- Why SYMG?
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Our professional mountain guides are here to facilitate a seamless and memorable trip for you in Yosemite and the High Sierra. All guides are trained in wilderness medicine at the professional level and are experienced backcountry folks. Each guide has his/her own specialties, often associated with advanced coursework or certifications. Our guides are well versed in the natural and cultural history of the area, cook excellent food, and are fun, personable people to spend time with.
Simply put, I still love to guide! Spending over 25 years as a guide has been the best way to spend my life. I love the beautiful places we go, sure, but it’s the great people we share those with that make the lifestyle so rewarding. I have walked the entire John Muir Trail with you, climbed in the Peruvian Andes with you, scaled the Mexican Volcanoes with you, mountaineering in Argentina, rafting and kayaking Costa Rica, Fly fishing in Montana and Utah, and of course thousands of hiking days in our backyard of Yosemite and California’s High Sierra! I enjoy giving back to the community by offering trips and programs for charities and school groups. I enjoy the challenge of the logistics of having dozens of trips out in the backcountry (sometimes hundreds of people across the Sierra) all at the same time. I find great pleasure continuing to fulfill SYMG’s mission statement on a daily basis including providing fulfilling employment and lifestyle for all of the guides and aspiring guides in our organization. Someone recently asked me, “still doing that camping thing?” I smiled and proudly said “ Yep, still doing the camping thing…”
My favorite trail is the one I haven't hiked. I enjoy finding new parts of Yosemite and the Sierra that aren't yet discovered. Thankfully, there are still thousands of acres left so I won't run out anytime soon! I have spent my time playing and working in the Sierra for over a third of my life. Along with SYMG, I have led trips for Summit Adventure, Nature Bridge, Yosemite Conservancy & Outward Bound California. When I'm not adventuring I enjoy board games, good coffee, and tending to my "honey-do" list. With my wife Sarah and sidekick Murphy (Australian Shepherd), we are ready for the most recent adventure which is our son Owen.
Colby began his career at SYMG as a backpacking and mountaineering guide and continues to lead select trips each season. He found his niche specializing as expedition leader for our longer backpacking departures such the John Muir Trail, Yosemite High Passes Loop, Yosemite Grand Traverse and Trans-Sierra Trail. After several years he assumed the role of senior backcountry guide where he aided in the development of new itineraries and course development, including SYMG's guide training course, a program which he continues to lead.
The ability to strike a balance between the adventurous and relaxing aspects of mountain travel continues to earn Colby praise as both a trip leader and planner. He is equally at home on technical peak ascents as he is lazing in wildflower-strewn mountain meadows. In addition to his many mountaineering accreditations, Colby is a dedicated naturalist and finds his passion for guiding in providing interpretive and educational experiences for all of his clients. He holds a degree in Environmental Sciences and has been known to burst into explanations of alpine plant physiology in the middle of 14,000' peak ascents! Describing his love of the guiding lifestyle, Colby once wrote "It is both the serenity and excitement of the wilderness that compels me to it and I only hope to enjoy it with good friends."
I find space to be myself in the outdoors, and this place is my inspiration. As a child, my dad used to pack up the family for a week and head to Yosemite every summer. We drove our minivan from Los Angeles into the lower pines campground and parked. This was the great outdoors to me. Later, after high school I started working in the Park during my summer breaks - first with the concession service, then with the National Park Service. I interned with the wilderness department for two summers (once as an SCA volunteer) and during that time hiked about half of Yosemite's backcountry trails, about 400 miles. It was during this time that I discovered a deeper appreciation and love for wild lands and found my artistic inspiration.
I am a teacher by training and have worked as a guide for the Boojum Institute and Naturlalists At Large. But, I'm a learner at heart, thus my interests and talents are diverse. I love languages, culture, art and poetry as much as the mountains and can find inspiration in all of them, especially in combination. During my time in Peace Corps Thailand, I was given an opportunity to teach yoga for the first time, and this winter during the guiding slow season I will start teaching in California as a certified instructor. I enjoy the stillness in the mountains and look forward to sharing my love for Yosemite and the world with each of you this summer.
