Magazine article The Spectator

California Hikin'

Magazine article The Spectator

California Hikin'

Article excerpt

Los Angeles, they say, has four seasons: fire, flood, earthquake and drought.

More than 500,000 acres of southern California went up in flames in the past six weeks. The television news images of burning scrub and woodland put me in mind of a recent visit to LA. Not because I'd wandered into a natural disaster -- just a lot of scrub and woodland. It was one of those pleasantly confounding trips when a place you thought you knew fairly well reveals a side of itself you'd somehow failed to notice before.

Walking isn't one of the everyday pleasures commonly associated with LA. The great novelist and drinker William Faulkner was supposedly arrested for walking there.

Maybe the precise offence was attempting to operate a pair of legs while hog drunk and whistling 'Dixie'. Still, I'm with him.

I'd much rather walk than drive in LA. And in fact it's a walker's paradise. There's oodles of wilderness to explore on foot, much of it within a hubcap's roll of the city's notorious freeways.

I had a pleasant introduction to this other LA when I took a midnight ramble around Temescal Canyon, just off the Pacific Coast Highway in the hills between Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. I was there with a bunch of Sierra Club types led by an architect friend of mine, a transplanted German whose aura of sun-kissed contentedness suggests that when it comes to getting ahead in LA, hiking boots and a rucksack are as helpful as a chock-full BlackBerry and the right table at Spago.

The timing was not as weird as it sounds, either. The moon was full that night, bright enough to light the way, and setting off after dark meant there wouldn't be much traffic on the trail.

Heading up along the ridge, we climbed almost 1,000 feet in the first mile. Soon there was a very un-LA silence, apart from the crunching of footsteps and the slightly tortured breathing of the less fit among the party (me). …

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