There's a bonus for women considering a trek into the wilderness with Lisa Newby, Cher Rydberg and Cindy Clark. Calculated quantities of the "ultimate survival food" — chocolate — are packed for the trail.
Chocolate bars are included in the women's survival kit with a knife, flashlight, first-aid supplies, whistle, signal mirror, water-purification tablets, emergency heat blanket and matches or flint with Vaseline-soaked cotton balls. Assembling the kit is among the first lessons for participants in The Wilderness Calls workshops.
"Women are vulnerable because we are not as strong as men ... but knowledge gives us courage," says Rydberg.
Partners in a new outdoor-adventure and outfitting business, Rydberg and Newby are sharing expertise gained over 15 years of backpacking together. The two charged Clark with providing The Wilderness Calls' headquarters at her family's 280-acre Sun Mountain Ranch near Fort Klamath.
At the pine- and aspen-wooded property rife with wildlife between Crater Lake and Upper Klamath Lake, guests get back to nature with daytime activities and hikes. Nighttime accommodations are in the ranch's bunkhouse. The Wilderness Calls also plans three- and four-day backpacking excursions in August and September through the Sky Lakes Wilderness with camping on the trail.
"Hiking is so healthy for you," says Rydberg, who wears a pedometer with the goal of hiking 100 miles per month. "It is so good for your knees; it is so good for arthritis."
All in their 50s, Rydberg, Newby and Clark encourage older women, in particular, to try a trip with them. Newby has never looked back from the exclusively female format since her husband suffered an injury that kept him from joining her on the trail.
"You shouldn't let that hold you back," says Newby of embarking — even solo — on one's fourth and fifth decades. "You need something — that new challenge."
The Wilderness Calls' test case is 60-year-old Joanna Vickoren, who had never camped until her first backpacking trip at age 50 with Newby and Rydberg. Seven years later, Vickoren completed a 50-mile trek from Crater Lake National Park to Fourmile Lake. In addition to delivering motivational talks, Vickoren teaches packing and preparing trail food, including dehydrated fare, for The Wilderness Calls.
"There was a lot of good information, but yet it wasn't too much to be overwhelming," says 56-year-old Donna Bryan, of Medford, one of nine women in The Wilderness Calls' first workshop in June.
Rydberg, a former U.S. Forest Service timber cruiser, teaches identification of plants and wild edibles. Participants will learn how manzanita berries, also called bear apples, are an ideal survival food in winter. Old man's beard, a lichen that contains antibacterial properties, can dress wounds, says Rydberg. And back at home, forest foragers can make and preserve jelly from the fruit of Oregon grape, the state flower, she says.
"They, in turn, can teach their kids or their grandkids," says Rydberg. "We feel like it's important knowledge."
Most important are survival skills and backpacking basics with warnings against reliance on cellphones and the Global Positioning System, which often don't work in remote areas. Also on the schedule are lessons in local Indian and pioneer history, nature photography, sketching and writing.
"We try to make hiking fun," says Rydberg.
"It's not drudgery," adds Newby.
Limited by Forest Service permits to eight trekkers, backpacking excursions range from $375 to $875, depending on duration and overnight amenities. The season's three trips to Puck Lakes, Island Lake and Grass Lake in remote reaches of Klamath County had waiting lists as of June.
Space remained in the final workshop of the season, scheduled for Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. Cost for the three-day retreat at Sun Mountain Ranch is $375, which includes lodging and meals. Registration is available online with payment by PayPal or personal check.
Although The Wilderness Calls designed activities solely for women this season, it can customize trips for families, couples and men's groups by request. Coming in 2012 is a camp geared toward grandmothers who want to learn — and teach their grandchildren — to fish, identify edible plants, devise survival games and tell stories around the campfire.
Taking the guesswork out of the gearing up for the outdoors, The Wilderness Calls provides prospective participants with detailed checklists for equipment and clothing. The Eagle Point-based company insured through Four "E" Guide and Supply of White City also rents backpacks, tents, sleeping pads and backpacking chairs.
"You want to be a low-maintenance woman," says Newby. "You don't bring your makeup."
Leaving behind civilization and all its trappings, the women say, promotes inner peace and allows time for reflection. While hiking through primeval landscapes, says Rydberg, it's almost as if time stops.
It's so quiet out there," she says. "It's really hard to go back to the noise and all the lights."