Saturday, April 20, 2013

Karen Najarian on Great Sierra Backpacking Destinations, part 2

Yosemite's Half Dome by Susan Alcorn 
In the first part of this two-part series, we meet Karen Najarian, owner, manager, and head guide for Sierra Spirit. Najarian enjoys sharing her interests in hiking and backpacking in the Sierra, and her company has been guiding people into the wilderness for five years. Before she decided to branch out, Najarian ran the REI Adventures Yosemite Program for ten years.

In part two of this interview, you'll learn more about Karen Najarian's unique background that makes her well suited to leading her treks.  

Alcorn: It's clear that you are thoroughly engaged with the outdoor world. How did you become interested in the outdoors?

Najarian:  I grew up in a house right next to a big vacant field with a stream and frogs and rocks. My brother and sister and I spent a lot of time out there building forts and playing in the dirt. We bemoaned the day when it was turned into a park. Later I became a Girl Scout and while camping I found I was most at home without a roof. In high school we had to give a demonstration speech in English class. I showed how to make cornbread muffins. One of my classmates brought in his backpack and gave a talk about backpacking around Yosemite. Someone asked, “Where do you camp?” “Pretty much anywhere,” came his reply. 

It sounded like the kind of freedom I yearned for and I knew in that moment that that was what I was meant to do. It took a few years before my first trip and then a lot of bumbling (blew up a stove, lost a filter over a waterfall, etc.) with my husband until I got it dialed and finally felt called to teach it to others.

Alcorn: You are also a professional photographer; are you able to combine that with your hiking?  

Najarian:  Absolutely. The great thing about spending lots of time in the Sierra is that it provides endless opportunities for gorgeous landscapes at any time of the day. I put a bunch of my pictures on the computer screens at Alameda Hospital and ended up having a sale there partially benefitting the hospital auxiliary.

Alcorn: Your early career was in science, as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist; what led you to change careers and become a hiking trip guide and leader?

Najarian:   I’d always been interested in science and majored in Bacteriology at UC Berkeley. Afterward, I became a Clinical Laboratory Scientist. Hospital laboratory work is stimulating and rewarding (I’m an excellent blood banker). While working at John Muir Hospital and raising my kids I also taught backpacking to Girl Scouts and Girl Scout adults. I loved seeing life-changing confidence arise in the girls. 

It occurred to me that what I was teaching was a valuable commodity and decided to look into guiding as a business. I teamed up with another guiding company and later started my own. I continued the lab work off and on until two years ago when I quit my job at Alameda Hospital to run the guiding business full-time.  

Sunset/John Muir Trail. S. Alcorn
Guiding is a marriage of the joy I find being in the wilderness, turning people on to the wilderness, my passion for the flora, fauna, history and geology of the Sierra, and empowering people. But more than that; I discovered that I’m equal right and left brain. Through teaching and guiding I’ve found my creativity and bring it to the unique outdoor program I’ve created where we connect with ourselves as much as we do the rocks and trees and bears of the Sierra.

More info: 
Najarian will be giving another "Great Sierra Backpacking Destinations" slide show this month at the Walnut Creek Sports Basement. 

April 23, 2013. 7:00 P.M. Sports Basement, 1881 Ygnacio Valley Road, Walnut Creek, CA 94598. Sports Basement will be offering everyone in attendance a 10% discount on all purchases for the nights of these events.

If you miss that program, you can still find out more about Sierra Spirit. Website click here.  Call 925-699-6953 or email Najarian at You can also "friend" Karen Najarian and “like” Sierra Spirit LLC on Facebook. Find her portfolio of photos here.

Be sure to read part 1 of "Karen Najarian on Great Sierra Backpacking Destinations." 

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