Andrew SkurkaBackcountry Guide
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.
Brendan HayesHiking Guide
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.
Brienne O'DonnellBackcountry Guide
Brienne was born and raised in Michigan. Surrounded by the Great Lakes, the water and outdoors always played a central role in her life. In her freshman year of college, she went on a formative month-long backpacking trip in the North Cascades and realized that an indoor job wouldn't provide her with a certain level of contentment. Her path to the Sierra Nevada and SYMG has been a bit spontaneous, following multiple lengthy adventures in New Zealand, some time working in outdoor retail, and a stressful bike touring trip turned car-bumming adventure across Florida's panhandle and some of the South. However, this place and these people have left an indelible mark on Brienne's life. Brienne enjoys taking people out to experience the Sierras in all their natural beauty, from cherishing the smallest, subtle alpine flower to the more grandiose granite landscapes. Brienne has found that the most realistic way to protect wild places is to get folks to experience the outdoors, authentically. She continues to share this passion with guests on trips, helping people understand our role and immediate connection to the natural world.
Casey AndrewsBackcountry Guide
My love for nature began when I grew up as a surfer on the beaches of southern California. I loved observing the constant change of the ocean and becoming a part of that landscape. When the time for college came, I moved to Monterey to study environmental science. There I realized that my passion for the ocean carried over to wild places of all kinds. I started guiding kayaking, hiking, and rock climbing along the central California coast, and grew an obsession for exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After college, I worked as a wildlife biologist in the Sierra National Forrest studying an animal called the Fisher. Since then, I have returned to these mountains every season to work, guide tours, climb, and enjoy the healthy lifestyle they provide. In the off seasons I have taught outdoor education in the Moab area, guided backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon, and travelled internationally in the constant search for new mountains and waves. However far I go, when summer in North America comes around, there is no other place I’d rather be than the Sierra Nevada. The opportunities these mountains provide have kept me focused, motivated, and happy through out the years. They give me something to look forward to every day, and I can’t wait to share this experience with you!
Chris WinderBackcountry Guide
I grew up in Suburban Southern California; always looking forward to our summer fishing trips to the Eastern Sierra. It was on those trips that I found my passion for mountains. I’ve worked and explored all over the west as a backcountry trail/conservation crew leader, as well as a small-scale farmer and horticulturist. I have an associate’s degree in Outdoor Education from Colorado Mountain College as well as a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Adventure Leadership from Southern Oregon University. Those two degrees came eight years apart and in that time I found myself always planning my next extended trip into the mountains. After a trip to Nepal In 2016, I decided to re-focus my life on guiding and spending as much of my time as possible in the mountains sharing my passion with anyone in my proximity. I couldn’t be more stoked to share this “Range of light” with all of you.
Chris BreyClimbing Director
I started climbing with the Boy Scouts of America in 2010, at Joshua Tree National Park. Climbing quickly became an intrinsic part of my life, and I am continuously pursuing improvement in my craft. Through my training and certifications with the AMGA, NOLS, and AAI, I hope to share with you some of what I have learned in over a decade of climbing. Going climbing in the outdoors can be an amazing and freeing experience, it's what got me hooked! Whether we are having a fun day of top roping or focused on pushing for the summit, I can't wait to help you get to the top!
Colby BrokvistBackcountry Guide
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."
Connor BassBackcountry Guide
Growing up in urban Minneapolis, MN my love for the outdoors wasn’t on my radar for some time. It wasn’t until halfway through high school when an opportunity came to go backpacking near Whitefish, MT that I discovered how great being outside could be. My love for the outdoors grew even more when I moved to SoCal for college at San Diego State to study Environmental Science. It was there that I discovered rock climbing and the endless opportunities that the mountains could give me. I started working for the Outdoor Education program which enabled me to share the outdoors with my peers through guiding various activities on weekends to nearby state and national parks. After working for outdoor education for some time, I decided to gain more knowledge from a NOLS mountaineering course that took place in Washington state. Two days after my college graduation, I moved to Alaska to guide on a glacier, but California was calling me back. As my first summer in the Sierra, I’m excited to explore with you!
Dahlia BlauBackcountry Guide
Dahlia Blau grew up along the California coast but now resides where she can be close to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of her favorite activities growing up involved swimming, kayaking, river rafting, and desert camping. Now, her soul resides in the mountains where she can trek, climb, hike, ski, trail run, and swim in the alpine lakes. When Dahlia isn’t in the mountains she can be found exploring the canyons of Utah. Dahlia graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2015 with a degree in Environmental/Biology. It was at UC Santa Cruz that she discovered her passion for opting outdoors and being a naturalist. By observing nature and doing some of her favorite activities such as birding and botanizing, she can share the importance of our natural resources with others. One of her greatest accomplishments so far has been completing the Khumbu Three Pass trek in Nepal during the summer of 2015. Along the trek she had the opportunity to visit Everest Base Camp and to sit at 18,500ft looking up at the top of Everest Mountain itself. Her philosophy: Feed your soul through curiosity.
