An article about Peter Nelson, Adam Englund, Mike Yancey, and Bob Bierig's adventures to Half Dome.
INTO THE WILD Four members of the Class of '79 celebrate 30 years of annual adventures. (2010, Spring). Retrieved from http://magazine.uchastings.edu/
INTO THE WILD
Four members of the Class of '79 celebrate 30 years of annual adventures
Peter Nelson, Adam Englund, Mike Yancey, and Bob Bierig
Bob Bierig ’79, a Santa Barbara real estate investor; Adam Englund ’79, a San Diego “floating city” developer; Mike Yancey ’79, a San Francisco real estate investor and mortgage banker; and Peter Nelson ’79, a Santa Monica entertainment law firm partner, met in 1976, their first year at Hastings. They all lived in a rundown Tenderloin apartment building, affectionately known as “Hastings House.”
During Thanksgiving break of their first year, they decided to get away and camp on the beach in Santa Cruz. Mike knew the territory and had access to his dad’s jeep. Bob had recently read something about rye whiskey and didn’t know what it was, so he suggested they pick up some on the way. Although they all thought it tasted awful, they pretended to like it, and rye whiskey became the official drink of their adventures through the years. Bob, Adam, and Mike had grown up camping, but not Peter, who says, “These guys introduced me to a whole new world.”
They made their first big trip the next year to Monument Valley at the Arizona/Utah border, which was so amazing that the four friends decided to repeat the journey every 10 years.
When they returned in 1988, they were adopted by a stray dog. The weather was freezing, so they invited her into their tent. Over the next few days, the dog led them on hikes and climbs. They named her Kayenta, after the neighboring town, and flew her to L.A., where she lived with Peter. For 16 years, she accompanied Bob, Mike, Kayenta, Adam, and Peter them on their adventures.
By their third visit to Monument Valley in 1998, the Navajo Nation required visitors to hire guides, which the foursome thought unnecessary—until they were chased off sacred land with bullets whizzing over their heads. In 2008, their fourth excursion, the friends climbed the highest monument, held a ceremony celebrating Kayenta’s life (she died in 2004) and their accomplishments together, and scattered her ashes.
Other adventures have included watching the sunrise from atop Mount Haleakela on Maui; climbing Mount Whitney; cross-country skiing up Mount Lassen; backpacking in Yosemite; exploring New Zealand; hiking to caves in Copper Canyon, Mexico; and journeying over the Continental Divide from Aspen to Crested Butte. Last year, they climbed into the Grand Canyon and back—5,000 feet elevation loss and gain—in one day, although many who attempt the feat are helicoptered out on stretchers.
They have also had their share of misadventures. Once, backpacking in the Sierras, they awoke to three feet of snow that covered all trail markings. Mike says, “It was like Hansel and Gretel, without the bread crumbs.” Unprepared, they hiked up a mountain through a whiteout without snowshoes, trying to follow their map. They reached a pass and celebrated briefly, then promptly got lost again. They camped overnight in the snow and wondered how long they might wander, especially since Adam, Mike, Bob, and Peter they hadn’t told anyone where they were going. Luckily, the next morning dawned clear. Bob hiked up the closest ridge, and they found their way out.
One morning on a trip in Kings Canyon, they awoke to see shadows of mosquitoes lining the tent roof, preparing for attack. When Adam could no longer wait to answer the call of nature, he took off running. The other three could see the mosquitoes peel off like squadrons of fighter planes, and moments later heard yelps as they found their target. Thus, the men learned to plan around mosquito season.
Another year, while roasting chickens over a campfire in Death Valley, the guys spotted a fox advancing. They soon were surrounded by several more and couldn’t scare them away. Eventually, they devised a system of throwing pieces of chicken for the foxes to eat as far as possible, and bolting down as much as they could before the foxes returned, repeating the process until dinner was finished by both man and beast.
These annual trips have become a priority in each of their lives. They call it “the one percent solution,” referring to those three to four days together in the wilderness out of the 365-day year. After more than 30 years, they have gotten to know each other very well and have become “bedrock friends,” according to Peter. It has given them continuity and the opportunity to get regular, nonjudgmental reality checks, as their real-world relationships and business ventures have ebbed and flowed over time.
As city boys, they appreciate the opportunity to get as far from their urban environment as possible. Despite that Mike and Bob, the two real estate developers, joke how many of the gorgeous locales would be “perfect for condominiums,” they treasure the meditative environment. As Mike puts it, when you get away from the trappings of success to live by your wits in the wilderness, “we are all created equal.”
Adam agrees that there is a sense of simplicity and independence when you carry everything on your back. By the end of a recent trip, all they had left was one tea bag and a hot pepper. Adam says, “As a group, we have developed an almost intuitive sense of taking care of ourselves and each other.” Each brings something of value: Peter is the instigator; Mike is up for anything; Adam is the scout; and Bob is the navigator. Whoever has the most energy at the moment takes the lead and inspires the others. They take turns.
As the friends age, there are increasing periods of pain and recovery, but, Peter says, “It’s the price we pay for these modest accomplishments, which we value a lot.” Bob vows, “There is no doubt we will continue doing this for the rest of our lives.”