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JAUNTS: Ventura County

Classes will teach the basics of hiking--from compass-reading to first aid.

Happy Trails

September 10, 1998|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hiking may sound easy--just put one foot in front of the other. But when you toss in some of the dangers, such as getting lost or meeting a mountain lion, it can be intimidating to a novice.

If you're a little squeamish about hitting the trail, the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District has a two-week series of free classes and hikes to ease you into the sport.

The series starts Sept. 17 with a two-hour evening class, followed by a hike the morning of Sept. 19 to the top of Mt. McCoy, at Simi Valley's western edge, via a gentle new trail cut last year.

The second class is Sept. 24, concluding with a more rigorous hike Sept. 26 on the Hummingbird Trail in the Santa Susana Mountains at the city's eastern edge. Advance registration is required for all classes.

The sessions will be led by veteran hikers Michael Kuhn, John Downey and others from the Rancho Simi Trail Blazers, a volunteer group that not only hikes for fun but builds trails in the area. In fact, you'll see their handiwork; they cut the Hummingbird and McCoy trails.

"We're trying to get people introduced to hiking who might be afraid to try or start it," Kuhn said.

They hope you'll not only try hiking, but get hooked and join the group--maybe even give them a hand cutting some trails. Just in case, the class will cover that gritty task, too. But the goal is to provide practical safety information as well as clue people in to the network of hiking trails in the Simi Valley area--a spot often overshadowed by the Santa Monica Mountains and Los Padres National Forest.

The classroom sessions, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Sycamore Drive Community Center, cover the basics: fitness, clothing and foot gear (down to the socks), packs, sunscreen, first aid kits and recommended amounts of water.

Kuhn and the others will share their own hiking "musts," including a whistle to signal help, moleskin or bandages for blisters and a thermal blanket for warmth or shade--the latter more likely needed in Simi Valley. The would-be hikers will learn to use a map and compass as well as high-tech, computerized tracking systems.

They'll get tips on trail etiquette, such as giving horseback riders the right of way. And they'll learn to deal with poison oak, ticks, rattlesnakes and mountain lions.

On the trails, the group will glean tidbits about the history of the area, geology and plant life. Lasting from 8 a.m. to noon, the two hikes at either end of the city offer differing terrains and views.

With its huge white cross at the top, Mt. McCoy, west of Madera Road near Royal Avenue, is a landmark in Simi Valley. It has borne a cross of some type possibly since the early 1800s. For the travelers making the trek between San Fernando and San Buenaventura missions, a wooden cross served as a beacon as well as a religious symbol. A stone cross marked the spot around the turn of the century.

In 1921, a plucky bunch of 12-year-old Sunday school boys and their leader carried the timbers for a sturdy new cross to the top of the 1,325-foot mountain. That one was replaced in 1941 by the reinforced concrete cross that now marks the spot. Easter Sunday sunrise services are no longer conducted there, but the Rotary Clubs of Simi Valley illuminate the cross during Easter week.

For hikers, the cross is still a beacon, visible from the trail head off Washburn Street as it turns into Los Amigos Avenue. The summit looks deceptively close, but it's a 500- to 600-foot climb in elevation.

Fortunately, the Rancho Simi Trail Blazers recently cut a new trail through the chaparral that switchbacks 1.3 shadeless miles to the summit. It's a wide, smooth path that gives novice hikers an easy climb.

From the top, the view of Simi Valley is bracing, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library appears to be just a hop over the hills. On a clear day, the Channel Islands are visible. For scenery, though, the hike the following Saturday up the 2.3-mile Hummingbird Trail is more spectacular. The trail begins north of the 118 Freeway off Kuehner Drive. It drops down and follows Hummingbird Creek almost to the freeway.

As you climb toward Rocky Peak, you'll see enormous sandstone rock formations, carved 60 million years ago. About a third of the way up, the trail winds past a large cave. Here the path curves through rocky crevices, under overhangs and over gigantic rock slabs.

The elevation gain is 1,100 feet to the intersection of Rocky Peak Fire Road. Shade is scarce on this trail--mountain bikers are not--but the trek offers dramatic views of Simi Valley and the Santa Susana Mountains.

BE THERE

Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District offers free classes and hikes for beginning hikers. The classes meet Sept. 17 and 24, 7-9 p.m., at Sycamore Drive Community Center, 1692 Sycamore Drive, Simi Valley. Two hikes are scheduled, Sept. 19 and 26, 8 a.m.-noon. For information, call 584-4400.

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