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Wild Pilgrimage: Backpacking Journey to Esalen • Big Sur


MAY 10-17, 2020


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

photo by Maddy Mannis

photo by Maddy Mannis

Embark on a transformational journey through the majestic and seldom-traveled backcountry of Big Sur, concluding at the coastal grounds 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 historic 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. 

As we wander, we will respond to what the Big Sur landscape reveals and our hearts call for, engaging awareness-expanding and nature-connecting practices. Our Wild Pilgrimage will unfold over five nights and days on the trail, and complete with a weekend at Esalen to connect with its powerful land, community, and psycho-spiritual offerings.

Read a little more about Wildtender and our relationship to the Esalen Institute in this interview.

Program Schedule | May 10-17, 2020

Photo of Esalen hot spring baths: Amanda Marsalis

Photo of Esalen hot spring baths: Amanda Marsalis

  • Sunday, May 10 | Meet in Monterey, CA at 2pm. Shuttle to a beautiful remote campground for an orientation, camp cookout, and our first night under the stars.

  • Monday-Friday, May 11-15 | 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, May 15-16 | 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, May 17 | 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.

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.

Photos from recent pilgrimages in Big Sur


Program Tuition


photo by Daniel Dent

photo by Daniel Dent

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.


  • 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/ecology, nature connection, backpacking/trailcraft essentials, and relational awareness practices

  • Resource list & preparation packet

  • Preliminary phone call to address any questions or concerns

  • Guide fees (for Wilderness First Responder certified guides)


  • Travel to and from program

  • Lunches and snacks on trail

  • Personal backpacking equipment. A full packing list will be supplied upon registration, but here are the essential items you will definitely need to buy, borrow or rent: hiking boots, backpacking backpack, lightweight tent, lightweight sleeping bag, lightweight sleeping pad and headlamp.

  • Esalen accommodations for the weekend of May 15-17 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 is strongly recommended. Please read more here.

Application & Registration

Steps to Register

Please note: registration can be completed on a smart phone or tablet, but the process is easier on a laptop or desktop computer. The process may take up to 10 minutes to complete.

  • Please carefully review our Waiver, and our Terms & Conditions. It is essential that you fully understand our payment and cancellation policies, agreements and expectations before making your commitment.

  • From the drop down menu below choose between paying a “Deposit” or the “Full Tuition”.

  • Click the “REGISTER & ADD TO CART” button.

Program / Tuition:
  • Once your selection has been added to the cart click on the “CHECK OUT” button below. You will be prompted to enter payment and personal/medical registration information.

  • If you are only paying the deposit, please CREATE AN ACCOUNT at check-out to save your payment information, this will allow us to easily bill you for the remainder of your tuition.

  • Wildtender will be in touch to confirm receipt of your payment and registration, and to follow up with any questions. If the program is already full, or we see an issue that prevents your participation, we will be in touch, and a full refund will be made promptly.

Physical Requirements

Backpacking experience is not required, and all ages are welcome (18+). Applicants must be physically fit, free of bodily injury or impairment, and willing to train to prepare for our journey. Due to the rugged nature of the Big Sur backcountry we rate this program at an intermediate level. Daily mileage will vary, our longest day will be approximately 8 miles (13 kilometers). The backcountry is steep and we will be ascending and descending as much as 3,000 feet daily (915 meters). Depending on your gear you will need to carry between 25-35 pounds (11-16 kilograms). More details about the terrain, physical requirements and training will be made available after registration. If you are interested but uncertain of your physical ability please feel free to contact us.

Terms & Conditions

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

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have specific questions please review our FAQ section.