An introduction to the core elements of the Back to Earth training, and an excellent precursor to a W.I.L.D. One adventure. Whether an experienced backpacker or a first-time camper, this trip is a great way for our youngest participants to get into the backcountry and connect deeply with their peers and the natural world.
For W.I.L.D. alumni who want to strengthen their practice, deepen their knowledge and reconnect to their W.I.L.D. experience. This course turns up the volume on technical backcountry travel and navigation, and creates opportunities for participants to take on new leadership roles.
Back to Earth’s foundational backpacking course is a comprehensive introduction to a wide range of leadership and personal development practices. A unique weaving of rites of passage ceremony, survival skills, and technical backcountry competencies.
For W.I.L.D. Alumni over 18 years old who are interested in guiding and group facilitation. For more information and to discuss whether this is the appropriate trip for you, please email or call. If we’ve already discussed it, then please proceed!
We sometimes joke when we’re in the mountains on a W.I.L.D. trip that the wilderness immersion part is pretty obvious - just look around - and that everything else we do is leadership development. Having a morning practice. Taking care of your gear. Washing dishes. Paying attention to the weather. Being a good listener. Learning the names of plants. Sharing words around a fire. Accomplishing something you didn’t think was possible. These are all forms of leadership development that happen every day on W.I.L.D. trips.
Participants learn how to travel safely in the backcountry, manage risk, and practice on-trail leadership skills. Through a variety of awareness and mindfulness practices, we develop relationships with nature that sustain physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. A unique combination of hard skills training, expressive arts, and rites of passage work fosters a culture of growth and resilience. The challenges of wilderness immersion allow young people to explore their edges and abilities, while learning to care for themselves and support each other.
Trips support individuals to access their gratitude and joy, and deepen their relationship with themselves. Trips build social space for friendship and community making. Few things in the world bring a group closer together faster than being in the wilderness. Participants often say that one of the highlights is the friendships they make, especially with people who are different from them and come from different backgrounds. Trips support the world by activating young people to care, and by opening doors to a wider ecosystem of healers, activists, ceremonialists, and indigenous elders. Participants often speak of coming into a more expansive perspective on their lives and their interrelatedness.
To transition easily back and forth between concentrated, focused intentional time, and wild, expansive, playful time, is an act of muscle memory and an invaluable skill. Our daily rhythms are designed to flex that muscle.
We begin our days in the backcountry with a morning practice that includes a traditional thanksgiving address and a physical warm up based in yoga, qigong, and calisthenics. We eat breakfast and pack up camp, getting ready for a day on trail. We spend our days hiking, stopping when we can to swim or take in an epic view. We make camp in the late afternoon, and spend the golden hours of the day relaxing, playing games, and learning skills. This is the time where we might introduce a sit spot practice, go over knot-tying, or do a wilderness medicine clinic. We eat dinner and then settle in around the fire for our evening council. Some mornings we might wake up before dawn to attempt a high mountain summit, or stay up all night tending a fire.
W.I.L.D. One courses are built around a 36 hour solo ceremony that happens in the second half of the trip. We usually arrive at our base camp around the midpoint of the trip and begin preparations. The solo is never mandatory, but our extensive preparations in the week leading up to the solo, and the strong container we build with each other, means that most young people choose it for themselves. Successful completion of a solo on W.I.L.D. One is a prerequisite for enrollment in W.I.L.D. Two and Three.
We aspire to make W.I.L.D. accessible to every young person who feels called.
If you want to come on one of these trips, we want you to.
If you need tuition assistance to make participation possible please fill out the Tuition Assistance application form as part of the enrollment process.
Click on the Register Here button and fill out your family and participant information. When asked, indicate that you want to apply for tuition assistance and it will give you a chance to fill out the application. We will be in touch with you.
We do our best to say yes to everyone, so please only ask for what you really need. Thanks.
To help support this work, visit our DONATE page.
“[H]ow do men in our culture move into a space where they can have that healthy masculinity that is not the patriarchal dominating masculinity but one that allows them to claim the space of their own hearts and their own need for love…”
Eli and Jesse started W.I.L.D. as a program for teenage boys. In 2021 we offered our first W.I.L.D. trip for young women, and we are excited to nurture that side of the program in the years to come. We know that wilderness immersion and rites of passage are essential for adolescents of all genders, and we are organically expanding our offerings as we grow our team of guides and mentors. We continue to consolidate our trips by gender-identification in part because that is how we received instructions for adolescent rites-of-passage. There is also a special kind of trust that can form in groups who share a resonant experience of gender in our culture.
Currently, the large majority of our trips are for male-identified people. Part of our reason for existing is to be a resource for young men wrestling with the specific obstacles and pitfalls intrinsic to 21st century male adolescence. We believe that helping young men, as Dr. hooks puts it, to claim the space of their own hearts is an act of service to the world and an ingredient in every movement for justice, peace and restoration.
And… we invite folks of all gender expressions to identify the trip most suitable for them.
“Back to Earth has provided my son with a sense of belonging and connection to himself and others through exposure to nature and an acceptance of self which has provided him with a deeper sense of wellbeing.W.I.L.D. has helped to provide my son with the tools and skills to self soothe, take perspective and develop a deeper sense of self.”
-Kerryn, W.I.L.D. Parent
“Back to Earth saved us! I was desperately looking for something for my teenage son to do during the lockdown of summer of 2020. I happened upon W.I.L.D. on a parents site and immediately signed him up for the 10-day backpacking trip. He had a blast; I had a break; but, even more importantly, he developed new skills and a renewed sense of being capable and connected.
