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He Has Spent Most of His Life Pursuing Southland's Great Outdoors

SUMMER SPECIAL: A look at recreation and outdoor life in Orange County during the summer. Fourth of 10 parts.

July 16, 1986|GERALD SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

The next time somebody tells you to take a hike, just call Jack Russell--he'd probably like to go with you.

That is, if he can work you into his schedule.

Living in an area renowned for its outdoor activities, Russell keeps a full agenda.

In addition to hiking, he spends time biking and swimming. Aboard his 12-speed bicycle, Russell takes trips to San Diego with the Orange County Wheelmen. He also enjoys a winter dip in the ocean with the Polar Bear Club.

Russell is 82.

A resident of the Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Hills, Russell gives new definition to the word retired .

An avid outdoorsman most of his life, Rusell leads hikers on daylong treks into the woods every Wednesday.

The hikes are organized through a loose confederation of Sierra Club members, associates and friends. Russell has been a member of the Sierra Club since 1948, but his interest in hiking predates that.

"When I was only 10 my father hiked us up to the top of Mt. Wilson. There was a little hotel up there at the time, where people could spend the night."

By Russell's recollection, that was about 1914.

Since then, Russell has spent much of a lifetime hiking in the mountains and woods of California.

These days, he avoids hiking the Santa Ana Mountains or Cleveland National Forest during the summer because of the heat, preferring to get his exercise riding his 12-speed. But for nine or 10 months of the year, Russell is in the hills or canyons every week.

"On these Wednesday hikes, we get everybody from retirees and housewives to teachers with the summer off," Russell said. "We usually have anywhere from 25 to 40 people each hike, too. One time last spring, I led a hike into the San Gabriel Mountains with 75 people."

Russell takes his responsibilities seriously.

"It isn't as though it's real regimented or anything," Russell said, "but you do need somebody who knows where we're going and how to get there.

"Each group usually has an assistant leader who'll bring up the rear. Sometimes, like on the way back, we'll switch positions and the assistant will lead on the way out."

And, Russell said, Orange County hikers do not necessarily have to travel hundreds of miles for great hiking ground.

"Harding Canyon (near the Orange County-Riverside County border) is a real nice hike," Russell said. "There are about 20 crossings of a stream over a three-hour hike. There's a nice waterfall after four miles, too."

And for Russell, age is no excuse to avoid such activities. Russell said that he has climbed Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,494 feet) four times and is a member of the Sierra Club's 100-peaks (climbed) section as well.

Russell: "It's just so nice being close to nature--the mountains, the streams . . . trees, birds, animals. There's a solitude there that you don't usually get in the city."

Russell finds hiking inspirational in another way. His adventures with the Sierra Club have caused him to play with words much like another 82-year-old still going strong--Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss recently wrote a book titled "You're Only Old Once!--A Book for Obsolete Children." Following suit, Russell has written some of his own hiking-inspired verse:

"When hikes first appealed to Lou Bender, He was cautious and awkward and tender; He slipped on the slopes, But he no longer gropes; He's up front now instead of tail - ender."

"Our speediest leader is Keats, Whoever's been faster she beats; Whether up or descending, The pace is unending, She hardly gives time out for eats."

"Hiker Hilda was timid at first, With rough trails she seemed to be cursed; She had a bad fall, But did that end it all? Hell, no--now she goes for the worst!"

"Gus Mathieu speaks German with ease, French, English--but not Japanese; On hikes his sharp eye Spots where rattlesnakes lie, But like us he gets gnats, ticks, and fleas."

"Edith my wife is no piker, But she never was much of a hiker; She'll huff and she'll puff, And she's soon had enough; But somehow, you know, I still like 'er."

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