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Everyone was saddened by a hiker’s recent death along our local Santa Ynez Trail in the Pacific Palisades. It was a rare tragedy and we may never fully understand exactly what happened. We’ve all heard the lesson before, of course: don’t hike alone and stay on the trail.

More experienced hikers sometimes find it tough to “stay on the trail,” because the adventurous sorts always want to explore alternative routes, and after all, there are trails and there are trails, some of which start strong only to abruptly diminish into barely discernable animal paths. A little extra seasonal growth and you are bushwhacking.

The hiking alone thing, however, is a big red flag – especially in rugged terrain. I suppose the obvious compromise is that if you are alone on even on a local hike, stay on the main fire road trail. Don’t go exploring by yourself off the beaten path; even a seemingly benign secondary path can lure you into an obscure or treacherous situation.

The security guard at the entrance to the Santa Ynez told me that the young man fell on a side path toward Trippet. I don’t know for certain, but it sounded like he may have been on the ridgeline route we informally call the Wind Caves Hike. This is a complex hike with razor ridges that is, admittedly, more advanced than most newbies should attempt. In fact, I confess that a number of years ago, a small group of us were on that very ridge and when I realized that it was a longer hike than anticipated, I split-off from the group to return to the trailhead. The flash lesson was this: going in reverse is often very different and more difficult. Climbing up the rocky slopes was treacherous, but going down that way, alone in the dark, was downright dumb. I made it, but could well have been the headline in a small news story about an injured or dead hiker discovered on a local Palisades trail.

Were it not for the recent death, my hiking regulars would probably scoff at my dramatization of that one reverse Wind Caves experience. We’ve since hiked that route for a decade without one fall, although there have been minor injuries, including my inadvertently dislodging small stones that rained down on a fellow hiker who required stitches on her forehead. (Another lesson there: don’t get too close or directly behind a climber in loose scree conditions).

Every sport has its risks, and it requires a certain common sense to balance the challenge with the skills. Hiking is no different. Until you are confident in your abilities and knowledge of the terrain is secure, venture out with a companion and stay on the clearly marked trails.

If you are undaunted by the risks and are in reasonably good shape, then accept this invitation to join us on any Monday or Wednesday evening as we explore 21 different local trails, including safe and sane fire roads as well as a few questionable adventures. No leaders, no lectures, no supervision – just a bunch of folks enjoying our local wilderness – hopefully with no injuries.

Fearless readers interested in free Monday and Wednesday night hikes should call Scott Regberg at (310) 475-5735

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