To keep that goodness going, I signed him up for Mentoring Circles, which provides him with healthy, positive activities and an ongoing connection to excellent, supportive mentors and the out of doors. Highly recommended.”
-Kate, W.I.L.D. Parent
“Far more daunting than navigating my own transition from adolescence to adulthood has been parenting a son doing the same. At this critical period when he needs to experience freedom to find his authentic self, his fledgling judgement is being learned by trial and error, peers' opinions rule supreme, male culture is portrayed in the media as mostly crude and superficial (at best) and a parent is demoted to consultant, that is when powerful role models for what a man can be is essential. W.I.L.D. was exactly what I hoped for but didn't imagine existed.
Beyond my hopes for my own kid, I felt a deep sadness that what it means to be a man - and by extension what it means to be a boy - had been lost, almost something to apologize for.
Since joining the first trip to Yosemite, Jesse and Eli have been profound role models for my son - as men. Through their example he experienced the power and beauty of aligning with one's authentic self, connecting with nature, respecting life, and owning one's gifts, fears, weaknesses, power and heartbreak. During the first group trip, and through his continued work as Jesse's mentee, my son is learning the source of truest strength - the courage to be open and to connect.”
-Jennifer, W.I.L.D. Parent
“My son has benefited immensely from W.I.L.D. It’s a great change of pace from his usual urban lifestyle. He has come back each time with new levels of confidence, and stories of camaraderie and overcoming challenges. So grateful for Eli, Jesse and the whole team.”
-Andreas, W.I.L.D. Parent
“My son took part on his first Back To Earth wilderness retreat after he graduated from high school, prior to leaving for college. It was an introduction to a new passion for health, love of nature and the environment, and a new faith in his own capabilities. It was the best investment we could have made in him. He left a lovely boy and returned an amazing young man.”
-Celina, W.I.L.D. Parent
“Back to Earth has been a life-changer for our family. My son has been doing the year-round program for four years and he loves it. He never complains about going with Back to Earth on a weekend - in fact, he always wants to make sure there's nothing else going on on weekends when there's a BTE activity. Additionally, he did a 10-day backpacking trip over the summer in Yosemite. He was able to overcome some pretty profound fears with Jesse and the other guides and came back a changed young man.
I am forever grateful to Back to Earth for the opportunities they have provided for my son to explore his fears, his strengths, and his identity as a young man growing up in this crazy world.”
-Tatiana, W.I.L.D. Parent
“Our 16-year-old son has done both the W.I.L.D. summer backpacking trips and the Mentoring Circles program for the past couple of years, and it's impossible to overstate how valuable and wonderful Back to Earth has been, both for him and for us as his parents. He returns from these trips and gatherings in a state of calm, happy groundedness that is wonderful to see and to be around.
You know how great it feels as a parent when your kid is having an enlivening, enriching, challenging, fun-filled experience? That's how it feels to have your kid involved with Back to Earth, times 100. We are so super grateful for Jesse, Spencer and Eli! The gifts they're giving these kids are life-changing.”
-Elizabeth, W.I.L.D. Parent
“My 16-year-old son loved the deep, genuine connections he made while backpacking through the beautiful California wilderness. These trips are fun, rigorous, and spiritual. In addition, the adult mentors provided excellent guidance for the boys on their journey to adulthood. The trail programs are highly recommended.
My son also participated in the nine-month Mentoring Circles program, and he hiked, camped, kayaked, and went snowshoeing with his small group. His all-time favorite activity was the magical time at a sweat lodge! But this program is more than just fun activities. Jesse, one of the leaders, regularly checked in with my son during the year, providing an important opportunity for my son to discuss anything on his mind. He felt a lot of kinship and support during the year, and it was therapeutic. Mentoring Circles is a unique and special program.
My son is eager to do both programs again.”
-Jenn, W.I.L.D. Parent
“Thank you so much for providing this tremendous opportunity for our boys. It was a leap of faith for us to send them across the country for this challenging and life changing experience and I believe it will have profound long term effects for them.My son already seems different...more calm...less anxious.”
-Marianne, W.I.L.D. Parent
“I sent my son on this journey last year. His experience was transformative and deeply meaningful. We had full faith in Eli and Jesse as guides, and responsible men committed to providing an enduring and positive experience for our son. He came back overflowing with a new sense of himself - to envision new doors opening and confident that he could be a stronger advocate for himself. And he never missed his cell phone once! I highly recommend this journey. My son will be returning for his second trip this summer. I'm grateful to Eli and Jesse for providing this opportunity. It does require a village to raise a child. I have always encouraged my son to foster relationships with other men who could teach him to grow mentally, spiritually and physically. As a parent I can only do so much. The mindfulness adventure is perfect for him and it is helping him to build the confidence to move forward in his life.”
-Lowell, W.I.L.D. Parent
“I cannot say enough about this program and the guys who run it. My son went on his first backpacking trip with them last summer and it was transformative in so many ways. Not only did he gain experience backpacking, he went through an incredible spiritual and emotional transformation as well. He came away with life long connections to amazing people and a belief in himself that he hadn't felt before.”
-Sevgi, W.I.L.D. Parent
“The Back to Earth program has supported our son in finding his voice - providing both physical challenges and deep conversations that have helped him to summon the courage it takes to be vulnerable and articulate in difficult moments. It has also allowed him to experience the spark of beauty that is possible when young men let their guard down and take chances together in community.“
-Duncan, W.I.L.D. Parent