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Proceed With Caution: Unmarked Trail Lies Ahead

May 09, 1991|MYRON LEVIN

Hikers should always take precautions, and special care should be observed when hiking the Backbone Trail.

Always let someone know where you're going. Carry plenty of water, even on cool days. Stay on trails. Bring a hat and sunscreen, and leave the dog at home. Learn to recognize, and avoid, poison oak.

Backbone Trail hikers face an added risk. There's a fair chance that they will get lost.

Although clear enough most of the way, the trail was, on a recent hike, abysmally marked in a few key places, including trail and road junctions. In a couple of spots, the trail seemed to disappear, and there were no signs to help.

Elsewhere, the Backbone hitchhiked onto local trails, but signs failed to explain which of these was also the Backbone. These situations are likely to create considerable confusion for first-time hikers of the trail, even those with experience.

This was not a problem on our five-day hike. We had an escort of park officials and trail builders. The average hiker does not.

Officials with the state Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service cite limited budgets and manpower as the cause.

The Mountains Conservancy Foundation is awaiting delivery of $5,000 worth of Backbone Trail signs it plans to donate to state and federal parks officials. Time will tell how soon the signs are installed and how well they are maintained.

In the meantime, first-time Backbone hikers should consider budgeting extra time for blundering around--or finding a companion who already knows the trail. The most recent additions to the trail are not yet in books and maps. But Milt McAuley's "Guide to the Backbone Trail" and Tom Harrison's set of three Santa Monica Mountains topographic maps will help.

Hikers can also call the Mountain Parks Information Service (800-533-PARKS) for help in planning a hike.

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