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Perils on the Trail:

If reading about the downside of night hiking in our local Santa Monica Mountains might discourage you from joining us on Monday and Wednesday evenings, then please skip the rest of this article! However, my conscience requires that I occasionally alert novices to a few of the risks, lest I be blamed for not disclosing the small and unlikely perils. First, you could be killed. Of course, you could experience the same undesireable fate by crossing the street, as well. The odds are unlikely but it is conceiveable that you could trip and fall off a sheer cliffside. No one in our group has ever died, but we have witnessed a tiny number (count them on one three-toed sloth’s paw) of hikers who suddenly go missing from their perch, only to be retrieved with limited bodily harm. Nevertheless, where there are hills, there are Jacks and Jills, so let’s not test fate by goofing around on ledges of steep drop-offs. Second, you could be maimed. In practical, everyday hiking, rattlesnakes are not an issue. They are seldom in sight, tend to slither off when they sense us coming and, in over ten years, have never bitten one of our troupe. But, they are out there. We’ve read that only about half the bites actually deliver any venom, but of those, the bite is painful and, in extreme cases, could require amputation of a limb. I figure the risk is somewhat less than flying on a commercial airline, which most of us are still willing to do. The absolute rule is: don’t play around with snakes. Third, you could be really annoyed by poison oak. Many folks are immune to poison oak, but lots of others, including myself, are not. I can say with experience and authority: it’s really annoying to get it, but usually manageable and always transient.. Depending on the exposure, it could be a vaguely irritating red spot or two, a patch of blotchy itchiness, or “weeping” sores, sort of like water blisters that nag like something is biting you. The best defense is to simply wear long sleeves and pants. Plus, various lotions “block” the contact. A shower within an hour or two after exposure helps reduce the risk of the oak oil penetrating the skin. If you get it, don’t panic, it’s not contagious and it goes away. There are also some less prevalent and threatening plant life to avoid. For example, along the  ridge of Franklin Canyon, right where you are likely to admire the view, some nasty cacti will not only stick you, but will deposit a cluster of hair-like needles into your lower legs. Along the ridgeline that connects Kenter to Tigertail, there are a few low overhead passages that require you to use your hands. The green mossy groundcover burns like little electric needles. The intensity steadily increases but then dissipates quickly, a splash of cold water providing some relief. There’s more: you could get mauled by a mountain lion, sprayed by a skunk, chased by coyotes, or who knows what. You could even get lost and never be found, a mystery for years to come or the makings of a Cold Case episode. So,  if you’re not bothered by the above, come on out and join us on any Monday or Wednesday evening for two hours of nighttime fun and exploration. We rotate through 21 different local hikes, all of which are mostly harmless.Fearless readers interested in free Monday and Wednesday night hikes should call Scott Regberg  at (310) 475-5735.

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