Get to Know Yosemite’s Scott Gehrman: Do Non-profit Guiding Companies really exist?

Tour guides don’t follow the standard 9-5; they do what they love and escape the daily grind. Lasting Adventures executive director Scott Gehrman is no exception. He’s been guiding folks around Yosemite National Park for 18 years and still gets a thrill hiking the same trails he did when he first started. Scott is a nature lover who has dedicated his life to sharing the wilderness with young travelers so they can form a bond with Mother Nature. After setting up the non-profit organization Lasting Adventures in 1996, Scott has expanded his guiding service to also include family hiking adventures. He took some time out of his busy day to tell us how the program began, why he loves his job and what the kids get out of it.

Hey Scott, thanks for sitting down for a chat. First of all, can you explain what Lasting Adventures is all about?

Sure thing. Our main focus is to provide outdoor experiences which promote youth development and education in Yosemite National Park. Our summer hiking programs are open to all youth, and focus on building leadership skills, problem solving techniques, personal confidence and an appreciation for nature. We also run a guide service with a strong focus on family-based hiking adventures. We’re a non profit organization, so all profits go back into our youth program and our scholarship program for disadvantaged kids.

Wow, how did you come up with the idea of Lasting Adventures?

I’ve always had a connection to the outdoors from a young age, and I have a background as a school counsellor, so Lasting Adventures was a natural progression for me. We used to camp in Yosemite when I was younger, but I was really blown away when I summitted my first peak when I was 17 years old. I was so impressed by how big it was, and that inspired me to later do a research proposal on an outdoor adventure program. Then, the following year I started it. I’ve always had a strong connection with the wilderness and I want young people to be able to have the same experience and connection with nature.

Sounds like you’re doing what you love! How did you get the project off the ground?

I was working full time as a counsellor in the early days and was able to secure a sponsorship from a larger non-profit back in 1996. I just had to cover all the maths and program costs to make it happen, and we were off! We started under the umbrella of a different non-profit, but we took care of everything ourselves – from sponsoring our own kids in-house, finding our own gear and making the trips happen. We had a few donations here and there which kept us going, but we just made it work. We have grown a lot over the years as our marketing has improved, I’ve got smarter, and we’ve started to use the internet more. Then in 2007, I was able to incorporate Lasting Adventures into its own non-profit.

How about tour guiding? Have you always been interested in it?

I can’t say that I was ever interested in guiding growing up, but I was a keen scout and just loved being outdoors every day. It really clears the mind and has a healing spirit to it. It makes me think of the saying ‘Going to the mountains is going home’ – I really believe it is! I suppose I kind of fell into guiding when I started offering the summer youth programs, but it’s never felt like a job because I love it.

So I’ve got to ask, do you ever get sick of hiking the same trails day after day?

Haha, kids ask me that all the time, and my answer is no because every day is different when you see it through the kids’ eyes. You see their eyes light up, they ask different questions, and most of them exceed their own expectations every day. It gives me a warm feeling and makes me smile.

Have you always been interested in youth development, considering it forms the crux of what you do?

Absolutely! Youth development has always been near and dear to me, and I really believe that everyone can benefit from the wilderness. It provides this awesome experience of being together, working together and developing together, and everyone has to work collaboratively as a group. I’ve always used the outdoors to teach new skills, and getting the kids out there to see it, experience it, live it, smell it and taste it gives them a greater appreciation for the outdoors. Ultimately, they take those things home and appreciate the simple things a little bit more.

Do you ever see a change in these kids’ attitudes over the duration of the hike?

Definitely! It’s amazing actually. The kids are usually a little apprehensive on the first day because they don’t know each other. But by the end of the trip, you get this group that comes out of the mountain and they’re all best friends, exchanging emails & Facebook details, and wearing friendship bracelets. You not only see a change in the group, but also a change in their whole outlook on life. It’s very rewarding.

You mentioned that Lasting Adventures also offers family hiking trips. How is that part of the business coming along?

We started with the youth development program, but added the guide service about 3-4 years ago because we figured the general public would also be interested in exploring the Yosemite backcountry. We’ve sky-rocketed since then and are now the number one guide service in Yosemite, which is really encouraging. We follow the same structure as our youth programs, but focus on giving families down-time with their kids. We also make sure that we’ve got a good guide to client ratio so we can offer more activities like swimming, cliff jumping, fishing, or just catching a sunset together.

What’s the best thing about your job?

That’s a tough one, but I would say it’s being able to share Yosemite with others. It’s also a real highlight reaching a peak with people who never thought they could, or camping in a magnificent place and seeing the expression on people’s face.

What about the days which make your job a little harder?

The administrative part of it isn’t something I enjoy. But as the business grows, there is definitely a part of me that thinks this is awesome, and I just want to keep on going.

What’s the most bizarre tour you’ve ever led?

Each tour is different, but the most bizarre tours are defined by bizarre clients. We know the terrain and what to expect, so the clients are really the point of difference. We’ve had crazy weather, and a few years ago we were crossing snow bridges and creeks well into July when it would normally be gone.

What stands out as a career highlight for you?

We just got an awesome grant from Cliff Bar which was a real highlight. I visited their headquarters and the founder toured me around, which was mind blowing. I didn’t know I was going to be leaving there with a cheque…so that was a real surprise. Another highlight would be when I incorporated Lasting Adventures as its own non profit in 2007. It’s now reaching new heights and it’s starting to pick up and people are starting to see what we’re doing, which is really rewarding.

Have you got a long term vision for Lasting Adventures, or a plan for the future?

I would really like to expand into some other parks in the next 2-3 years. I’ve been in Yosemite for 18 years now, but I believe we need to do something really well here in Yosemite before reaching out, and we’re just about there. I’m not sure which parks we would expand into yet, but it would definitely be something with day trips and backpacking opportunities like Yosemite.

Finally, have you got any tips for families who are considering a Lasting Adventures trip, or maybe getting one of their teenagers involved with the youth program?

Just try it! Our trips are designed for youth and families to have fun. That’s our motto. Give it a go, and by the end everyone will be laughing and having a good time.

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