Cart 0
Cart 0

Esalen Pilgrimage • Big Sur

Backpacking Journey to THE Esalen INSTITUTE

APRIL 1-7, 2019


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 (Esselen tribal territory), 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 include an intimate group of fifteen (three guides and twelve participants) and unfold over four days/nights on the trail together. Our journey completes with a weekend at Esalen to connect with its powerful land, community, and psycho-spiritual offerings.

This program is full. Please consider one of our related Big Sur backpacking programs this Spring:

  • Wild Dharma Pilgrimage : Zen-centered backpacking journey from the Big Sur Coast to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center (April 30-May 5)

  • Wild Presence Campout: Big Sur backcountry camping with Gestalt awareness focus, and journey to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center (May 9-14)

Program Schedule | 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.

Meet your guides

photo by Colin McCarthy

photo by Colin McCarthy

Fletcher Tucker

Wildtender Co-Founder Fletcher Tucker was raised on California’s Central Coast. Fletcher found his deepest sense of belonging living on, and learning from, the wild landscape of Big Sur (Esselen territory), which he called home for nearly a decade. 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 in the lineage of Esalen Institute co-founder Dick Price. Fletcher has studied and participated ceremonially with teachers within indigenous North and South American spiritual traditions, and is deeply engaged with the mythopoetics and Earth-reverent practices of his own northern European ancestors. Fletcher is a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder.


Molly Leebove

Molly is devoted to a path of reconciliation in a deeply troubled time. She has been influenced and guided by the land where the mountains meet the sea in Big Sur and the loamy soils of Abekani peoples, most commonly known as Vermont.  Tending food gardens and stewarding the heart-minds of fellow agricultural enthusiasts has been her most long standing discipline. Molly is deeply dedicated to revitalizing a harmonious relationship with earth through her Buddhist practice, grief-work and embodiment activities.

Molly lives in the wild and wonderful city of Detroit, Michigan with a vision for healing of the people and responding to the urgent Earth’s call. Molly is passionate about social identity work, authentic healing and generating unity across difference.  Unity in an age ruled by divide is one of the most radical acts possible. Molly is trained in wilderness first aid.

photo by Ian Momsen

photo by Ian Momsen

Tom Strickland

Tom is an avid hiker, climbing arborist, and deep appreciator of the natural world. He developed a sense of connection to himself and others while exploring rocky Sierra peaks, emerald alpine lakes, and granite bouldered streams. He deepened his earthiest perspective studying and engaging with the coastal hills and cool waters around San Luis Obispo and later stewarding redwood canyons and uplifted marine terraces of Big Sur. Based in Portland, Oregon, Tom is a wilderness field instructor with Evoke Therapy Programs where he facilitates the physical and emotional safety of diverse groups of young people challenging themselves in a range of therapeutic interventions united in the development of technical wilderness skills, appropriate communication, internalized integrity, and self-reliance. Tom is certified with NOLS wilderness first aid.

photo by Fletcher Tucker

photo by Fletcher Tucker

Noël Vietor

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.

Program Tuition


Wildtender supports amazing teachers, small businesses and organic, sustainable brands in sourcing our meals and supplies. Thank you for your support as we strive to strengthen local and sustainable economies, and compensate teachers/guides who have spent decades honing their craft and skills.  Your tuition covers:

  • camp meals and beverages (breakfast & dinner each day)

  • wilderness permits & campsite fees

  • shuttling costs

  • shared wilderness & safety supplies (maps, satellite communication device, water filters, cooking supplies, first aid, etc.)

  • instruction in natural history, nature awareness practices, backpacking/trailcraft essentials, and Council practices

  • resource list & preparation packet

  • preliminary phone call to address any questions or concerns

  • guide fees (for Wilderness First Responder certified guides)

Terms & Conditions

Thorough review of Wildtender’s Terms & Conditions is required for registration.

Application & Registration

This program is full. Please consider one of our related Big Sur backpacking programs this Spring:

  • Wild Dharma Pilgrimage : Zen-centered backpacking journey from the Big Sur Coast to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center (April 30-May 5)

  • Wild Presence Campout: Big Sur backcountry camping with Gestalt awareness focus, and journey to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center (May 9-14)


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.

Trip Insurance

For your protection, we strongly recommend that you acquire travel insurance to cover your travel and program expenses in the event that a major weather or climatic event prevents your Wildtender program from being possible. Also, life can be unpredictable and this would cover you in the event that something happens that causes you to cancel (injury, illness, family emergency, travel delay, natural disaster at home, etc.). Travel insurance also provides you with medical, emergency assistance, and evacuation coverage in the event of your injury or accident. Here are two companies we recommend:

iTravelInsured (their SE or LX products) offers flexible "cancel for any reason" policies and pre-existing condition waivers; these policies need to be booked within 20 days of paying your Wildtender program deposit.

World Nomads is widely used for guided tours, and slightly more affordable. They do not have policies with "cancel for any reason" or pre-existing condition waivers, however, so their plans offer less protection. Their policies can be booked at any time in advance of your program.

Preparing for your pilgrimage

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. Wildtender will supply some shared backpacking essentials: water filters, camp stoves, first-aid kit, and more. Below are a few things you will definitely need to bring. We will provide more guidance on preparing physically, emotionally and spiritually for the pilgrimage about one month in advance of the program.

  • hiking boots (broken in)

  • backpacking backpack

  • lightweight sleeping bag + stuff sack

  • lightweight sleeping pad

  • headlamp

  • trail lunches and snacks for yourself

Photos from last year's Big Sur pilgrimages...