learn about ned's path to mountain education
Ned’s love of the mountain environment started at a very young age and living in the wilderness motivated him to share it with others.
Mountain Education’s Founder and Educator, Ned Tibbits, has been exploring the outdoors for his entire 65-year life. His family loved car-camping and when he was still in diapers you could find him crawling around in campground dirt exploring bugs, logs, and pine cones. Throughout his childhood, he learned to sleep in cavernous, canvas tents whenever not “sleeping out under the stars.”
Ned started backpacking in the Sierra once he was old enough – eight years old – by attending the Bob Mathias High Sierra Boys Camp for a month every summer for the next seven years. He fell in love with hiking, camping, trapping, campfires, swimming and diving in High Sierra lakes, cross-country exploring and peak-bagging, bouldering, and powdered hot chocolate. This was his start with learning-by-doing, or what is called, these days, “experiential learning,” and is his preferred method of teaching to this day.
In 1974, Ned, at the age of seventeen, hiked the proposed route of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He estimates that he was among the first twenty people to have ever done so.
So, a few years later in 1974, Ned, at the age of seventeen, hiked the proposed route of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada for five and a half months. He estimates that he was among the first twenty people to have ever done so. It was on this hike that the idea of a wilderness school, to teach aspiring hikers how to enjoy safe and fun trips of their own, first started.
To be able to give his future students as much knowledge about the outdoors as possible (and to answer many of the questions he had while doing that first long-distance “thru-hike” of the PCT), while in college he took additional classes like Meteorology, Biology, Geology, and Horticulture, and others from Departments like Environmental Studies and Atmospheric Sciences. During his college summers, Ned worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a Backcountry Wilderness Ranger for Sierra National Forest in the Mono and Piute Creek drainages along the PCT and John Muir Trail.
Wilderness safety may begin with being able to understand and identify natural threats to the human body, but injuries do happen in remote and austere places that require emergency communication, medical treatment, and transportation. So, Ned studied Radio Theory to earn his Amateur Radio license, got his Emergency Medical Technician certificate and started working for his local ambulance company, then attended Stanford University Medical School’s Paramedic Program. Over the years, Wilderness Medical certificates followed that more directly applied to trail emergencies and Ned volunteered for two Sheriff’s Department’s Search & Rescue Units in the Lake Tahoe area for five years to make it real (being a professional ski patroller at the same time helped, too!).
Dreaming about hiking and exploring, while preparing to teach others how, doesn’t really meet the financial needs of a growing, little family, so Ned spent many years as a General Contractor building and repairing custom residential homes. It was this experience that taught him the real-world design elements that contribute to most any item’s reliability, durability, practicality, function, and cost – thus the organization of his future school and its website would be according to the parts of a house (for a hiker’s house and home is their backpack and tent, respectively!).
Ned’s love of the mountain environment and living in wilderness motivated him to share it with others, so that they might love it, too, and want to go on their own hikes. So, Ned created a curriculum of classes that people could attend, out on the Pacific Crest Trail, where he could show them the “Whys” and “Hows” of safe, common-sense backpacking. He believed that if people could understand the ways of the wild and its effect on hikers within it, both positive and negative, they would feel empowered to have happy, wise, and safe hikes of their own, free of fear, doubt, and worry. Thus, began in 1982 the wilderness school we, now, know as Mountain Education, Inc. (MEI).
Ned created a curriculum of classes that people could attend, out on the Pacific Crest Trail, where he could show them the “Whys” and “Hows” of safe, common-sense backpacking.
Ned’s love of the mountain environment and living in wilderness motivated him to share it with others, so that they might love it, too.
As you have already read, summer camp ignited a spark of desire within him to become intimately acquainted with “the ways of the wild.” When Ned was only 12 years old and right after the passing of his father in 1969, he happened to read in the San Francisco Chronicle an article about a young man, Eric Ryback, who had just hiked from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the spark exploded into a bonfire!
