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Drinking Deeply from the Wild Spring

Backpacking Pilgrimage from Big Sur to Tassajara

May 23 - 28, 2018


An awareness centered pilgrimage from the Big Sur coast to the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

When you walk for days in pristine wilderness, when you ascend the cloud-shrouded peak, when countless ridges unfold before you, when the free-flowing stream whispers beside you, and the stars shine unobscured above you, what will you learn about yourself and your place in this magnificent world?

Precious few visitors to Big Sur receive the blessings and beauty that wait patiently just beyond the coast. We are pleased to offer you a rare opportunity to expand your awareness of self and nature on a guided, multi-day backpacking trip through the sacred and majestic backcountry of Big Sur, California. Together with a small group and dedicated guides, you will journey from the rugged coast, through the expansive and biodiverse Ventana Wilderness, to the remote and sublime Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

When we cross the threshold of the backcountry together, we enter into the ancient and culturally universal practice of pilgrimage. Like all great pilgrimages, ours will be one of body, heart, mind and spirit. We will carry only what we need, walk with presence and wonder, and gather meaning from our inner and outer landscapes.

Wildtender founders Noël Vietor and Fletcher Tucker will enrich our exploration with instruction on Big Sur natural history, nature connection, and backpacking practice. Tribal Ground Circle co-founder Dorothy Charles will support our deepening awareness of land, self and other through daily check-in circles. Upon arrival at Tassajara, there will be space for rest and integration as well as meditation instruction in the Zazen tradition.

Excursion Details | May 23-28, 2018

  • Wednesday, May 23 | 7:00-9:00 PM Introductions and orientation in Big Sur the evening before departure. We can provide recommendations for lodgings/camping if needed.

  • Thursday-Saturday, May 24-26 | All-day backpacking through the magnificent Ventana Wilderness. Hikes ranging from 6-9 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.

  • Sunday, May 27 | Hike into the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, arriving by 3:00 PM. Enjoy Tassajara's Japanese-style bath-house, featuring natural hot springs, steam room, and creek-side sunning deck. Optional meditation/Zendo instruction will be available in the afternoon. Later we'll share a celebratory family-style dinner in the beautiful dining room, followed by optional evening meditation in the Zendo. Our accommodations for the night will be shared rooms in the lovely Courtyard Rooms.

  • Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day) | Savor the day at Tassajara, including breakfast and lunch in the dining room. Depart by shuttle by 3:00 PM, arriving in Big Sur to retrieve personal vehicles by 6:00 PM.

Program Tuition

$985 total, including all food, lodging and shuttle costs

A $350 non-refundable deposit is required upon registration to hold your space. The remaining balance is due by April 22, 2018.

Tribal Ground Circle long term students may use up to 3 credit days toward the cost of this workshop as an adjunct offering. Please inform Wildtender when applying/registering if you intend to do so.

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.


This program has completed.

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...

  • hiking boots (broken in)

  • backpacking backpack

  • lightweight sleeping bag + stuff sack

  • lightweight sleeping pad

  • headlamp

  • trail lunch and snacks for yourself

Meet your guides


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.


Fletcher Tucker

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.


Dorothy Charles

Dorothy has been a Gestalt practitioner since 1985. She began her work at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California where she was inspired by the wildness of the land and experienced the way that time spent in nature enhances wellbeing. Over the last 35 years, Dorothy has made the trek from Big Sur to Tassajara several times and each time she was able to deepen her understanding and appreciation for the natural world. Dorothy now practices in Santa Cruz, California, and is the co-founder of Tribal Ground Circle, an educational community studying and practicing Gestalt Awareness Practice, Relational Gestalt Practice, and other work evolving from the lineage of Richard Price, gestalt teacher and co-founder of Esalen Institute. Dorothy received her training at Esalen with Richard and Christine Price, and at the Pacific Gestalt Institute in Los Angeles, California, with Lynne Jacobs and Gary Yontef.

Photos from our last pilgrimage to Tassajara