In this age of specialization, there remains at least one bastion for those who value all-around skills, at least in the area of mountaineering.
The Sierra Club's Wilderness Travel Course, a 10-week introduction to all-around outdoor proficiency, gives participants a taste of backpacking, equipment, snow travel, field navigation, wilderness ethics, basic rock climbing, mountaineering medicine, winter camping, general safety and rescue techniques.
Besides the 10 lectures, the course entails four field trips: a one-day hike that serves as a conditioning test, a weekend at Joshua Tree for rock climbing and navigation instruction, a one-day trip to the local mountains to learn snow travel techniques and a weekend backpack in the Sierra, where participants will put what they've learned to the test in a winter wilderness environment.
To complete their certification, participants are also required to undertake two additional field trips, one of which must be a scheduled Sierra Club outing.
While the rigors of the course are real, this is no rugged survival school; safety remains the first concern. Instruction is given by experienced Sierra Club volunteers who have undertaken advanced wilderness training. Each weekly lecture, on a single topic, is handled by a different expert.
The Wilderness Travel Course is offered by the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club once a year in three locations.
In Orange County, lectures will begin Jan. 10 on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 at REI in Santa Ana. Four classes, each with about 25 students, will be offered this time around. Advance registration is recommended, but Orange County chairman Harry Freimanis said people will probably be able to sign up at the first meeting (just arrive early--registration opens at 6 p.m. that day).
Dates for the field trips are: Jan. 28 or 29 for the conditioning test, Feb. 11 and 12 for the Joshua Tree trip, Feb. 25 or 26 for the one-day snow travel outing, and March 10-12 for the snow camp in the Sierra Nevada.
The course is also offered in the San Gabriel Valley beginning Jan. 17, and in Long Beach beginning Jan. 25.
For years, the local Sierra Club operated the popular Basic Mountaineering Training Course, but rising liability insurance costs in the mid-'80s killed that venture. The Wilderness Travel Course debuted a few years later, minus some of the more technical elements of the earlier course. It was first offered in Orange County in 1993.
* What: Sierra Club Wilderness Travel Course.
* When: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. and some weekends, Jan. 10 to March 14.
* Where: Lectures at REI, 1411 S. Village Way, Santa Ana.
* Whereabouts: From the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, exit west at McFadden Avenue and turn left onto Village Way.
* Wherewithal: $135 for Sierra Club members, $150 for non-members. Plus $18 for a required textbook ($21 on the first day of class).
* Where to call: (714) 496-3972.