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Seeing Trails Hiking Gang Gets Angelenos Adjusted To Nature

Watch the series, "Backbone Trail," featuring the Seeing Trails Hiking Gang, available online. A new episode will be released every Friday through September 8.

 

Four years ago, musician Butchy Fuego decided to start a hiking group called Seeing Trails Hiking Gang. At first it was just with close friends, organized via Facebook. Fuego, who was residing in Los Angeles at that time, simply wanted hiking partners to discover the area with him.

“My social circle was mostly working and professional artists and musicians in Los Angeles,” Fuego says. “A lot of them didn’t have wilderness experience.”

He’d organize forays throughout the Los Angeles basin, from annual backpacking trips into the Sierras and a yearly Mexico car camping hot springs trip. He’d do mountailsaineering excursions in the local mountains and provide all the gear.

“Artists are drawn to places like that, places of extreme beauty that’s something even more beautiful than they can create themselves,” Fuego says.

As time went on, he and his friends got bolder. They’d go off the trails, into impenetrable brush and up steep clips. The name Seeing Trails became a literal embodiment of their group. They’d begin to carve and see their own trails.   

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seeing trails gang
Photo: Carson Davis Brown

Soon, people started to hear about the hiking gang and the group started expanding outside of its initial members.

“It grew and grew to the point that after about six months, there were more people than I felt comfortable having in the wilderness. It was eight people, then 20, and then it turned into a quagmire,” he says.

From there, he started shifting the focus of the group to cultural and artistic gatherings, with the purpose of bringing nature-centric people together. They’ll do Dutch oven gatherings in the outdoors, where they’ll cook for a crowd of up to 200. Sometimes you might catch them hosting outdoor concerts or yoga sessions at a friend’s lodge. In the past they’ve done knot-tying workshops. There’s also an in-house botanist, who will organize hikes and teach people how to observe nature. They average four major public events every year.

The events are broadcasted on a private Facebook group or on their Instagram feed with roughly 600 and 1,000 followers, respectively. It’s not an especially significant following, but what sets Seeing Trails apart from other hiking groups is the commitment of the organizers, which Fuego estimates to be about 50.

“These are the people that are really active and help us organize events,” he says.

seeing trail gang
A meal at a cooking camp-out for Seeing Trails Gang.
Watch KCET's "Backbone Trail: Day 3" featuring the Seeing Trails Hiking Gang.

The hikes are still there, though those are usually with people that they already know or with friends of friends. It’s a conscious decision on Fuego’s part. The hikes are free of charge, with the goal of communing in nature. Fuego says keeping the groups intimate is a key part of that.

“If you’re going into the wilderness with people, you’re not just going with them. You’re going with all of their baggage and a lot of that will surface relatively quickly when they’re put into what may be a stressful situation for them,” Fuego says. “With Seeing Trails, they’re not paying us to be there. Everyone is doing it for the love of it and that makes a huge difference.”

“It’s a gang — a group of friends,” Jonah Olson, one of the members and organizers of the club, adds.

For Olson, Seeing Trails has completely changed his hiking life.

“Before meeting Butchy, it was pretty difficult to find people that wanted to do the hikes that I wanted to do. Even though living in Los Angeles, people are into hiking, but nobody seems to actually have the time or wanting to commit a full week to backpacking or a weekend doing a peak or something. This has opened up those doors,” Olson says.

He says the most rewarding part of being a part of Seeing Trails has been teaching folks how to adjust to nature.

“I had a friend who really wanted to get into mountaineering. He never knew how to climb a mountain using crampons. I loved teaching them. It’s one of my favorite things — teaching and learning,” he says.

Fuego seconds that, saying that the group has brought him incredible opportunities he wouldn’t have had before.

“It’s surreal being in a really remote area with a large group of friends,” he says. “It’s pretty special.”

seeing trails gang
A cooking camp-out celebrating the process of cooking with camp style cast iron dutch ovens using coals as fuel.

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