Pemi West 

23-Day Lower San Juan River, Cross-Cultural Service,

and Mountain Backpacking Expedition

July 12 through August 3, 2020

Please take a moment to read through the information below. This page provides photos from expeditions similar to yours, general information, your program specific packing list and information about the Deer Hill Outfitting Store. If you have any questions, please contact our Admissions Manager, Jordan Lang, by email or at 970.533.7492.

Click picture to enlarge.

Lower San Juan River Canoe Expedition

The Lower section of the San Juan River is 56 miles, and carries boaters through a true wilderness experience that includes fun rapids, large swimming holes and great hiking through spectacular side canyons.

You will find Class I rapids (gentle bumps) and Class II+ (you will get splashed). However, you and your group, as active participants, will learn to read the river, gaining confidence with each day. Program Leaders will teach students about the delicate nature of desert landscapes and riparian ecosystems, as well as the plants and animals that call the San Juan home, and how we can use “Leave No Trace” techniques to minimize our impact while we explore the wilderness.

Cross-Cultural Service

Prior to starting the service component, your Deer Hill instructors will orient you to working with your service host. We will discuss appropriate etiquette and the group’s views on service in Native American communities.

Our host families or community leaders identify the service projects based on what would be helpful to them. In the past, this has included the construction of corrals, fences, barns, shade arbors and erosion control dams, as well as repairing buildings in the plaza in Hopi Pueblo, or helping elders with home repairs and ranch projects.

Maintaining flexibility in the design of the project allows groups the opportunity to join in local events such as a ceremonial dance, or a basketball game with community youth. Additionally, it gives our host families the opportunity to teach traditional arts such as jewelry making, pottery and beadwork.

Click picture to enlarge.

Click picture to enlarge.

Mountain Backpacking

The expedition ends with seven days of backpacking through the quaking aspen, subalpine spruce and fir, and alpine meadows peppered with wildflowers of myriad shapes and colors that make the San Juan Mountains one of Colorado’s most special places.

Participants will learn and develop technical skills such as rock climbing, traversing snowfields, and navigating the ascent of a class 4 alpine pitch. Additionally, the group will attempt to summit world-class 13-and 14,000-foot peaks.

Additional Details

Deer Hill Provides:

  • All meals, snacks and drinks from lunch on Day 1 through lunch on the final day (depending on arrival and departure times),
  • All guiding activities, service materials, and group equipment (rafting gear, cooking gear, tents, service tools, etc.)
  • Permits, fees and insurance

Personal gear (sleeping bags, pads, etc.) and clothing items (e.g. rain gear and fleece) is not included. These items may be rented from the Deer Hill outfitting store at a very reasonable cost. We will provide you with the price list for rental items along with a list of required and optional personal gear to pack.

Food and Accommodations

On the river and at the service site, you will be camping in 3-4 person, single-gender tents. In the mountains, you will be sleeping under mountain tarps (see photos above). Deer Hill provides healthy and balanced meals and can accommodate a wide variety of dietary needs and preferences.

Climate and Living Outdoors

The right equipment and clothing will make your Deer Hill experience more comfortable and enjoyable. Temperatures in the desert can range from 35º F at night to 80º F during the day. We dress to protect ourselves from the sun and heat. Rain is infrequent, though it may rain hard during brief storms. Even though you may not experience these extremes, you must be prepared for all types of weather.

Synthetics, Cotton and Staying Warm

Synthetics, Cotton and Staying Warm

Please pay close attention to our fabric recommendations. Most fabrics perform equally well when dry. When wet, fabric performance changes dramatically. Cotton fibers absorb moisture, which rob heat from the body. Synthetic and wool fibers repel moisture, maintaining their ability to trap air and heat, even when wet. When deciding between wool and synthetics, choose items that are comfortable and lightweight. The sheer number of names of synthetic fabrics (e.g. Capilene, Polypropylene, Synchilla, Polar Tec, fleece, etc.) can be overwhelming. Most of these are nearly identical, but sold under different brand names. Please do not buy polyester/cotton blends, as these are not sufficient.

Where to Find Your Gear

Where to Find Your Gear

Buying Good Quality Gear

You can find quality backcountry equipment at stores that specialize in mountaineering and/or backpacking. Try local shops that carry brand names such as Black Diamond, Patagonia, The North Face and Marmot, or try one of the large retail chains such as REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), or EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports). If you are shopping online it is useful to try items on locally to ensure the correct fit.

