A council centered pilgrimage through Ojai’s Sespe Wilderness
Journey with us into the heart of the Sespe Wilderness (Chumash territory) to uncover depths of connection to land, community and self.
Following the meandering course of the Sespe, one of California's last wild and free rivers, we will 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.
As we wander, we respond to what the Sespe landscape reveals and our souls call for. Wildtender Co-Founder Fletcher Tucker will provide guidance regarding natural history and ecology, nature connection, and wilderness skills. Ojai Foundation President, council carrier and ceremonial guide Laura Whitney will facilitate daily council circles and offer a variety of ceremonial, awareness and threshold practices for healing and transformation.
This is a 30-mile, thru-hike journey into the Sespe Wilderness, beginning at Piedra Blanca along the Sespe River. Our wild pilgrimage will include an intimate group of up to fifteen (three guides and twelve participants) and unfold over four days/nights on the trail together. Our footsteps will carry us deep into the backcountry, with the Sespe Hot Springs as a magical replenishing point in the middle of the journey. Our Pilgrimage will complete at the eastern side of the Sespe Wilderness at Dough Flat.
Program Schedule | April 11-16, 2019
Thursday, April 11 | 2pm: Arrive at The Ojai Foundation for orientation and introductions. 4pm: shuttle to our remote campground in Rose Valley of the Sespe wilderness (near Maricopa, CA). Set up camp, share a camp meal and intention-setting council by campfire. Get a good night’s sleep before we hit the trail the next morning.
Friday-Monday, April 12-15 | All-day backpacking through the magnificent Sespe Wilderness. Hikes ranging from 4-9 miles per day. The terrain will be steep at points, but our pace will be moderate, and we will take many breaks to rest, replenish, and drink in the beauty of the land. Wildtender supplies 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 swim in the resplendent swimming holes of Spring, soak in the natural Sespe hot springs, and sleep beneath the sheltering stars.
Tuesday, April 16 | Hike out of the wilderness at Dough Flat (near Fillmore, CA) and shuttle back to the Ojai Foundation by 3:30 pm to retrieve vehicles. An optional meal will follow at a local Ojai restaurant to celebrate our Pilgrimage completion.
About The Ojai Foundation and the Practice of Council
Inspired by the timeless wisdom of traditions from around the world, The Ojai Foundation brings practices of connection and wholeness to our contemporary world. For over four decades, The Ojai Foundation has inspired, transformed, and nurtured people through rites of passage programs, council trainings, and nature immersion retreats.
Council, a circle practice that fosters attentive listening and authentic, heart-felt sharing, is at the core of The Ojai Foundation's offerings. Inspired by storytelling traditions from many cultures and rooted in the wisdom of nature, the practice of Council connects people authentically in a way that strengthens relationships, deepens relational consciousness and builds stronger communities.
Meet your guides
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.
As a guide, Laura brings decades of experience in group leadership, council, rites of passage and nature-based ceremony. She is a dedicated student of the Wheel of Wholeness and a loyal apprentice to the earth-cherishing practices of Buddhist and indigenous traditions, including the way of pilgrimage and fasting in the wilderness. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnographic Film from the University of Southern California (1987), is a certified Council Trainer, and is training to be certified in Holotropic Breathwork. Laura has an enduring passion for consciousness exploration, nature immersion, and sacred activism, working to restore our relationship with ourselves, with each other and with all beings through prayer, silence, ceremony, song, story and deep listening. She has served as President of The Ojai Foundation since 2008.
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
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)
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.
Our scholarships for this program have been awarded.
Terms & Conditions
Thorough review of Wildtender’s Terms & Conditions is required for registration.
Application & Registration
To apply and register for this program, click the button below and follow the steps on the Registration Page. Because we are now within 60 days of the program’s start date, full tuition payment is due upon registration and is non-refundable.
This program is almost full; if you are interested, we suggest registering ASAP.
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 by e-mail.
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. We will provide more guidance about preparing physically, emotionally and spiritually for the pilgrimage about one month in advance of the program.
hiking boots (broken in)
lightweight sleeping bag + stuff sack
lightweight sleeping pad
trail lunches and snacks for yourself