Casey Schreiner admits that he used to laugh at Angelenos decked out in winter gear on 60-degree days. Now, after spending close to 15 years here, the New England–reared writer is wearing a down vest on a clear, chilly, mid-December day at Griffith Park's Old Zoo.
Moreover, Schreiner now takes issue with the cliché that Los Angeles lacks seasons. The founder of website Modern Hiker and author of Day Hiking: Los Angeles ($18.95, Mountaineers Books) may have been raised in Connecticut and educated in Boston, but he can pinpoint the region's seasonal shifts better than some California lifers could. He speaks of the sage scrub fragrance that fills the foothills during winter, the wildflowers that bloom in spring and the clouds that settle over mountaintops as a prelude to gruesome summers. He also knows a secret of summer nature that's kept in the higher altitudes of the San Gabriel Mountains: shade-providing pine trees and hills that aren't "ugly brown."
"Summer is the worst time to hike here," Schreiner advises. "What people don't realize is that winter is the best time."
We take a short walk along a trail near the cavelike cages of the Old Zoo. Schreiner, who lives in Thai Town, says he often comes here with his dog. We're on a course that he would rate as "easy moderate." Elsewhere in the park, going toward Bee Rock and the Griffith Observatory, he says the trails can be more challenging. We pass a cosplayer posing for photos in an old, tagged-up shed and a small group strolling downhill in business attire. We pause when we hear a woodpecker tapping on a tree. "You've got to stop for nature," Schreiner says.
He wasn't an outdoors person. That changed about two years after his move to Los Angeles, when he was driving from the Westside to Miracle Mile and noticed a clear view of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. Schreiner wanted to know what was in the hills and, with some help from a work pal who had hiking experience, he soon learned. His first hike was on an anonymous trail off of Angeles Crest Highway. He continued making weekend treks through the hills and documenting those adventures on his personal blog. After noticing that those posts were bringing in traffic from people searching for hiking trails, Schreiner made his next move. On Dec. 10, 2006, he launched Modern Hiker as a user-friendly guide to trails in the L.A. area. Today, the site features trails from across California and includes a few other states, plus hiking adventures in Canada and Mexico.
For Schreiner, who was a writer for the geek-centric series Attack of the Show, hiking gave him an opportunity to pursue another style of writing. "I wanted to do something that was totally different, that was not comedy-related," he says. Through hiking, he has been able to do that; he even taps into his "history nerd" side while exploring everything from the Nike missile sites scattered throughout L.A. County to an old pack-mule station in Santa Anita Canyon.
Schreiner still writes for television and video game projects, but his work exploring hiking trails now takes up the bulk of his time. He goes beyond the well-traveled paths to the Hollywood Sign and along Runyon Canyon. In Day Hiking, Schreiner explores O'Melveny Park in Sylmar, La Tuna Canyon and the Puente/Chino Hills area, which merits its own section in the book. "During the winter and the spring, those trails in the Puente/Chino Hills have some of the best views in all of Southern California," he says. "But, again, nobody knows about them because you drive past them on the way to something else."
His work isn't overtly political, but just by the nature of running a hiking site Schreiner takes on the role of advocate for park access. He's encouraging people to get out and explore the outdoors and passing along the information to help make that happen.
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His journey into hiking terrain coincides with recent efforts to make nature more accessible to Angelenos. Schreiner points to the National Park Service Centennial campaign, which put the spotlight on the Santa Monica Mountains. He also notes that two recently passed ballot measures — Measure A, which provides more park funding through a parcel tax, and Measure M, the sales tax to fund transportation projects — are beneficial for improving parks and improving access to them.
"I've been doing this for 10 years, and for a thing that started as very much an accident, it's been exciting and inspiring for me to be able to have a book out and have a say in the outdoor community in L.A.," Schreiner says. "I really do think that, especially in Los Angeles, we are really waking up to this idea that we have tremendous outdoor resources."
Hike with Casey Schreiner at Audubon Center at Debs Park on Saturday, Jan. 28, as part of REI's All Out 2017 event. Schreiner will also be talking and book signing at the Last Bookstore on Sunday, Jan. 29.