Emma NortonBackcountry Guide
I grew up along the New Hampshire seacoast, where I was able to explore the sandy beaches and unassumingly rugged mountains of the Northeast. In my late high school years I found a love for climbing, hiking and cycling, but it wasn’t until my time as student at Middlebury College in Vermont that I discovered a real love for the backcountry. While earning a degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, I made time to guide backpacking trips in the White Mountains, Green Mountains, North Cascades, and Olympics, as well as sea kayaking trips in the San Juan Islands. Since relocating to the Sierra, I now split my time between Mammoth Lakes and the Yosemite Area, where I spend my time skiing, climbing, backpacking, cycling, and spending as much time outside as possible. Aside from spending time in the outdoors, I enjoy teaching yoga, cooking, collecting fun hats, and reading anything I can get my hands on. I believe that the outdoors should be an accessible, inspirational, and educational space for everyone. I carry this belief with me as a guide for SYMG, where I prioritize forging meaningful connections with guests, sharing my love for the natural and cultural history of the land, and creating safe, fun, and worthwhile trips for all!
Ethan AtkinsBackcountry Guide
My main goal as a guide is to be a storyteller and spread the love of being outside. When we step into a space, we are becoming part of its story whether it lives on in our heart or in family values. Creating a narrative of connection and letting you into this community of the natural world is my passion as a guide. I spent most of my youth around the Monterey Bay in California. I credit my parents as the catalysts for getting me into being outside with long road trips around the United States with a "free to roam" policy. I was able to explore places with a feeling of adventure, which has stuck with me ever since. The road to guiding started off with taking my sisters on backyard adventures and then quickly evolved into explorations of the backcountry of Big Sur with friends. I later found myself studying in the adventure education department at Prescott College and through their studies in the southwest classrooms earned a degree in experiential education. I currently split my time living in the mountains of Big Sur teaching outdoor education and traveling to work as a guide on Mount Shasta. Through winter in Baja, summer in the High Sierra, a southwest rock saga, I’m a happy camper. Stoked to get out there with y’all!
Fred AckermanBackcountry Guide
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.
Greg AielloBackcountry Guide
"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"
Hailey KellackeyRock Guide
I was born in Akron, Ohio, but spent most of my childhood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I spent my summers hiking and winters skiing. I discovered rock climbing when I was in high school, and knew I had found a source of adventure, joy, and friendships that could last me a lifetime. My first time in Yosemite I fell in love with the soaring granite cliffs and spectacular manzanita groves, and decided that it was time to leave the Rocky Mountains behind and explore somewhere new. I hope that as a guide I can help others find the same passion and sense of awe and wonder in the mountains that I have!
Ian ElmanPresident & Co-Founder
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…”
Jackson HaldermanBackcountry Guide
I was born and raised in Santa Cruz, and was lucky enough to have spent most summers of my childhood in the Trinity Alps of Northern California. That was where my love for rugged wilderness and the bonds it can help create between groups of people was born. Once I became old enough, I started leading backpacking trips there and discovered I had a passion for guiding. I love seeing the growth that can happen both in individuals and in groups from time spent in the backcountry, and find a great sense of fulfillment in being able to facilitate that experience. I worked in the Trinity Alps for several summers while pursuing a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Living in BC gave me the opportunity to experience a completely different type of wilderness, and I spent all of my free time backpacking, skiing and climbing in the rugged alpine and temperate rainforests. After finishing my degree, I decided to further pursue guiding in wild and remote places, and am thrilled to be able to explore the Sierra with you!
Jason AngressInternational Guide
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.
Jenny KaneBackcountry Guide
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. 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.
Matt CairnsOperations Director & Backcountry Guide
Inspired by Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and Jack Kerouac's "On The Road", I chased an adventurous life of world travel since I was 18. I hitchhiked across seven different countries, sailed across two seas, and motorcycled across South America. I've climbed two of the world's tallest mountains, and pioneered a 1,000 mile route across the Canadian boreal forest, tundra and sub arctic for 64 days with a canoe by map and compass. Today, I'm inspired by my guests. Adventure and a connection to nature run deep in the blood of every human, and I love that I get the chance to aid others on their own "Frodo's Adventure". I've been guiding since 2015, and have spent over 500 working field days/nights with over 2,000 guests in dozens of parks including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Superstition Mountains, Havasupai, Canyon De Chelly, and Southern Utah. Yosemite is, of course, my favorite.
