“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 arrises on the trail and in our minds, we will cultivate intimacy with self and place.
Wildtender founder Fletcher Tucker and Rinzai Zen monk Ian Momsen 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 30-May 5, 2019
Tuesday, April 30 | 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.
Wednesday-Friday, May 1-3 | 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.
Saturday, May 4 | 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.
Sunday, May 5 | 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
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.
Ian is a professional photographer, avid adventurer, and Rinzai Zen monk. His journey began in the Green Mountains of Vermont, interpreting the change of seasons through paintings of the natural world, moved overseas where he trained at the Zuigan Sodo in Matsushima, Japan, and continues today in San Francisco, where he works as an outdoor and adventure photographer. He has traveled and camped extensively throughout the U.S. and spent countless hours shooting photos in the backcountry.
For the past decade, Emily has managed to spend nearly every summer in the California wilderness as a trail worker, a zen monk, and a backcountry cook. Former Tassajara resident and graduate of the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies Buddhist Chaplaincy program, Emily is interested in bringing wild dharma down from the mountains. She is currently a Marriage and Family Therapy trainee at Sonoma State University, combining nearly 10 years of formal mindfulness and meditation practice, with wilderness-based youth development programs, hospice work, and Buddhist chaplaincy. She is a long-term Gestalt Awareness practitioner and a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder. Her three treasures are process, wilderness, and nonjudgemental awareness.
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:
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)
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 scholarship for this program has 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.
Space is limited and our programs fill rapidly; if you are interested, we suggest registering and submitting a deposit 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
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)
lightweight sleeping bag + stuff sack
lightweight sleeping pad
trail lunches and snacks for yourself