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JAUNTS : Making a Good Wilderness Experience : Backpacking to get away from it all may not be as easy as it sounds. But with a few tips, it's not that difficult.


So you want to get away from it all--the traffic, the noise, the people. Ahh, backpacking, that's the answer.

It sounds uncomplicated. You strap 30 pounds of gear on your back, hike miles into the wilderness and sleep on the ground. Hardly. If you are a novice, what do you take? Where do you go? What about bears?

First of all, you don't have to go to Northern California for this wilderness experience. Ventura County has Los Padres National Forest on one side and the Santa Monica Mountains on the other.

For tips about backpacking trails and other essentials, we sought the advice of Bradley Childs, president of the Wilderness Institute in Agoura Hills, along with staffers at Patagonia's Ventura store, and several park and forest rangers. Here's what they suggested.

PREPARATION: Do some day hikes before you attempt an overnight trip. That way you'll find out if your shoes or boots fit and whether you're in good shape, and most importantly, whether you even like being out in the wilderness.

EQUIPMENT: Strive for light-weight, compact gear. A goose-down sleeping bag that provides warmth down to 20 degrees would be a good all-purpose bag. You can rent a sleeping bag, pad, backpack, tent and stove from the Sport Chalet in Oxnard or at Patagonia. How much is too much? Patagonia's Rob Devericks says one rule of thumb is to haul no more than 30% of your body weight.

WATER: You'll need a lot of it at this time of year. It's hot out there. Plan on drinking a gallon of water a day. If you are packing into a spot that doesn't have water, you'll have to carry it in. Don't drink stream water unless you treat it first. "Boiling is best," says Childs. The experts advise a rolling boil, for anywhere from three to five minutes.

FIRE: A portable backpacking stove is generally preferred for cooking, instead of campfires.

FOOD: You don't have to go for high-tech dehydrated gourmet meals. Patagonia's Mike Markowitz suggests a Tuna Helper sort of packaged pasta meal, soups already in a cup, rice dishes, instant oatmeal and pancake mix--all things that require just water. Dried fruit and energy bars are good. "Be creative," Childs says.

ESSENTIALS: A first-aid kit with assorted bandages, moleskin and antiseptic is a must.


For novice backpackers, here are a few suggested trips in Ventura County that won't involve a lengthy hike.


Matilija Canyon Trail. The turnoff from the Maricopa Highway onto Matilija Canyon Road is less than a mile after the Matilija Hot Springs turnoff. (Except for mailboxes, the road is unmarked and makes a steep left incline.) Then drive five miles to the parking lot.

The hike to Matilija Camp is one mile and takes you along the north fork of Matilija Creek. Another two miles of walking will bring you to Middle Matilija Camp, and Maple Camp is an additional 3.7 miles.

Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail. The trail begins at Lion Campground at the end of Rose Valley Road. It takes you through the striking white rocks that give the trail its name. The trek to Piedra Blanca Camp is 2.7 miles. Twin Forks Camp is another half mile, near the junction of the north and middle forks of Piedra Blanca Creek.

No permits are needed for campfires or backpacking stoves along these two trails, as long as the fires are at designated camp sites. For more information, call Los Padres' Ojai ranger station, 646-4348. The station, located at 1190 Ojai Ave., has trail maps and books.


La Jolla Canyon Trail. Trail head and parking lot are just off Pacific Coast Highway. After a half-mile on the trail, you'll pass a waterfall. The campground is two miles from the parking lot. Drinkable water is piped in and the site has primitive toilets. Campfires are prohibited, but portable stoves are OK. Cost is $3 per night per person. The trail is part of Point Mugu State Park. For more information, call 800-533-PARK.

Circle X Ranch (backcountry campground). Drive 6.5 miles up Yerba Buena Road. Take the Backbone Trail 2.5 miles to the campground. There is no water at the site or along the way. Fires are not allowed, but stoves are. Permits are required, although they are free. For information and to reserve space, call 310-457-6408.

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