As a child growing up in Los Angles some of my favorite memories are of the hikes I would take with my parents every weekend. We had a small guidebook and did our best to hike every trail that we could. It was those short weekend hikes that initially inspired my love of the mountains, beaches and streams of California. The Sierra Nevada Mountains have played a fundamental role in my life. They are where I go to relax, adventure, reflect, and celebrate. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara I have been lucky enough to develop my pastimes of fly fishing and backpacking into a rewarding career that has taken me all over the country and introduced me to so many interesting people. Wilson has backpacked extensively throughout the Sierra Nevada, including the John Muir Trail and all of the California portions of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Alex grew up in Concord, New Hampshire and it was there in the mountains of New England where his spirit of adventure was sparked. A NOLS course at the age of 15 was the turning point that set him on the path of outdoor education, as well as for developing his skills in rock climbing and backpacking. Alex’s passion for shared wilderness experiences has culminated in a degree in Outdoor Education and certifications from the American Mountain Guiding Association (AMGA). Moving to California was the culmination of a dream come true, where he is able to combine his passion for climbing with a career in guiding. He remains one of our most requested rock guides in addition to leading our longer backpacking departures.
It’s hard to say where my love for the outdoors comes from exactly. It could be born from the camping trips I took to the Adirondack Mountains as a child, or the large granite cliffs of North Carolina I spent my time climbing while earning my degree in Outdoor Leadership from Warren Wilson College. After classes, we would be quick to run for the hills and climb before the last sunlight disappeared. Some of the fondest memories I have are the sunset summits or hikes by headlamp back to the car after an afternoon of adventuring. I learned to savor the moments I spend in wild places while growing up in Philadelphia, which is a value I still hold onto today.
When I’m not introducing folks to the California wilderness, you’ll find me rock climbing, sending postcards to old friends, or having a beer with new friends. While it was the walls of Yosemite that initially drew me to California, the meaningful connections I am able to make through guiding with SYMG is what keeps me excited for each day I spend out here.
Pete grew up playing outdoors in New England and he connected with the West on family camping trips. He finished his biology degree in Colorado and went to work as an interpretive naturalist, national park ranger, river guide on the Colorado River, a teacher on Cape Cod, an outdoor educator in the mountains of Chile and an archeologist in New Zealand. He has biked around Iceland, backpacked the Alps, birded Costa Rica, and led trips to China’s national parks. Pete has been working in Yosemite for 25 years, where he has directed the education programs for the nonprofits Yosemite Institute (now NatureBridge) and Yosemite Conservancy. He has hiked, skied and cycled throughout the park in every season. He’s become a celebrated expert on Yosemite’s history and natural history, with specialties in studying the park’s glaciers, John Muir and Steller’s Jays.
One of Pete’s favorite things about Yosemite is the people who are called to come experience this natural wonder for themselves. He enjoys sharing the awe to be discovered whether by first-time or veteran visitors.
Like every good Southern Californian, I grew up beach camping and cherish many memories with family and friends from those trips. As a college freshman I was introduced to the Sierra on a winter backpacking trip. Even though it was incredibly cold to this So Cal girl, it is fair to say that I fell in love with the mountains on that trip. I have been enchanted by the Sierra ever since. I find it hard to say no to outdoor adventures; running, hiking, backpacking, skiing and climbing, I love it all! When I'm not guiding for SYMG I work for a university based here in the Southern Yosemite area; where I use the outdoors to teach leadership. For the last 7 years, I have been so fortunate to get to guide year around.
A few years ago, I was packing up for a trip while at my parent's house. My mom walked in, gave me a slightly confused look and asked; "Why do you love it so much?" My answer was simple; I get to meet and keep company with some really amazing people and I get to share with them some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Sharing beautiful places, with friends (new or old) is why I find myself increasingly more excited to guide with each passing year.
It's hard to say when I first fell in love with the outdoors. It's certainly been as long as I can remember. Growing up in the foothills of North Carolina, the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway were my playgrounds. Shortly after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I spent what was intended to be only a summer in the Sierras. But, by the end of the trip I knew I had found a new home. Within two weeks of returning east, I had packed my car and started the coast-to-coast drive. I am now fortunate enough to spend my winters as a ski instructor in Lake Tahoe and my summer guiding in this spectacular mountain range.
There are so many reasons why working as a guide is the obvious choice for me. I love to travel, experience wild places, meet interesting people, and stay physically active. Guiding enables me to keep doing all of that but mostly it just validates the sense I have of myself as a liaison between people and the world outside. When people travel we take time to reflect upon the world and our place in it, which although more important than ever we seldom do anymore. So I believe that encouraging and enabling people to simply be in the world is a worthy contribution and, having spent my entire adult life so far pursuing adventure, it must be what I'm most qualified to do.
