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Busy year planned for Sierra Club backpackers

Have you ever wanted to go backpacking but were afraid you lacked the knowledge to safely do so? Have you ever thought that backpacking alone would be dangerous, but would consider it safe with an experienced group?

The Rogue Group of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club might be the answer to your quest for outdoor adventure.

After a two-decade hiatus from guided, multi-day backpacking trips, the local Sierra Club is back to leading overnight trips into the wilderness.

The outings are open to anyone; membership in the Sierra Club is not required. The trips are focused on Southern Oregon and Northern California destinations, usually not more than an hour's drive from Medford to the trailhead. There is no fee for participation — except the willingness to contribute to the group. Backpackers of varying experience levels are welcome on most of the outings, though some of the longer trips require more advanced skills. If you lack some of the essential gear, the club has a limited amount of equipment available for use, including shelters.

The Sierra Club requires trip leaders to complete Outdoor Leader Training (OLT) before taking groups into the outdoors. OLT 101 prepares them to lead day hikes, while OLT 201 offers advanced training for overnight backpacking trips. The classes include wilderness training, first-aid skills, safety management and an emphasis on group dynamics. The Rogue Group has about a dozen hike leaders who have completed the OLT 101 training. Together, they lead about 50 hikes a year, with a typical hike including from six to 15 hikers.

Al Collinet and Darin Banner, who will lead backpacking trips this year, have both obtained the OLT 201 certification to lead overnight outings.

In addition to learning about backpacking, participants have a chance to learn about other outdoors topics, such as tracking animals in the snow, cold-weather camping, orienteering, recognizing bird sounds and identifying wildflowers.

"When taking a backpacking trip with Al Collinet, you can be sure that flowers, butterflies, birds, dragonflies and all kinds of unusual critters will be part of the trip," says Collinet, who will lead several trips in July and August.

Banner will lead overnight trips once per month throughout the year. Many of Banner's trips will require more advanced skills and physical conditioning.

"I want to gear my trips toward the more ambitious crowd," Banner says. "I plan to include outdoor skills training in each of my outings. It makes the experience richer for me and the participants."

Collinet's trips will include a July trek to Towhead Lake in the Red Buttes and an August outing to the Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area.

Banner already has started his trip schedule. He led an overnight snowshoe hike from Grouse Gap shelter to Mount Ashland in December. This weekend, he is leading a snow-camping trip to South Brown Mountain Shelter along the Pacific Crest Trail. In February, he will lead a 10-mile, round-trip outing to the Hemlock Butte shelter, below Mount Bailey.

Early reservations are recommended.