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Ever wish to learn land navigation by map and compass or GPS? Or discover the fine points of selecting and packing gear for a backpacking expedition? Or learn how to prepare for and experience a reasonably pleasant couple of days in the snow? If so, the San Diego Sierra Club's Wilderness Basics Course (WBC) may be the efficient and economical solution for you.

The WBC, now in its 49th year, is a serious yet seldom heavy-handed effort at transforming city slickers into happy hikers, campers, and backpackers. Up to 300 registered students and "crashers" are expected to arrive on opening night, January 11, at the San Diego Scottish Rite Center, 1895 Camino del Rio South, in Mission Valley.

On 11 consecutive Tuesday evenings, from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m., WBC volunteers will offer lectures and demonstrations designed to promote the safe, enjoyable, and environmentally sound use of wilderness areas near and far. Topics will include equipment selection and use, foods and cooking, physical conditioning, wilderness first-aid, navigation, and the art of self-propelled travel and camping in desert, mountain, and snow-covered terrain. Five weekend activities, integral to the course, are scheduled: a timed day hike up Cowles Mountain for the purpose of fitness evaluation, an overnight car camp, a land-navigation weekend, a two-day desert backpack, and a snow camping trip to the eastern Sierra Nevada. Participants must supply their own equipment (sleeping bags, packs, camp stoves, etc.) or rent the same from local sporting stores.

San Diego's WBC is open to all persons -- Sierra Club members and nonmembers -- 18 years of age and older. Course registration is offered via the course's website, wildernessbasics.com, at a cost of $105, or on a space-available basis at the first meeting. The snow camp, which involves bus transportation, will cost an additional $100 or slightly more. Visit WBC's website or phone 858-272-9229 for more information.

The North County Group of the Sierra Club offers a similar Wilderness Basics Course beginning January 18, with meetings at San Pasqual High School in Escondido. North County's snow camp travels to the San Jacinto Mountains high above Palm Springs, not to the more distant but snowier Sierra Nevada. Unlike San Diego's course, the North County WBC accepts students between the ages of 14 and 17 (with parental supervision). For more information about the North County WBC, visit www.ncwbc.org or call 760-728-8220.

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