It's been a strange road to this job for me. A Bay Area native, I studied linguistics at UCSD and worked for years as a paralegal in San Diego. On my first backpacking trip in college, I walked 20+ miles in inappropriate footwear and spent a few cold nights in front of the fire without a sleeping bag, and I absolutely loved it. Soon, I was spending most of my free time and some not so free time plotting and executing adventures to the endless wild places of California. Instead of law school, I took a sabbatical from the office to go live on a fishing boat in Alaska. I had a total blast working outdoors, 12 to 17 hours a day?or more often, night?during one of the harshest winters in Alaskan history. My reasons for pursuing a law degree were lost at sea. I finally quit the legal business, and I'm now an EMT with a certification in wilderness medicine. To date, I've walked and climbed thousands of miles in, on and around the Sierra including a solo 200+ mile hike of the Sierra High Route. In the winter, I work (using the term loosely) as a ski patroller. I'm not a morning person and don't tell my bosses, but getting up at 5 a.m. to throw explosives and ski fresh powder is something I'd without a doubt do for free. The rewards of working as a guide at SYMG are likewise numerous. To name just a few, you meet people of all ages and backgrounds from around the world and can often play a part in bringing those people to the realization that they are capable of great things in the outdoors. Your office is the big outside, and reading up on geology or mountaineering techniques or culinary arts is no longer procrastination; it's study time. Last and perhaps least, the water from glacial tarns does absolute wonders for beard growth. In short, I've found my dream job.
Scott Morris grew up in the suburbs of New York City and discovered the outdoors through the Boy Scouts. His first job was leading five day canoe expeditions in the Northern Adirondacks, which eventually led him to pursue studies in Adventure Education and American History at Green Mountain College in Central Vermont. After university, Scott worked in the Curriculum Publications Department of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and later as a trip leader for student programs in Australia. He's now found a home here in the Yosemite region with SYMG where his dry wit and easy-going nature fit right in with our style of guiding. When he isn’t guiding folks through the Sierra, you’ll probably find him trail running or reading a book next to an alpine lake.
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama I started rock climbing when I was 12 and immediately knew that I had found my calling. Pictures of climbers like Dean Potter, John Bachar, and Lynn Hill cruising up the splitter cracks of El Capitan's 3000ft face filled my imagination with wonder and possibilities. Once the seed was planted it was only a matter of time before I made it to the climber's paradise that is Yosemite National Park.
Before Yosemite, I made my way through high school and was fortunate enough to be a part of the first indoor climbing gym that was built in Birmingham. I learned the art of route setting and also helped create the first kids climbing program, which led to the first climbing team in Birmingham. After high school, I studied International Business at the University of Montevallo and spent two summers guiding in the St. Elias National Park of Alaska, plus a summer skiing/climbing in South America. Once I graduated college I began guiding for SYMG and fell in love with the Sierra. And in the winter months? Well, let’s just say that I have some strong connections to a Bourbon Whiskey distillery in Chattanooga, Tennessee!
Raised in Northern California, I grew up in the mountains and have developed an ever-increasing love for the Sierra. My outdoor journey began with simple family camping trips, then grew to a deep passion for the outdoors when I spent a semester of college here in the Yosemite area. As a student, I studied Psychology and enjoyed the science behind relationships and why people are the way they are, which also led me to the belief that spending time in the wilderness is hugely transformative and healthy for the soul in a way that is unlike anything else. As a result, I got involved in the outdoor adventures program on campus, enjoyed every minute of it, and have been instructing and guiding ever since. I now in the Bass Lake and Oakhurst area, working for a university program during the winters and guiding for SYMG in the summer, all based near Southern Yosemite where I first found inspiration as a student. I’ve loved living near Yosemite and have enjoyed the hiking, climbing, running, etc. that this area provides in my free time. It has been, and continues to be, an incredible journey of adventures here that I love sharing with whomever I can!
