Your Guides

Sierra Spirit Guides
Guides are chosen for their backcountry knowledge, experience, teaching skills, patience, enthusiasm, fun personalities, and people skills. The special hand-picked guides at Sierra Spirit will ensure your trip is safe, informative, & memorable. All have certification in Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness First Aid & CPR.

     Karen Najarian
     Owner, manager, and Head Guide for Sierra Spirit.  Karen Najarian is a native Californian who grew up in the East Bay, graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Bacteriology and went on to become a Clinical Laboratory Scientist working at various hospital laboratories, her last position being at Alameda Hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area.     
     Beyond her work she's devoted herself to her passions: her family, the Sierra, photography, and writing.  
     Believing, like Edward Abbey, that “you can't see anything from a car window,” she's been backpacking the Sierra for forty years and teaching the art to others for 25.  Along with her plain old nuts and bolts expertise in comfortable backcountry living that comes with time spent in the wilderness, her passion about the Sierra has called her to learn about what she's hiking through, whether it be the wild flowers, the geology, the human history of the place, or the little pikas that live at 10,000 feet and above.  She's published articles about her experiences in Sierra Heritage Magazine, the Yosemite Association Journal, and the Martinez Gazette.  And, Karen has a Sierra wildflower photographic display on permanent loan to the natural history museum at Diablo Valley College. Here's a collection on her photo site.
     While swaying in a hammock perched between two trees in Yosemite in the Fall of '99, Karen discovered the lump that would take her on another sort of journey - through surgeries and chemo and radiation - and ultimately back on the trail in a stronger more meaningful way.  (See my story.)  
      In 2007 she was chosen as one of 7 top guides from guides the world over for REI Adventures. She's a Certified Leave No Trace Trainer & Wilderness First Responder, who was voted by her WFR Class as "The Person I Would Most Trust To Save my Life".  
     While teaching skills, she shares her knowledge of the Sierra and, by using the land and the backpacking experience as a metaphor for our daily lives, she facilitates a space to reflect and renew from our hectic work-a-day lives.   Like John Muir said, “Between every two pine trees lies a door to a new life.”
Photo courtesy of Rick Najarian on top of Tenaya Peak, Yosemite.
             Mike Duret
    Mike's all about the swim at the end of the day and sleeping under the stars
    in his "celestial observatory"  which happens to be whereve he plants his head.    
    Been guiding for Sierra Spirit since 2005.  Berkeley graduate in Chemical  
    Engineering, Mike travels the world for his other job and finds life balance guiding
    for Sierra Spirit every summer.
                Val Wilson
    Val can hook 'em, land 'em, and fry them up in the pan.  She does
    gymnastic moves on log crossings and navigates the backcountry like
    a bear on the scent of a fresh baked pie. Especially likes to backpack
    with her dogs.  Degree from Cal State Fresno in Biology, she
    works to keep California's food pesticide free when she's not exploring
    the Sierra. Been guiding for Sierra Spirit since 2006.
                            Joe Keyser
     Joe is all about the history of the Sierra Nevada
     and capturing it with pixels. Business Analyst in the
     off season.
                    Gregor Cork
    Gregor loves weather. The more extreme, the better. Here he is
     waiting on a storm that dumped hail for 3 hours. When not
     backpacking, Gregor is at the rock gym, on the rock climbing, or
     studying art.  His sketch pad is always with him.
                 Tom Rennie
     Tom, aka Mr. Half Dome, on top of Eagle Peak in Yosemite.
     Doting husband and family man to two teenagers.  Delivers
     your Christmas presents from the brown truck in December.
     Calmly leads dozens a year up Half Dome.
Michael Hildner, Banning Lyon, & Caroline Grumm

Guiding is their passion.

Michael is a student during the school year and guides all
summer. Hiked the whole John Muir Trail in  2012.

Banning moved from Texas to California in order to dedicate
his life to guiding Yosemite.

Carolyn is a Special Education Teacher who spends most of
her summer guiding for Sierra Spirit and backpacking with

                    Diego Panasiti
     Doing yoga on the south rim of Yosemite Valley. El Capitan in
     the background.  High school Spanish teacher who aspires
     to hike the whole Pacific Crest Trail.

            Bob Brown
     Bob (aka Bob Knows Trees) spends his retirement guiding and traveling.
     Trees of the Sierra are his specialty.

For Trip Queeries or Reservations
email Karen,

"Discover the Soul of the Sierra"