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Trek to Rustic Canyon Dam:

I recently took a neighbor and friend, Tom, for his first hike into the lush and wet Rustic Canyon, via the discreet little path on the east side of Will Rogers Park.

He knew the trail from further north, having hiked down the Capri steps closer to the infamous barn and other abandoned buildings, but like most folks, never knew about this lower access.

The first thing to know about this fairly short trek is that it is surprisingly beautiful, with dense overgrowth surrounding a ravine that is anchored by a year-round stream. The second thing to know is that this is a haven for poison oak. While some folks are not bothered by oak at all, others are wildly sensitive to it, breaking out in all sorts of places with wicked little blisters.

I keep myself covered in situations like this, but somehow the stuff finds a spot of skin, like the edge just above the belt line where a long-sleeved shirt might ride up. Two weeks of annoying itching. Tom prevented the risk by slathering himself with a special cream after the hike, which apparently worked.

Nevertheless, the annoyance was worth it – the path is quite literally unlike anything elsewhere in West Los Angeles. Babbling water, deep green tropical hues and a twisting and turning route that offers as much acrobatic ducking and dodging as aerobic hiking.

Waterproof boots are especially helpful on this hike as lots of time is spent rocking-hopping zigzag across the stream to avoid getting wet. After a while that game starts to become tiresome and if you’ve got the gear it’s satisfying to just slosh on through the shallows.

About 30 or 40 minutes up, there is a small cut-off on the west side of the ravine that goes in both directions against the hillside. One direction makes a u-turn to a seldom-used ascending path across the hillsides to the Backbone Trail. The other heads north, up and over the stream’s dam, and eventually around the mountain to the backside of the park.

I don’t know why, but we missed that turnoff and simply continued up the ravine, dead-ending at the base of the dam. I’ve gone by that dam many times from the upper trail, but this was the first time to examine it from its base, and it is really interesting. Twenty feet or so of old concrete, now stained and overgrown with volunteer plants that find the most unlikely of perches.

We just looked at it for a while, watching and listening to the manmade mini-waterfall flowing into the ravine, and then headed back to wash off the poison oak.

Tom says it was one of the prettiest local hikes he’s seen but that he’d never do it again. I’m ready to head back right now.

(Fearless readers interested in free Monday night hikes should call Scott Regberg at 310.475.5735)

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