My name is Michael Brines, I grew up along the East shore of Lake Michigan where I first developed my strong connection with wilderness. From an early age I understood that many life lessons could be learned by simply adventuring in nature. After years of self-education I decided to formally pursue wilderness education and in 2013 I received a Bachelors of Science Degree in Outdoor Recreation and Leadership Management from Northern Michigan University. While working my way through school I spent my summer months in Yosemite Valley and the greater Sierra range, exploring the seemingly endless trails and cliffs. My main passion climbing is what initially drew me to Yosemite but it did not take long for me to see how much more there is to experience. I think anyone who has visited this National Park would agree that it's hard to not want to go back. I now consider the beautiful valley my second home and am very excited to work with SYMG, where I can share my knowledge and insight of this dynamic and historically rich place as well as the importance of preserving wild places with our clients.
Sierra Zacks was born and raised on the entrance road to Joshua Tree National Park and spent her early years hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding in the park, as well as here in the high Sierra. Her family has deep connections to these mountains and in high school she was fortunate to participate in a thirty-day expedition through Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks. It was then that knew she had found her favorite place. She has since graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Ecology and Plant Biology. It was there she worked as a guide for UC Santa Cruz’s Adventure Outings Department where she led climbing, backpacking, and river trips. She now spends her summers in the High Sierra with SYMG. In her free time you’ll find her rock climbing, botanizing, or gazing at High Sierra birds.
I began my life in the outdoors on camping trips in the Northwest with family the scout troop, around Mt Hood, Bend, and the Oregon coast. I went to a university in southern California for philosophy and economics, spending formative summers guiding on the coast of south-central Alaska in the Kenai Fjords National Park. My experience there, with deep, committing wilderness and incredible beauty, taught me the real value of spending time in the outdoors and sharing that with those around me. I dug into life in the mountains, exploring the ways to climb, ski, hike, and paddle the wilderness, deepening my experience as a guide as I went. I love the chance to share this Yosemite area. The best trips, in my opinion, are evenly balanced experiences that dig into both the stillness and beauty of the wilderness and the rewards of personal challenge. The Sierra Nevada makes an incredible backdrop for such experiences!
I'm a Colorado native so it's almost a given that I grew up hiking, camping, skiing and generally getting dirty outside. During college I joined all the outing clubs I could cram into my schedule; eventually I figured I wanted to make a living of being outside, seeking new places and sharing them with others. I've worked as a river guide in Utah, as a Crew Leader for a conservation corps in the Southwest, as a backpacking guide and program leader in Guatemala and as a ski instructor in Colorado among other things. I have chronic itchy feet and a curiosity for the kind of adventure that comes unplanned if you only take those first few steps. California has always called my name as well and I knew after my first time in Kings Canyon National Park that I would be back for more in the Sierra Nevadas. The Ansel Adams picture of El Cap that hung in my parents' room growing up never lost it's mystique in my imagination, so it is thrilling to be calling Yosemite my home for the summer.
Until my Junior year of high school, the only "wilderness" experience I had was playing golf every week; my dad was concerned that the true wilderness might be a bit too dangerous. Once I had my drivers license, I was off to the mountains of South Carolina to understand why hiking seemed to be so popular among my friends. Slowly, hiking turned to climbing which funneled its way toward the rivers and whitewater kayaking and guiding in the Southeast. However, once I stepped foot into Yosemite, I knew that it was time to leave our mountains in the East and migrate West. I have lived in and around Yosemite for the past three years, exploring as much and as often as I can and now consider it my backyard. The grandeur of the mountains is mesmerizing to me and I love to invite others into this special place for an experience they won't forget. I am excited I have the opportunity to do that this summer with SYMG.
I grew up in Simi Valley, CA, and was a homebody. My dad took my brothers and me hiking all around southern California, but it wasn't until age 16 that I discovered rock climbing and decided that the outdoors wasn't such a bad place! I've been rock climbing and backpacking ever since. I have guided trips in Alaska, Key West, and New Zealand, including glacier hikes, ice climbing, rain forest hikes, watersports trips, and working with the BBC in their Klondike Gold Rush documentary. I ski patrol in Colorado in the winters, guide in the summers, and try to travel as much as I can in-between! I have degrees in Mathematics and Anthropology from UC Berkeley, laugh at my own jokes, and should probably call my mom more often. My professional future is leaning towards either medicine or more guiding, and I'm looking forward to an amazing season of guiding in Yosemite!