Despite his mother’s trepidations, he began researching what it was (discovering and joining Warren Roger’s “Pacific Crest Club” as a Founding Member), where it went (purchasing every USGS map of the “proposed route” and writing to every USFS District along the way to get their large-scale maps incorporating the red, dashed line that was to be the trail), and how to feasibly stay out on a trail for 5.5 months continuously.
There was no Internet in those days, so Ned visited nearby Public Libraries to read every available book on Backpacking, but there, simply, weren’t many on long-distance hiking – except three, Colin Fletcher’s “The Complete Walker,” Ryback’s “The High Adventure of Eric Ryback” (about his 1970 PCT hike), and a lone National Geographic expose on a few hikers who did the trail (published, June, 1971). It took years to acquire all this material with the goal of formulating on paper a day-by-day schedule, to include (per day) daily mileage, campsites, days off, resupply locations, and the contact phone numbers for those who were to drive out to the trail and meet Ned at a specific place and hour. It was quite a dream, but it had its complications!
Warren Rogers, who for decades helped create the suggested route for the trail and lobbied Congress to approve the National Trails System Act in 1968, suggested that a mid-March start date for a northbound (NoBo) hike would, most likely, offer the best window of time, between the end of one winter and the start of the next, and safest trail and weather conditions to complete the entire route in one season, but this posed a big problem – Ned had to graduate from High School early, halfway through his Senior year!
Thus, while Ned was 14-years old and the trip was still three years away, he started filling his summers with Summer School classes and training hikes with his best friend, Larry LaPoint, who wanted to graduate early, too, and go with him on the “Big Adventure.”
Army surplus gear was acquired, a local backpacking store was discovered 45 minutes away, and Ned’s community of Sonoma, California, started paying attention to the dreams of this energetic, young kid who wanted to go on a long hike! As the word got out through a campaign of targeted letter-writing and newspaper articles in the Sonoma Index-Tribune, local and national businesses wanted to assist, so sponsors were acquired for tents and sleeping bags (The North Face), 35mm slide film (National Geographic), boots (Red Wing Shoe Company’s Vasque Boot Division), backpacks (Kelty Pack Co.), snowshoes (Sherpa Designs, a division of Vermont Tubbs), food (Richmoor Foods and Mayacamas Fine Foods), and, even, a local pilot donated his Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) to the cause!
During the gear and personal “systems” testing phase and run-up to the journey, sections of the proposed PCT were hiked throughout Northern and Central California and a snow-camping and travel course by the Sierra Club was attended near Donner Summit. One hundred foot rolls of color and black and white film were cut and re-rolled into hundreds of individual cannisters. “GORP” (good ole raisins and peanuts) was mixed in caldrons with M&Ms, hard candy, dried fruit, and chocolate chips to be carefully measured into twist-tied plastic bags, one per periodic resupply, and added to 21 different yawning cardboard boxes linearly arranged in Ned’s mother’s living room from the trail’s start to finish. Coleman white gas was purchased by the gallon and divided into quart-sized aluminum fuel bottles for each resupply. Even toilet paper, notebooks, extra socks, and toothpaste were distributed throughout all the boxes – based on what was learned from these preliminary, multi-week hikes.
Disaster hit when it was discovered, a mere 5 months before departure, that Larry could not graduate early! Ned’s mother would not let him go alone, though he desperately tried, as an over-confident 17-year-old, to convince her otherwise, so another campaign was begun to find a hiking partner by placing a flyer in the local backpacking store’s window, then praying.
Interestingly enough, though the trail wasn’t very well known, a 30-year-old factory worker answered the call from nearby Santa Rosa, California! He had never hiked a mile in his life to that point, yet he figured, if he didn’t go on an adventure like this, now, he probably never would. So, the hike was “On!”
[to be continued]
One hundred foot rolls of color and black and white film were cut and re-rolled into hundreds of individual cannisters.