Renting / Purchasing Gear from Deer Hill

Another option is to rent or purchase your gear and expeditionary clothing from the Deer Hill Outfitting Store. We stock quality items that have been tested over the years at Deer Hill. Our rental program is a convenient option instead of purchasing high-priced gear and clothing in retail stores. Please review the information about the Store provided in the Packing List (below).

The Deer Hill Outfitting Store

The Deer Hill Outfitting Store

The Deer Hill Outfitting Store plays an important role in the comfort and safety of our participants. We research each item thoroughly and carefully select gear based on function and value from The North Face, Helly Hansen, Sierra Designs, and others. We stock enough clothing and gear to meet every participant’s needs. There is no need for you to reserve clothing and gear from us in advance.

How the Store Works

It is not necessary to buy all new clothing and gear for the trip. We can provide much of the specialized gear that is needed at a reasonable cost through the Deer Hill Store for either rental or purchase. The group leader/teacher either is, or has designated, your liaison with Deer Hill. We ask that you communicate with him/her regarding any rental or purchase needs. The group leader/teacher will then compile a list and submit it to Deer Hill at least 7 days before the beginning of the program. Please do not contact Deer Hill directly to request items from our store.

When the group arrives at Deer Hill, our experienced staff will check all of their gear and clothing. Our leaders will determine whether or not a participant’s gear is appropriate for the program. Occasionally, if an item is deemed insufficient, it may be necessary for us to provide a replacement from the Deer Hill Store.

Your group leader/teacher provides credit card information to Deer Hill prior to the start of the program so we can charge any incidentals, rentals, or purchases for the group. After the program, we will send an itemized invoice so the group leader/teacher can bill individual families. Another option is for participants to bring cash and pay for any rental or purchase items up front. Both options work well for us.

If a rental item from the Deer Hill Store is lost or damaged beyond ordinary wear and tear during the program, the participant will be responsible for the replacement cost.

Items Available in the Store

The items available through our store are noted on the Packing List and Store Price List. We offer a rental program for the larger, more expensive items such as sleeping bags, backpacks, rain and cold-weather gear. Our rental prices are based on the initial cost of the item, the amount of use each item receives, and laundering and repair costs. Our purchase prices are consistently below those suggested by the manufacturers. Instead of purchasing gear or clothing that may not be used frequently, become stained, or be outgrown within a year or two, you can save up to 50% off retail prices by purchasing gear which has been used. We will not sell any gear that we feel is not in good condition.

How to Best Utilize the Store

Our staff does its best to outfit everyone properly, at the most reasonable cost. When you read your program Packing List, please notice that many items are indicated as being optional. These are items that are great to have and are useful in the out-of-doors, but are not mandatory. Items that are not indicated as being optional are required. You must bring these items with you or you will need to acquire them here. We advise you to review the Packing List carefully as a family, so that everyone is in agreement on what can be spent on store items. You are responsible for all Store charges.

We encourage you to bring as many of the items on the Packing List as you wish, but please do not underestimate the savings and convenience of the Deer Hill Outfitting Store. It is common for families to spend a lot of money purchasing gear that they may not use very often, or worse, is not even appropriate. You may already own much of this gear or just wish to equip yourself at home. That’s fine. If you do decide to buy your own gear, we ask that you please follow our guidelines as closely as possible.

If you have questions about the Store or purchasing your own gear, please call us: 970-533-7492.

Hiking Boots

Your most important piece of equipment is your boots. Many foot problems (blisters, cold feet, etc.) can be avoided by purchasing properly fitted footwear. Consider this as an investment in your comfort. Please take time and care when buying your boots. You will wear them almost every day, therefore the fit and function will have a significant impact on the quality of your experience. Our information on fitting is relatively universal. Take this information with you when you go to buy your boots.

Your boots will need to support you while carrying a backpack through terrain such as desert canyons, loose gravel, snow, scree, mud, small streams, and tall, wet grass. The best choice is a boot specifically designed for backpacking: a sturdy, medium-weight, ankle-high boot that is either all leather or leather/fabric combined, as long as they are solid, have a stiff sole, and are made for backpacking (mere hiking boots do not work). The thickness of the leather and the stiffness of the sole determine a boot’s stability and support. To test this, grab the boot by its heel and toe box. Try to bend and twist the sole. If you can fold the boot nearly in half or rotate it as you could a sneaker, it is too flimsy. Look for a ‘Vibram’ sole or the equivalent.

