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Follow the Call of the Wild
Interview with Adventure Travel Entrepeneur Carole Latimer

By George Medovoy

Carole Latimer on Mt Whitney trail
Carole Latimer on Mt Whitney trail. Photo courtesy of Call of the Wild/Brown Cannon III

The name of her company, Call of the Wild, seems the perfect metaphor for Carole Latimer's adventurous life. Latimer has led wilderness trips for women since 1978. It was Latimer's free spirit — her own "call of the wild" — that took her somewhere she never expected to go.

Latimer, whose Berkeley, Calif.-based company offers 25 trips a year for women only, was fired from her job as a secretary. That was 22 years ago. Behind her was a B.A. degree in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley and one year of law school.

"I really hated law school," she remembers. "I just thought it was awful."

So what to do?

Since she had grown up in the hills of Northern California and learned to love hiking, she decided to go to work for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon. That job lasted until she returned to California and joined a San Francisco radio station.

South Kaibab trail in Grand Canyon
Hiking in the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Call of the Wild
"I was hoping to go into some sort of news thing," Latimer remembers. "Basically, I just wasn't fulfilling the boss's idea of what a secretary ought to be. 

"The first thing I did was I told him that I wouldn't make coffee, and then there were a number of other things. One day, I went to lunch...and didn't come back."

Today, Latimer admits, she might fire someone for doing the same thing, but she also knows that getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to her.

"It's so corny," she says. "Sometimes you think it's the worse thing that can happen -- and it turns out to not be an awful thing. You don't ever know what life will bring." (

Next, Latimer took a friend's advice to teach women how to backpack. It was, she notes, "the adolescent phase of the women's movement" and leading women on hikes seemed like a "great metaphor for women at that time -- carrying everything on your back."

Lake Tahoe yoga
In Lake Tahoe, yoga is part of the hiking program. Photo courtesy of Call of the Wild.

"In many ways," she says, "it still is a frontier for women." 

With her dog Shenka, the adventurous entrepreneur began a new life leading backpacking trips into the Sierras -- of course, for women only.

"I started showing women this great thing to do," she says. "It just sort of unfolded for me."

Later on, there was a dog named Beowulf, and now there's Jody, her new canine friend. Latimer still leads trips, but these days she also has seven guides who work for her as independent contractors. There are day trips, three-day trips, and week-long trips, but the most popular hike is the day trip with a spa treatment: a five-mile hike, "a great lunch," and a spa treatment in Calistoga.

Trips usually accommodate from eight to 16 people and may cover the Sierras, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Southwest, including the Grand Canyon. Latimer also offers private trips, and these accommodate both men and women.

Call of the Wild provides most of the equipment and can help hikers choose the right clothing and gear. It can also assist with travel arrangements. Pre-trip classes are included in the price of a trip. 

During our interview, I wondered about the reasons women choose to hike exclusively with other women.

"There are as many reasons as women," says Latimer. "We just have a lot of fun, and women can let go around other women. For example, they can talk about things they don't talk about in mixed company.

"On the week-long trips in particular, they really feel an absence of competition on the hike and a lot of support from other women."

For some professional women, it's a chance to get out of a "man's world."

And then, too, Latimer gets a lot of moms on her hikes.

"They think the husbands should have an opportunity to take care of the kids," she notes.

Latimer's company has a variety of trip ratings, which potential hikers should know.

"Hiking Light" (HL) means hiking with a light daypack only. Your gear is transported by pack animals, boat or other means. Hiking Light trips are generally easier.

"Backpacking" means you're carrying a pack with your sleeping bag, food, clothes, tent -- about 30-35 lbs. of weight. Trip ratings are determined by trip length, pace, altitude, elevation changes and daily mileage. Easy, Easy/Moderate is 2-4 miles a day; Moderate, Moderate/Challenging, 5-9 miles a day; Challenging, Up to 10 (or more) miles a day. Hiking-Light adventures are generally easier and include hiking the John Muir Trail with pack animals carrying your gear, wildlife viewing, and camping in Alaska's Denali National Park.

Backpacking (BKPK) trips run the gamut from easy beginners' trips to a week-long expedition to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

Thai Tom Yum Soup
Latimer presents her Thai Tom Yum Soup. Photo courtesy
Call of the Wild.

On the hikes, everyone sleeps in tents, but the notion of roughing it is somewhat tempered by Latimer's really great meals. The creative guide, it turns out, is also the author of a recipe book called "Wilderness Cuisine (Wilderness Press, $12.95), and she prides herself on providing "fancy food" for her guests.

Latimer's "trail blazers" enjoy fresh-baked coffeecake, Sherried Mushrooms and Sweet Peppers, and other tasty dishes taken from her cookbook 

"We use high-quality ingredients and fresh fruits and vegetables, and home-canned goods from the Latimer family garden and orchard in the California gold country," she says.

Main course specialties include grilled Ahi with papaya salsa in Hawaii, or fresh-caught halibut in Alaska. 

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