Chasing Trails

Students and teachers take advantage of their newfound free time over quarantine to explore Los Angeles’s scenic hiking trails.

Tessa Augsberger

From the dusty browns of Fryman Canyon to the dazzling blues of Temescal Canyon and the murky greens of Will Rogers State Historic Park, the hiking trails of Los Angeles paint a picture of the city as it once was. That is, before the gray concrete and shining silver skyscrapers began to paste over the blues, greens and browns of the land. Yet, through decades of urbanization, the earthy tones of the hills have endured and continue to provide respite and recreation for city dwellers like English Teacher Jeremy Michaelson.

“Hiking, for me, is physical and mental wandering,” Michaelson said in an email. “The quiet, the views, the steady pace. When I hike, it’s like the analytical part of my mind politely steps aside to let other thoughts and feelings in.”

While describing a particularly memorable hiking experience in the Santa Monica Mountains, Michaelson noted the unique dichotomy of the city’s natural landscape of gently sloping hills in the East and the sparkling Pacific Ocean in the West.

“A few years ago, when my son was home from college, I went with him and my daughter to Sandstone Peak,” Michaelson said. “It was a beautiful day, it was early and when we got to the top, the view was perfect. No fog, no haze, just the ocean on one side and a string of valleys on the other. It was one of those moments when peace kind of descends and nobody is saying a word but you know you’re all feeling the same thing.”

Sofia Llevat ’22 said Los Angeles provides students with access to a vast array of trail types and hiking experiences.In turn, she said hiking allows students to admire the city in all of its duality between the natural and artificial world.

“Normally, during school breaks I do like to hike just to get away, especially during COVID when we’re on our screens all the time,” Llevat said. “[Hiking is] a way to get away from all the technology that [you’re] always on, turn your phone off and be present with nature and your family or friends or whoever you’re hiking with, [and it also allows us to be] able to appreciate the city we live in. It’s cool to live in a city as big as [Los Angeles] and still have all of these hikes easily available to us.”

Liam Sullivan ’21 said the physical landscape of the city, with its plethora of hiking trails, influences his active lifestyle.

“Honestly, living in LA gives me great access to different trails,” Sullivan said. “The natural landscape of LA allows for amazing hikes that I enjoy exploring.”

Because of the pandemic, options to safely socialize in accordance with state and local restrictions are limited. However, passive open-air recreation, including hiking, running and walking, is not currently prohibited by the city. As of publication time, most hiking trails are open, although some are operating under limited capacity or with other restrictions. On every trail, hikers must wear facial coverings and maintain appropriate social distance at all times.

Katharine Doble ’22 said hiking allows her to break up the monotony of attending daily online classes and reconnect with nature.

“I think especially when we’re inside doing Zoom a lot, it just feels good to get outside, and especially when you’re surrounded by a natural setting, it’s nicer than being [on] a street,” Doble said. “It’s a nice break from the inside routine we’ve had these last few months.”

In addition to providing a space in which students can safely socialize, hiking can improve students’ mental health by providing an opportunity for exercise. Physical exercise positively contributes to mental health by decreasing anxiety and depression and also leads to higher self-esteem, among other impacts, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In fact, Stanford University News reported that simply spending time in nature can potentially decrease the risk of depression.

Llevat said she enjoys the sense of achievement she feels after completing a challenging hike.

“I like hikes that are more out in nature, […] and especially ones that are hillier, because although they might be a little more strenuous, you feel more accomplished at the end,” Llevat said. “It just feels a lot better to get out more in nature than just walking on your street in your neighborhood. At least for me, there’s not much to see in my neighborhood, so going on a hike is a lot more rewarding.”