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03/15/2013

Finding Adventure with the Sierra Club

Last summer, when I told fellow outdoor enthusiasts that I had been recently hired by Sierra Club Mission Outdoors, they often looked at me with a puzzled expression and voiced reservations about the Sierra Club's commitment to outdoor recreation. Slightly confused, I responded by asking how an outdoor program that leads over 200,000 people every year in activities ranging from rafting Sierra Nevada run off to backcountry skiing in the Adirondacks could be anti-recreation.

No matter how vehemently I tried to convince them that the Sierra Club is deeply committed to outdoor recreation, or how often I mentioned that in fact the Club was founded on the idea of exploration, many people were not buying what I was selling. With this in mind, I decided to see for myself what the Sierra Club's outdoor recreation options looked like on the ground, at the source, the local outings themselves.

First of all, to say there are options is an understatement. Mission Outdoors is present in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The outings range from photography courses to service trips, urban park exploration, and peak bagging. For those interested in becoming outdoor leaders themselves, Mission Outdoors conducts trainings, wilderness first aid, and in some cases, activity-specific skills development courses.

 

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Whitewater kayakers navigate slalom gates
Of all the excellent outdoor options I have explored so far with Mission Outdoors, there have been two highlights. Last October, I was jonesing for some whitewater but was still new to the Bay Area and didn't have any paddling buddies. My colleague and river rat extraordinaire suggested I look into some options within the Club, and I was not disappointed. I found the Sierra Club's Loma Prieta Paddlers Section and immediately got myself on to some classic California whitewater.

 

The group offers programs that run the gamut from pool sessions to class IV river runs and even slalom races. Now that spring is almost here, I am getting the itch to get on the water, and I know just where I'll start. 

Another group really pushing the boundaries is the San Francisco Bay Ski Touring Section. I have been traveling around the West, skiing at various resorts for a long time now, but there is something about the backcountry that has always grabbed my attention. The focus, the commitment, and the skills needed to succeed are that much more important because the consequences are so high. With climate change in the news more and more, and the obvious negative impacts of resorts on the environment, I decided that now was the perfect time to get trained. Backcountry tripWith that in mind, I reached out to the SF Bay Ski Touring group and they put me on to an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education course offered locally in Tahoe. Once I was trained up, they sent me a list of tours happening this spring. I have my eye on Mt. Shasta in late May.

Now that I have been with the Club for a while, I am happy to say that my friends were wrong, and the photos from my trips are all the evidence I needed to change their minds. They see the Sierra Club as I see it: A place that explores America's rivers, mountains, and forests in a way that is thrilling and develops skills while simultaneously building community and encouraging conservation.  My outdoor experiences with the Club have been limited to the Bay Area, but I know that, wherever I end up, there will be a Sierra Club Chapter or Group close by and that if I am in need of some outdoor fun, they can provide it.

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