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Interview: Casey Schreiner of ModernHiker.com

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When Casey Schreiner graduated from Boston University, the Connecticut native moved to Los Angeles, like many, with a dream of landing an entertainment industry job. "I flew out here with a duffel bag and an air mattress, hoping to land some sort of writing job," he explained. And a job he got--a fun one, too. The 28-year-old West Hollywood resident (just moved from the Miracle Mile) has been writing for G4’s “Attack of the Show” since its beginning days. "It’s a great place to get my hands the latest gadgets, technology, and web sites--and has been a good outlet for all of the jokes about Mac OS X and Star Trek fan-fic that I can’t make in mixed company."

What Schreiner did not expect when he moved to Los Angeles was the city's most in-your-face-but-hidden asset: the mountains and its plethora of hiking trails. His story leading up to the creation of his blog, Modern Hiker, begins on Olympic Boulevard of all places.

When and how did you get the hiking bug?

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I actually got the hiking bug very, very late. Growing up in Connecticut, I didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors. While I lived in Boston, I’d walk just about everywhere, but that was more of a necessity than anything else. Of course, the transition from a compact city to our beloved sprawl meant the end of walking as a means of getting around town -- so it makes sense that I got the hiking bug while driving here.

I have a very clear memory of driving home from work on Olympic Blvd. in the spring. I’d been living out here for almost a year, but while coming over a hill in Century City, I got very clear and broad view of the San Gabriel mountains behind downtown. It was the first time I’d been able to see those mountains from the Westside, and all I knew was that I needed to go and see them up close. That weekend, I drove up the Angeles Crest Highway from La Canada Flintridge to Mount Wilson and was completely awestruck -- we don’t have mountains like that in southern New England!

When I got back down to sea level, I bought some hiking guides and started doing trails in the Santa Monica Mountains on weekends. A few pairs of boots and a lot of insoles later, and I’m still going just about every week.

And how did all that lead to publishing the blog?

I used to have a personal blog, and when I started hiking I would post a bunch of pictures and write a narrative of the on-trail experience. At the time, there were a few dedicated hiking blogs for the San Francisco Bay area but nothing for L.A., so I decided I’d try to spin-off my outdoorsy posts into Modern Hiker.

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I figured if it took me so long to realize L.A. has such great hiking nearby, there had to be more people out there who were also in the dark. The main focus of Modern Hiker has always been to get more Angelenos outside, enjoying our natural surroundings. Very few people think of hiking when they think of Los Angeles, but our city is essentially surrounded and bisected by National Forests and Recreation Areas! If you don’t get out there to enjoy them, you’re not appreciating everything L.A. has to offer.

What a great domain name.

Ha, thanks. It was a happy accident -- probably the fourth or fifth choice of names when I was trying to register domains. In a way, it’s helped frame the content a bit better for me - I try to go beyond just trail info and hiking tips and report on the latest outdoor gadgets and online mapping products, as well as things that responsible modern environmentalists should know about - like National Parks news and the ongoing effort to rescue the L.A. River from its concrete boundaries.

Most people wouldn’t think of hiking as a high-tech hobby - and it definitely doesn’t have to be - but so many people have GPS receivers now that it’s possible to plan and map a route at home, do full 3-D flythroughs, and see exactly where you’re going to be before you even drive to the trailhead. For me, the name of the site is a pretty accurate combination of the hiker who just wants to go outside and get dirty and the hiker who wants to have detailed information on the average incline grade of the trail they just finished.

Okay, for the uninitiated to hiking in LA, where should newbies start?

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So many self-described hikers I’ve met in L.A. seem to never leave the boundaries of Runyon Canyon or Griffith Park. Those are great places to learn that you can walk around outside, but if you really want to see some of the varied landscapes around L.A., you’ve got to venture further out. Near the coast, both Charmlee Wilderness Park and Solstice Canyon offer spectacular scenery with minimal effort. If it’s not too hot out, Simi Valley’s Rocky Peak takes you through some boulder-strewn hills reminiscent of Joshua Tree -- and if it is too hot out, Pasadena’s Eaton Canyon or Bear Canyon just inside the Angeles National Forest both have great, ice-cold waterfalls and swimming holes. Depending on the season and how far you’re willing to travel, you really can get to just about any type of landscape you want in Southern California.

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Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains
What hikes do you find yourself being drawn back to? It’s tough, because I feel like I have a responsibility to always be mapping new trails, but there are a few local trails that always restore my sanity when I need a break. The Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak was one of the first trails I ever hiked, and it never ceases to impress. I love the history and incongruity of the Bridge to Nowhere on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River - not to mention a cold dip on a hot day. Icehouse Canyon, near Mount Baldy, is beautiful in and of itself, and it also has numerous spur trails for peakbaggers and backpackers -- with all of the striking peak views and huge pines and incense cedars, you really can’t believe you’re in Southern California on that trail.

If I'm planning on doing a moderate 6 to 10 miles hike tomorrow in the Angeles National Forest, what should I bring?

There is a list most hikers swear by called The Ten Essentials -- it consists of basic supplies and emergency tools: a map, a compass, sunscreen and sunglasses, extra food, water, a headlamp or flashlight, a first aid kit, a fire starter, matches and a knife. I’d also add some chapstick with sunscreen and insect repellent -- especially in the summer, when the flies really seem to want to get friendly with sweaty hikers. Recently, a reader recommended I add a bandana to that list, because it can be used as a gaiter, sun protection, bandage, trail marker, tourniquet, and more -- that’s great utility for something that practically adds no weight to your pack.

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Does the same go for a short two mile hike in nearby Franklin Canyon?

The responsible hiker in me says, yes -- you should take all of the same things with you, but obviously, common sense has to play into your decision. If you’re going to be hiking on a popular trail, chances are if you get hurt you won’t be left to fend for yourself overnight. You can probably get away with just basic sunscreen, water, bug spray, and snacks ... just remember: most hikers who get lost don’t end up too far off the trail they were following, they just took a wrong turn or followed a drainage or use-trail that looked like the right route. You should always, always, always have a map of the area you’re hiking with you - and let someone know where you’re hiking and what time you plan on coming back home.

What area hikes are on your wish list/to do next list?

CalTrans just re-opened the full length of the Angeles Crest Highway, which made a huge section of the central front range of the San Gabriels accessible to hiking. This area’s been closed since around the time I started hiking out here, so I’m very eager to explore it, especially since I’ve already done most of the high peaks near Mount Baldy.

Before the snow sets in, I also want to summit San Jacinto and make up for a failed attempt at San Gorgonio last year. After that, I’d like to get to know the San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forests better, as well as do some backpacking on the Channel Islands.

How about your outdoors/hiking dream job?

That’s a tough one. I know a few of them exist, but “professional hiker” isn’t really a career. I’d be happy writing or contributing to hiking guidebooks and magazines, or leading hikes in the National Forests or Parks - especially in areas with some good history to go along with the scenery. Until then, though, working in TV ain’t bad, either.

You can find Casey at www.modernhiker.com