Since joining the SYMG family as a guide in 2010, I have had the privilege of sharing the Sierra Nevada wilderness with so many of our customers, who ultimately become lifelong friends. I grew up in Northern California, and spent my early youth camping, fishing, and backpacking in the Sierras near Lake Tahoe. I received a civil engineering and environmental science degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and soon came to the conclusion that my “home” was in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the guiding “off-season”, I’ve travelled to the Amazon and Andes Mountains of Peru, the sacred temples and lands of India, and the Himalayas of Nepal. Though what I enjoy most is spending time in Yosemite and the High Sierra, rock climbing, backpacking, skiing, and soaking in hot springs. Guiding for SYMG has allowed me to pursue a lifestyle centered around the things I love: people who become dear friends, eating good food, the simplicity of life, and the beauty of the mountains. I take pride in my role as a guide and being a part of SYMG’s mission of making every trip a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
I originally hail from the Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley area of the Eastern Sierra. Some of my earliest memories are of shimmering aspens, distant wild horses of the high desert, and of the granite and volcanic peaks that tower over that region. I’ve been scouting and backpacking the sierra since my early youth and started skiing at the early age of 4. As an avid cross country backpacker and fisherman, I’ve logged many miles to explore some of the most remote and untouched Sierra lakes, rivers, and pristine valleys that I can find. I hold a degree in Economics and Language Studies, and when not in the Sierra I can usually be found surfing, diving, or fishing the coastlines near my home in Santa Cruz, CA.
For me, the Sierra has been an incredible gift. I want nothing more than to provide the same amazing Sierra experience that’s continually gifted to me to this very day. From the plants and flowers to the animals and rocks, I genuinely look forward to sharing all I can about this incredible mountain range.
"Greg Aiello is one fantastic guide" said one our clients this summer and that about says it all! Greg is a Yosemite area native and local and the love for his backyard, the Sierra, shows in every moment spent with him in the mountains. Greg works as an adventure videographer in the industry between guiding and is often on location all over the world. If you think Greg looks familiar, that's because you may have seen him on TV as the star host for the ABC's National LiveWell Network Adventure show "Motion".
Andrew Skurka, a graduate of Duke University is an accomplished 28-year-old professional backpacker who is most well known for his two monumental long-distance hiking firsts -- the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop and the 7,778-mile Sea-to-Sea Route. He was named the 2007 "Adventurer of the Year" by National Geographic Adventure (which described him as "a Gen Y version of Henry David Thoreau or John Muir") and the 2005 "Person of the Year" by Backpacker. In November 2007 Skurka completed the Great Western Loop, a superb 6,875-mile journey that links together 5 long-distance hiking trails, 12 National Parks, and over 75 wilderness areas, which he blazed in 208 days. And in July 2005 he completed the Sea-to-Sea Route, a transcontinental network of long-distance hiking trails from Quebec to Washington, which took him 11 months and which involved 1,400 miles of snowshoeing. Skurka's shorter hikes include the 1,700-mile California section of the Pacific Crest Trail (in 44 days), the 480-mile Colorado Trail (twice), the 2,170-mile Appalachian Trail (in 95 days), a 385-mile trek through northern Minnesota in January, and many week- and weekend-long trips in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming.
In addition to the distinctions from Adventure and Backpacker, Skurka was featured in Outside's 2007 "Outside 100" list and in Men's Journal's "2005 Adventure Hall of Fame." He has appeared in numerous newspapers and television broadcasts, including The Wall Street Journal and the Fox News Channel. Andrew will be designing and leading some special long distance trips for SYMG in 2010.
Some of my earliest memories are of camping in Yosemite and its surroundings. In fact, my first word was ‘‘Elmer’’; a result of having heard the name countless times in the California camping tradition of calling through the forest at sundown in search of a missing boy. As a kid, I cherished the opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and breathe in the mountain air of the Sierra Nevada. As an adult, the call of the wild has steered my decisions and has led me to expand my radius in search of new frontiers.
In 2006 I moved to the South Pacific nation of Tonga where I lived for 5 years running adventure and cultural tours. When a Google search turned up stunning images of Chile’s Cochamó Valley, the Yosemite of South America, I felt the travel itch once again and set off to explore Patagonia. I have been installed in the Chilean town of Puerto Varas since 2011 leading hiking and mountain bike trips through one of the last unspoiled stretches of temperate rainforest on earth. I am devoted to creating unique and memorable experiences in this wilderness playground for nature lovers of all kinds. The emphasis for me is not just on arriving from point A to point B, but on really appreciating the in-between. I simply love what I do and have been told that my passion shines through in my guiding.