We recommend the following brands of backpacking boots (or brands of comparable quality and design): Asolo, Salomon, Zamberlan, Merrell, Scarpa, La Sportiva, Lowa, Vasque, Montrail. Please do not buy “running-style” boots, such as those made by Nike, Hi-Tec, and Adidas.

Fitting your boots

Fit is more important than the brand or how much a boot is broken in.

Start with a boot a 1/2 size larger than your normal shoe size, fitting the boot to your larger foot. Feet swell during the day, so, if possible, it is best to shop in the afternoon.

Without socks, or with just a liner sock, slide your foot forward into an unlaced boot until your toes contact the front of the boot. Stand up and lean slightly forward. You should be able to slide your finger between the back of the boot and your heel. If you cannot do this, the boot is too small.

Now try the boots on with a pair of hiking socks. Lace them snugly, but not too tightly. Walk around a little. You should not feel spots that rub or irritate you. If you do, these spots might turn into blisters after a few hours of hiking. Your heel should lift up slightly (not sloppily) and your toes should have room to wiggle. Your boots need to fit with one pair of wool socks and a pair of liner socks. This is how you will wear them in the backcountry. Some people prefer the added comfort of two pairs of wool socks. If so, make sure your boots are roomy enough to be worn in this manner.

To double check the length, kick the boot against a wall or walk down the store’s incline ramp. Your toes should have some “wiggle room.” Try different brands. Their internal shapes vary considerably and some brands will feel more comfortable than others. Be sure that your boots are not too small.

Once you have purchased your boots, wear them as much as possible before arriving here. It is best if you can break-in your boots at home, or on short hikes, before hiking in them while wearing a pack.



Deer Hill uses and recommends internal frame backpacks. Most participants rent their backpack from Deer Hill, using their program as an opportunity to try out a backpack in actual field conditions. Some buy a backpack at home at a later date with the knowledge they have gained here. The Deer Hill Store carries packs by Lowe Alpine and Osprey Packs. These packs are easily adjustable to fit a wide range of body sizes and shapes.

If you buy an internal frame pack, it should have a capacity of at least 5000 cubic inches or 85 Liters. We recommend that it have side and top pockets. Packs must have padded shoulder straps and a padded hip belt. Your pack must fit you well. Some packs come in sizes, while others are adjustable. Should you purchase a pack, be sure the salesperson takes the time to properly fit the pack to your back.

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping Bags

Deer Hill travels in two very different environments: hot canyons and cool mountains. For maximum comfort, programs that have River, Canyon, Native American service and mountain components use two different types of sleeping bags. A “canyon bag” is a lightweight, synthetic bag with about 20 oz. of fill. It should be rated warm to 45º F or a little cooler.

A “mountain bag” is a heavyweight, synthetic, mummy bag with approximately 46 oz. of fill. It should be rated warm to at least 0º F. (Canyon Country needs only a “canyon bag.” Heart of the Rockies needs only a “mountain bag.” All other programs will need both “mountain” & “canyon” bags.)

Deer Hill has sleeping bags for rent for both temperature ranges. Rental cost for our sleeping bags is $5/night, with a maximum of $70-$90, depending on the length of the program. Some participants bring their own bag, some bring one of the two bags and rent the other from us, and some rent both a canyon bag and mountain bag.

Advice for Buying a Sleeping Bag

If you are going to buy a sleeping bag, please buy a bag comparable in weight and design to what we provide. For safety, we want all participants to use synthetic-filled sleeping bags (e.g. Primaloft, Climashield, Thermic Micro) instead of down, which will not keep participants warm if wet. Since most of our programs go into the mountains, where rain is likely, synthetic-filled bags best assure that everyone will sleep warmly. Cotton is not an option.

Other Considerations

Be sure your mountain sleeping bag is a “mummy bag” with a hood that goes around your head.

The weight of your bag is important. A reasonable total weight for a synthetic 0-degree bag is 4-4.5 pounds.

How easily is the bag compressed and how big is it once it is in its stuff sack? You do not want a huge, heavy, bulky bag that is difficult to get into a backpack. You will need a compression stuff sack.

Rain Gear

Rain Gear

The outdoor clothing industry has varying ideas of what is waterproof. Many lightweight, coated nylons do not keep out the rain. If you are buying your own rain gear, make sure both jacket and pants are 100% waterproof (water repellent isn’t good enough.) “Waterproof and breathable” fabrics (such as Gortex) are comfortable to hike in because they “breathe” out the body’s moisture. However, they are more expensive and sometimes soak through in heavy rains.

