“The mountains are my home. With bark hat and wooden clogs I walk… once you see through transience and illusion, the joys of roaming free are wonderful indeed!” – Hanshan, 9th century Buddhist poet
Precious few visitors to Big Sur (Esselen tribal territory) 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, Zen centered, multi-day backpacking trip through the sacred and majestic backcountry of Big Sur, California. Together with an intimate group (three guides and up to nine participants), 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. We will carry only what we need, walk with presence and wonder, and gather meaning from our inner and outer landscapes. Paying attention to what arises on the trail and in our minds, we will cultivate intimacy with self and place.
Wildtender founder Fletcher Tucker and co-teachers will enrich our journey with guidance in Big Sur ecology, nature connection, and Zen practice – including walking and seated mediation, as well as some old-time feral Zen surprises! To support our deepening awareness of land, self and other, we will also practice daily check-in circles. Upon arrival at Tassajara, there will be space for rest and integration, hot spring baths, delicious meals, and meditation in Tassajara’s incomparable mountain Zendo.
About Tassajara Mountain Zen Center
Tassajara is a world renowned Zen center nestled in a sublime mountain valley, inland from the Big Sur coast, in a remote part of the Ventana Wilderness. Established in 1967 by Suzuki Roshi, Tassajara was the first Soto Zen training monastery on the West Coast. In the spring and summer months, Tassajara opens its gates for guests to enjoy the natural hot spring baths, serene accommodations and exquisite grounds, sumptuous vegetarian meals, fresh-baked bread, and Zen practice in the traditional Zendo meditation hall.
Tassjara will be our final destination. We will spend a day and half here (one night) rejuvenating, contemplating, celebrating, and integrating our wilderness experience. Your stay and meals are included in the program tuition.
Program Schedule | April, 2020
Specific dates TBA
Day 1 | 4pm: meet at a Big Sur campground for orientation. Set up camp, share a camp meal and introductions by campfire. Get a good night’s sleep before we hit the trail the next morning.
Day 2 | 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.
Day 3 | 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 and Tassajara Zen 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 double rooms shared with another pilgrimage participant.
Day 4 | 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.
Meet your guides (more to be announced)
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.
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 Big Sur backcountry pilgrimages
Application & Registration
Registration for this program will begin soon. If you would like to be placed on an early registration list please send us an e-mail here.
Tuition information will be released when registration begins.
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.
Overnight stay and meals at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center (double room shared with another Wildtender participant)
Camp meals and beverages (breakfast & dinner each day)
Wilderness permits & campsite fees
Shared wilderness & safety supplies (maps, satellite communication device, water treatment systems, cooking supplies, first aid, etc.)
Instruction in Wildtender natural history, nature awareness practices, backpacking / trailcraft essentials, and Buddhist 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.
Trip insurance is strongly recommended. Please read more here.
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. We will be hiking 35 miles total (56 kilometers). 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.