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Move It, Pal

Photo by Mark Hunter

You drink too much. You eat too much. You stand in the kitchen by the bags of excess chips, and crunch nervously while some guy recites to you the entire plot of every short story Richard Brautigan ever wrote, even though you keep telling him you’ve already read them all. You go home exhausted, but unable to sleep because you keep replaying the plot of Hawkline Monster in your head.

Such are the perils of the static house party, a type of gathering that depends entirely on the participants’ ability and willingness to make a night out of polite chatter. I’ve got nothing against these parties; I used to throw those kinds of parties: a keg in the back yard, somebody to deejay, finger food from The Silver Palate Cookbook. But how much better is it to relieve people of the social responsibility for chitchat — to throw a party and actually give them something to do? Something challenging, maybe even scary — something that requires they get to know each other? Below are a few ideas:

Moonlight Hikes

For more than a year now I’ve been loosely facilitating informal full-moon hikes. Sometimes they happen on a weekday and wrap up by midnight; other times they occupy the whole weekend, with everyone spreading out their sleeping bags at the end of the hike and sharing a few bottles of wine. In every case, the crowd is self-selecting for good chemistry — nobody who comes out hiking at night isn’t a good sport — and people interact not because they’re facing each other across a dining-room table but because they’re engaged together in the process of the adventure: finding the route, waiting for stragglers, wondering at the lit-up rock formations. People bring food and potluck at the top of whichever mountain gets climbed; various other provisions occasionally get passed around as well (the full-moon hikers are a wholesome bunch, but hardly puritanical). Los Angeles and its environs are rich with beautiful and underused trails, many of them open to the night hiker: Temescal and Sandstone Peaks in the Santa Monica Mountains are longtime favorite routes of mine; the Butler Peak Fire Lookout in the San Bernardinos provides a vertiginous rush to the head; the Mount Lowe Railway trail and Burkhardt in the Angeles National Forest are on my list, too.

Volleyball in the Park

People in Beverly Hills build beautiful parks and then forget to use them — I guess they all have country clubs and big back yards — which means the volleyball courts at Roxbury Park (310-550-4761) are usually open to party throwers. Your guests not only get to know each other giving advice on serving technique and coordinating your setups, but they get to know other parties’ guests: This is pickup volleyball, so be prepared to play fair with the kids. Picnic tables can be reserved in advance at any Beverly Hills park for $19 each, each of which comes with a barbecue grill. And while park rules strictly forbid alcohol consumption, the ranger on duty has never asked to taste our punch.

Climb Every Rock Wall

I spent the night of my 40th birthday with a dozen friends scrambling on rocks in Joshua Tree National Park until sunrise, but looking back I realize that party required a level of recklessness not appropriate to every crowd. You can get similar thrills with safety and insurance from CLIMB-IT Mobile Rock Climbing (805-526-8887), who will deliver to your party a 24-foot climbing wall complete with hydraulic belay system, set it up and provide an instructor for $150 an hour (two-hour minimum). The instructors are friendly and capable, and the walls offer three levels of difficulty. If you can’t afford it, ask 20 people to contribute $15; it doesn’t take long for each person to climb up and rappel down, and everyone participates in egging each other on. If you decide to do this sometime soon, invite me.