout the American West, Europe and Japan, Fletcher has become a devotee of trail-craft and minimalist backpacking. Fletcher is an experienced teacher, ancestral skills practitioner, Deep Ecology disciple, and lifelong student of California natural history. Fletcher is a dedicated student of Gestalt practice, learning from Dorothy Charles and Eric Erickson in the lineage of Esalen co-founder Dick Price. Fletcher has also studied and participated ceremonially with teachers within indigenous North and South American spiritual traditions, which have deeply informed his spiritual relationship to nature. Fletcher is a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder.