Rock climbing is one of the operator’s many offerings. // © 2016 Erik Isakson
Feature image (above): Gentry Jackson’s main clientele consists of corporate groups and families. // © 2016 Erik Isakson
"Don’t look down,” I reminded myself, in a halfhearted attempt to quiet my jittery nerves.
Moments before, while reaching for a makeshift handhold and lifting my right foot to another piece of granite, I had slipped. And with that, all the courage and confidence that had amassed during my prior trouble-free climb of the sheer rock face — poof — disappeared.
A chorus of voices rang out from below, first asking if I was all right, followed by encouragement. A few deep breaths later, I resumed my ascent, comforted by the equipment strapped around my waist, as well as the team of professionals below. A view resembling a watercolor painting — layers of blue-green mountains glittering under the sun — was my reward at the top.
And then I did it all over again.
That June day is one I’ll always remember — and not just because I conquered my longtime fear of heights. Thanks to Gentry Jackson (GJ), a Los Angeles-based luxury adventure operator, in partnership with GMC, I experienced many other firsts. This included an overnight stay at Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, Calif.; navigating a 2016 GMC Terrain Denali along the Pacific Coast Highway; and hiking roughly 12 miles roundtrip in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. (GJ is the first-ever outfitter to hold a permit for operating there.)
According to co-owner Ryan Gentry, who launched GJ in January 2015 with certified wilderness EMT Josh Jackson, there’s a demand for this high-end, highly customized type of adventure travel — with offerings ranging from sky diving and mountain biking to learning survival skills — and it’s coming from a client base that mostly consists of multigenerational families and corporate groups.
“We don’t want the Everest-type climbers as our main clientele; there are tons of adventure companies that’ll cater only to adrenaline junkies,” said Gentry, who also has taken clients on one-day and multiday trips to the Teton Range in Wyoming and the Virgin Islands. “It’s about getting a diverse group together, and it’s about comradery.”
Of course, coordinating the large number of variables takes a village. During our multisport adventure, for instance, Gentry sent location updates via satellite to Elizabeth Gentry, his wife and business partner, whose role is to ensure that all logistics flow smoothly. Ryan and Allen Giernet, another GJ partner, were present throughout the hike, while additional guides met us at Santa Monica Mountains’ Echo Cliffs for the climbing portion. (Typically, the guide-to-client ratio is two to one, depending on risk level.)
Months before any adventure, the GJ team conducts detailed interviews with each client, noting everything from medical information to culinary preferences. Award-winning private chef Kristi Ritchey even asks the question, “Are there any foods that bring up positive childhood memories or favorite travels?”
On our adventure, after driving our vehicles onto the shores of Leo Carrillo Beach (illegal for the average Joe), we took a Jet Ski to a powerboat and climbed onboard to cruise toward Marina Del Rey, where a catamaran awaited us with a gourmet meal of spiced prawns with pineapple salsa, lamb lollipops with basil-mint pistou sauce, ahi poke, sweet corn pudding and much more, all prepared by chef Ritchey.
“We think of our adventures as movie productions,” Gentry said.
And cue the pod of dolphins that shadowed us for miles through the Pacific Ocean.