Matteo FioriGeneral Manager
I have probably spent more of my life outdoors than indoors. Growing up in the Bay Area, I explored the local mountains, gaining an early appreciation for time outside. My love of the wilderness began as an undergraduate at CSU Monterey Bay, where I volunteered with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance clearing brush and doing trail maintenance in the backcountry of Big Sur. Eventually, I made my way to the Sierra Nevada, leading trips with Outward Bound, Yosemite Institute, and other organizations, earning a Master's in Environmental Studies at Prescott College along the way. After a five year stint in Chile climbing and backpacking extensively in the Andes, I finally followed my heart back home, and am excited to be leading a team of wilderness professionals in my favorite place on earth. In my free time I enjoy music, chess, gardening, reading, writing, and continuing to explore the granite wonderland that is the Sierra Nevada.
Michelle BeebeBackcountry Guide
My sense of wonder, adventure, curiosity, and exploration first began to develop in my backyard in Upstate NY where I grew up making forts and trails in the woods, spending time at our family camp on Lake Moraine, and camping and hiking in the beautiful Adirondack mountains. Since then, my thirst for adventure and trail blazing has brought me around the world teaching, guiding, and recreating in places like Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, Baja California, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the great state of Maine (to name a few). I have a B.A. in Psychology and Fine Arts from the University of California in San Diego and a M.S. in Outdoor Leadership and Environmental Education from the State University of New York in Cortland. My passion is to share my appreciation for wild spaces by guiding others into some of the most beautiful places on Earth allowing for a deeper connection with nature, themselves, and their community. Laughter, fun, and having an open mind and heart are key. When not blazing the trails you can find me usually by water, cooling off in a lake or stream or down by the sea, playing with creatures in tidepools and surfing.
Quap MoretzHiking Guide
Quap is a seasoned hiking guide with a lifelong passion for the outdoors. Growing up in South East Florida, he spent his formative years kayaking and exploring the captivating swamps of the region. After graduating from university, he joined North Carolina Outward Bound as a wilderness instructor, leading canoeing and sea kayaking expeditions. In 2015, Quap made the decision to move to Yosemite National Park, where he became a science teacher and later transitioned to working as a day hiking guide with SYMG. For the past five years, he has delighted in sharing the wonders of Yosemite with clients from diverse backgrounds around the world.
Rafi AbramovitzBackcountry Guide
Rafi grew up in Boise, Idaho, and started her wilderness explorations in the backcountry of Centra Idaho. She completed a B.A. and Master’s degree at Prescott College, Arizona, where she focused in Deep Ecology. Rafi has spent her entire adult life wandering the world and leading trips in the best and wildest places. Rafi has an ongoing love affair with the Sierra Nevada, where she has worked for 16 years. She has also spent substantial time in the desert Southwest, teaching for Prescott College and guiding trips. Rafi runs a non-profit organization in Kenya, where she works with Maasai women and girls and runs an annual women’s mountaineering trip. She loves books, birds and beauty in all of its forms.
Riley SumpBackcountry Guide
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!
Teagan FurbishRock Guide & Backcountry Guide
I grew up wandering into whatever wooded areas I could find in urban Atlanta, GA, searching for trees to climb on, streams to wade in, and bugs to ogle at. As I grew, so did my playground, and I looked to the Appalachian mountains and Cumberland plateau for exploration, be it trail-running, slacklining, whitewater kayaking, backpacking, or climbing. In my time at the University of Oregon, I led women’s climbing trips to local and national destinations and taught yoga at the student center while pursuing a degree in Biochemistry. Along the way, I had the opportunity to adventure into the backcountry of Alaska as a part of a fire ecology field team. I enjoy the challenge that outdoor experiences present, and cherish the peace and connection they ultimately yield. I’m always looking for new ways to bridge the gap between the self and the natural world, and as a guide, I’m excited to learn alongside new friends from near and far.
Thomas BradfordBackcountry Guide
I was born in Pacifica on the peninsula of the San Francisco Bay. Much of my youth was spent exploring the coastline and hills surrounding his childhood home which led to a deep love for the natural world and exploring. Going to college in San Diego only solidified that love by allowing me the opportunity to work alongside wonderful people in the outdoor program as well as introducing me to rock climbing and geology as well as rad people to do both with. I’m incredibly excited to be able to get out with y’all in one of the most spectacular places imaginable!
Zoë ElkinBackcountry Guide
Zoë Elkin is an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for guiding and exploring in the wilderness. Zoë grew up in a co-housing community in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. She began her career in 2016 as a field guide for Evoke wilderness therapy in Utah. Since then, Zoë has worked in outdoor education, guiding for the Women's Wilderness Institute in Colorado and Outward Bound in California's High Sierra. Zoë loves guiding because she feels these experiences offer people life changing experiences that instill a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-reliance in her participants. Zoë is excited to be a part of the SYMG family, and is eager to share her knowledge and passion with new adventurers. When Zoë is not in the mountains, you can find her galavanting around the world, making music, and spending time with loved ones.