Strenuous Sierra Club hikes offer exercise and solitude
By Alex Wilson 06/06/2013
Pine Mountain Ridge is one of my favorite places to car-camp in Los Padres National Forest. I experienced if from a new perspective of vastly greater peace and solitude than usual during a recent Sierra Club hike.
The forest road open during summer leads to campsites that fill quickly on weekends. I’ll typically bring big tents, comfy chairs, coolers, and a guitar for strumming next to a roaring campfire, so it’s not exactly an extreme wilderness adventure.
Winter snow often blankets the forest floor at more than 7,000 feet, so hiking about a dozen miles while gaining more than 3000 feet of elevation is the only way to enjoy the pristine beauty during winter months.
Standing on top of the nearly deserted mountaintop, surrounded by towering, fragrant pines, it feels like a slice of the Sierra Nevada magically dropped into Ventura County. I enjoy the challenge of long hikes, where my calves still burn a bit two days later, and offer a sense of physical accomplishment.
It’s the kind of strenuous hike favored by Sierra Club Hike Leader Jim Duliakas, who I’ve become friends with during similar treks. He says physical fitness is one of his goals, and offers hikes longer than many others led by Sierra Club volunteers.
“In 2004 I needed to get back into shape, so I started going to the gym, and then I started hiking. I was doing a lot of hikes on the weekends by myself which I really like,” says Duliakas. “But then when I was doing longer and longer hikes, I was thinking, ‘If I fall back here, or get hurt, it’s six miles out.’ And I thought it would be good to start hiking with a group.”
Duliakas took a Sierra Club hike leader training course and learned first aid. His hikes travel at a brisk but not overly fast pace. Some small groups stick together, and other people hike alone in the middle of the pack.
Some people walk in silence during the long hikes while others like to chat. I’ve heard a wide variety of topics come up, from changes to human DNA over time, experiences people have had in National Parks like Yosemite, or the legacies of Sierra Club founder John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt.
Others I’ve taken with him include Divide Peak through Matillija Canyon, which overlooks Carpenteria and the Pacific Ocean. Some days all eight Channel Islands are visible, including distant San Clemente. One time I was at the summit there, we basked in bright sunshine while a low fog cover blanketed the coast. It gave me the sensation of flying high in an airplane.
Another long hike we’ve enjoyed is to Pine Mountain Lodge through the beautiful Piedra Blanca rock formations. We trudged through snow to a cave with interesting Chumash rock art that led to a spirited conversation about its possible meanings.
“One thing I’ve learned is that different kinds of hikes have different kinds of people that show up,” says Duliakas. “I’ve found that the shorter hikes tend to be more social hikes where you get a lot of extroverts on them, and the longer hikes tend to be more introverted people, who go on those because you’re more focused on just being out there for the whole day.”
Duliakas says it’s important for people to recognize their fitness levels when deciding which hikes to join, and bring plenty of water, food, and layers of clothing for varying weather conditions. The Los Padres Sierra Club Chapter website shows all the hikes offered.