If ever there was a sport for the masses, it is day hiking. It requires little equipment--a pair of boots, a day pack and a bottle of water--and little athletic ability. It's as easy as walking.
Don't confuse day hiking with its rich cousin, backpacking. That requires a lot of equipment and a fair amount of training.
Day hiking is easy to get into. There are plenty of books in outdoor and sporting goods stores that tell of countless trails in Southern California. There are many places within easy driving distance of Orange County that provide a wide range of beauty and physical challenges.
One of the best ways to begin is with the Sierra Club, one of the largest conservation groups in the United States.
The club sponsors daily hikes that are described in the Sierra Club handbook, which is available at bookstores and outdoor stores for less than $4.
To hike with the club does not require Sierra Club membership (which costs $29).
Hikes range from midweek conditioning walks to weekend jaunts in every part of the state. They are for every type of hiker--novice to expert.
What follows is an account of one such hike. Like many a Sierra Club journey, the people involved had experience ranging from substantial to none.
9:16 a.m.: Meet Your Leader
Dave Jensen is standing in front of 14 people he will lead through Ice House Canyon (elevation 5,000 feet) to the top of Timber Mountain located near Mt. Baldy in Angeles National Forest.
Jensen is tall and balding and serious about the task he is about to undertake.
Every Sierra Club hike requires a leader, who is responsible for scouting the trail, setting the pace of the hike and making sure everyone is relatively happy and very healthy.
Jensen, a member of the Long Beach chapter, informs his group that the hike climbs a little more than 3,300 feet. He says that it will probably last about six hours. He adds, "It's pretty hot, so I'm not going to be running up this thing."
"Good," comes an anonymous reply. "Because you'd be running alone."
The people may wear packs on their backs, boots on their feet and march in a straight line, but the army this isn't.
Ages for the hikers range from 25 to 67.
No one is interested in setting land speed records. After brief introductions consisting of yelling out first names, Jensen signals the group forward to the trail.
We start at 9:22, eager to see what nature has in store and ready to handle whatever disaster may come.
9:24: The First Disaster
Of all people to fall, who would have suspected Keats Hayden.
She is an experienced climber, having topped more than 400 peaks. But as we start out on a grade no steeper than an average driveway, Keats loses her balance and tumbles. It leaves her with a scrapped knee and a wounded ego.
"My feelings are hurt more than my body," she says.
Hayden, 66, is president of the Orange County group of the Sierra Club, which has more than 6,000 members. Those members are kept apprised of hikes and events by the group's two newsletters--the Orange Peel and the Santiago.
Hayden has been in the club for about 20 years, squeezing in climbs between raising 10 children.
"If you had 10 kids, you'd feel like climbing a mountain, too," she says, laughing.
Her face is sunburned and weathered from the elements. It creases every time she smiles or laughs, which is often.
As we climb she shouts to the group about a burned-out cabin to the right or an interesting form of plant life to the left.
Everyone likes Keats, but there is one thing that bothers some beginners about her.
She fell. If someone as experienced as Keats could fall, what is to protect the novice?
A quick observation of beginners shows that they are now watching each step like Zen masters.
9:49: The First Break
After walking for about 20 minutes, Jensen decides to give the group a five-minute rest in a shady area. This place is called Ice House Canyon, but it's very hot.
With every step the sun's rays seem to intensify. The rest is welcomed, especially by Paula Hardy of Long Beach, who is just starting to get back into hiking.
This is Hardy's first climb in more than a year. She had been an active member for some time, but her job as a special education teacher took most of her time. Hardy, 30, is a member of the Sierra Singles, a group of unmarried club members. The singles sponsor their own climbs and events.
"They're really very popular," Keats says. "We'll have about 40 people show up for our regular weekly meetings. The singles will have about 400."
Hardy is quick to point out that the singles group is not a traveling wilderness singles bar.
"I don't come here to meet a husband," she says. "I like to go on the trips because I know I'll be with nice people who share similar interest."
Right now, similar interests are gulping water and soaking up as much shade as possible. The heat has caused a few people in the group to wonder if they are going to make it.
10:14: We Lose One