photo: Maddy Minnis
“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, nature, and the Dharma 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 no more than twelve 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. And we become initiates in the great legacy of Buddhist wilderness practice. On this 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, place, and practice.
Wildtender founder Fletcher Tucker and Zen 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 (for a 2-night stay), there will be space for rest and integration, hot spring baths, delicious meals, and meditation in Tassajara’s incomparable mountain Zendo.
About Tassajara Zen Mountain 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.
Tassajara will be our final destination. We will spend two days and two nights here rejuvenating, contemplating, celebrating, and integrating our wilderness experience. Your stay and meals are included in the program tuition.
Program Schedule | May 22-29, 2020
May 22 | 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.
May 23-26 | All-day backpacking through the magnificent Ventana Wilderness. Hikes ranging from 6-9 miles per day. The terrain can be rugged and 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.
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 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 will be double rooms shared with another pilgrimage participant.
May 28 | Full day and night at Tassajara.
May 29 | Savor a half-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.
Photos from recent pilgrimages in Big Sur
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.
Two night stay (and all 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 filters, cooking supplies, first aid, etc.)
Instruction in Zen Buddhist practice, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.