Rain Jacket Recommendations

All rain jackets must have a hood and come down below the waist.

We recommend multi-layered (2-layer or 3-layer) nylon rain jackets. They work quite well and are less expensive than Gortex. The multi-layered system often includes:

  • An exterior of waterproof/coated nylon
  • An internal lining of polyurethane or equivalent
  • Another inner mesh layer, frequently taffeta
  • Underarm zippers (pit zips) for added ventilation (This is probably the most important feature to prevent excessive sweating. We have found that Gortex jackets without pit zips do not work as well as a nylon jacket with pit zips.)

Make sure your rain jacket is large enough to be worn over several layers of insulating clothing.

Ponchos are not allowed. They do not work well in windy, mountain storms.

Rain Pants Recommendations

Some rain pants are also multi-layered. An exterior shell of waterproof, coated nylon with an internal polyurethane layer works well and is lightweight.

A zippered cuff is nice to have so you can put your rain pants on over your hiking boots. (Otherwise, you will have to take your boots off to put your rain pants on. Not fun during a rainstorm!)

Be sure your rain pants are large enough to be worn over your insulating pants.

Understanding the Packing List

Understanding the Packing List

Please bring only the items that are on the packing list. Except for a few personal items or extra toiletries, you will not need more than what is listed. You will not change clothes every day. In fact, for a given expedition or project you will carry only the necessary clothing for that environment. The remainder of your clothing and any extra items will be stored at Basecamp for the duration of your program or until you need it for another environment. Additionally:

  • All personal clothing and gear should be labeled with the participant’s name.
  • Pack lightly. Choose items that are lightweight and compact.
  • Keep in mind that service work and wilderness living are hard on clothing. The clothes you bring to Deer Hill will receive rough treatment and may become torn or permanently stained.

We have designed the Packing List to help you select the appropriate gear for your program. Items available for purchase or rental at the Deer Hill Store are indicated as such in the Packing List.

Packing List and Deer Hill Store Pricelist

Pemi West

Each expedition with Deer Hill is unique and requires specific clothing and gear for safety and comfort. It is imperative that everyone read the packing and price list for the program and bring, or acquire from the Deer Hill Store, all required items.

The program you run at Deer Hill is just amazing and top-notch. Your obvious love and devotion to outdoor life is evident in every little thing that you do. Our guides were exceptional and Mr. Smith, our Navajo host, impacted my group in a profound way. Our sweat lodge was life-altering. On behalf of all my children and all their parents, thank you.

Elizabeth, teacher

Thank you again for a memorable trip. As I’ve told everyone, a class trip with Deer Hill is so much more than just rafting or camping with a tour group. You make the trip meaningful with marvelous guides who facilitate nightly ‘Circles’, solo time, and closing ceremonies that make the trip so much better. Deer Hill is more than a trip, you are creating connections with people.

Lisa Archer, Teacher, Tucson Waldorf School

Thank you so much for organizing this wonderful trip for us. Your leaders were incredible. The trip REALLY met all our needs and effected a genuine transformation in my students.

Jeff Jackson, Cedar Springs Waldorf School

Service at Deer Hill

Most of Deer Hill’s service projects get you working alongside Hopi, Navajo and Zuni families on projects that they have proposed. Oftentimes, host families will share cultural knowledge, stories, and arts with participants. Other service projects are conservation oriented, and arranged with the US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Service projects in summer expeditions will earn you between 20 and 56 service credit hours.

More About Service

Wilderness Adventure

Deer Hill’s programs offer young people a chance to connect with nature in some of the world’s most remarkable landscapes. They also push individuals to overcome challenges and learn new skills to stay safe when enjoying the backcountry. Deer Hill’s wilderness adventures typically include a combination of white water rafting and canoeing, canyoneering, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and backpacking.

More About Wilderness

About Deer Hill

Deer Hill Expeditions was founded in 1984 by Doug and Beverly Capelin, who still own and operate the Mancos, Colorado-based company. Since 2005 Deer Hill has designed custom programs for school and community groups to provide fun, meaningful, and memorable culminating experiences, retreats, and educational expeditions. Deer Hill is accredited by the Association of Experiential Education, and maintains an impeccable safety record.

More About Deer Hill