Hiking Q&A with Personal Trainer, Spartan SGX Coach and OCR athlete/author Stephanie Keenan
Stephanie Keenan is a personal trainer, Spartan SGX Coach, OCR athlete, author, host of the OCR Radio podcast and founder of the AthElite Training Program. Keenan starred in season 1 of Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge and recently auditioned for American Ninja Warrior.
After moving from Charleston, South Carolina to San Diego, CA, the fitness entrepreneur took a liking to hiking the technical West Coast terrain, going on treks four days a week. She also trains her clients exclusively outdoors on trails. In this article, Keenan will provide her top tips for staying safe while hiking plus three of her favorite California mountains to explore. Find out some useful tips on how to plan a hiking trip.
What is good amount of time to allot to a beginner hike?
I like to look at the All Trails app, which shows you what the distance is, the trail map itself and it lets people write reviews. On those reviews, you’ll see people’s average times. Reviewers will say things like “This was a 7-mile hike and it took us 5 hours.” It depends on the terrain and climate. A hike in July is going to be different than a hike in January. Elevation gain is a factor too because you’re looking at where you start and finish and everything between. If there’s a large elevation gain and the trail is technical, you’re going to take longer than usual.
Being aware of how much water to bring is important too. A lot of people think, “Oh, there’s a parking lot there, there’s several cars in the lot, and there’s park rangers, I should be safe” but people wind up getting themselves in trouble with not enough water.
How do you suggest finding people to hike with?
Hiking alone is dangerous. You can be bitten by a rattlesnake, in an area without any cell service, there could be bears, mountain lions and especially for women, just for personal safety. Just because you’re in nature doesn’t mean you’re away from dangerous people. I always suggest hiking with others. There are guided tours and Meetup.com is a great place to find hiking place. It’s a point of contact where you can ask questions and you’re with a group of experienced hikers. Often times, the members of the group have traveled your trail tens of times if not hundreds.
What are some of the most important items to bring to a hike, even if it’s just beginner level?
Water, snacks such as fruit, avocados, packets of almond/cashew butter, proper footwear with good traction that you’ve tried before, a hat, sunscreen, a first aid kit with Band-Aids, a multi-tool, and cotton gear when the temperature is hot. If the climate isn’t too humid, bring a bandana to wet and put around your neck to cool yourself off. In California, many people carry snake bite kits with a tourniquet and syringe to treat a snake bite before you can make it to the hospital.
What do you do in the instance that you see a bear or mountain lion?
For bears, make sure you make as much noise as possible so they know you’re coming. For the most part, the bear will leave the area unless you stumble upon a mom and her cub. With mountain lions, you never want to run from them. You want to make yourself appear as big as possible and they want to be able to see their neck exposed. Therefore, people will make sure their necks are not exposed as opposed to just hiking in a T-shirt.
What are some other safety precautions to take?
Read the signs that are up on the trail head. Let people know that you’re going out hiking and share where you’re going before you go. That way, if you don’t come back, they know where to start looking. Pay attention to where sunset is going to be because if it gets dark, things can get dangerous.
Based on my running ability, how do I gauge my hiking ability? What difficulty should I start with hikes?
When we got to San Diego, I hadn’t been hiking but had done 25+ Spartan Races. We did a tough 13-mile hike with 1,360 feet in elevation gain and it was difficult. I wouldn’t hike any distance longer than my longest run. Even if you’re a decent runner, there are some decent hikers out there that can cover a lot of ground even if they’re not running.
What should I know about taking my dog out on a hike with me?
Sometimes we think dogs will instinctively know when they are getting too hot and slow down, or be able to sense danger and avoid it, but at the end of the day, they are more like toddlers who need to be watched. Hiking with your dog can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be dangerous. Dogs don't sweat like humans. They dissipate heat through panting and the pads on their feet. Many areas around the country have dangers we need to protect our furry friends from, so as much fun as off-leash sounds, here are three considerations before unclipping:
1.) SNAKES - there is a sign at our local trail that reads, "The rattlesnakes will find your off-leash dog before the park ranger does." This goes for any region that has poisonous snakes.
2.) MOUNTAIN LIONS - these big cats are over 200 pounds and will take your dog out in one quick move. Watch out for bears, bob cats, and especially coyotes.
3.) OTHER DOGS - Your off-leash dog may be the nicest, friendliest dog on the planet, but if they approach another, more fearful dog, there is always a chance your dog could end up in a bad situation and there isn't anything the owner of the other dog can do because your dog isn't on a leash.
TOP SAN DIEGO HIKES
Coach Stephanie has completed all three of these California trails multiple times.
1. Cowles Mountain
For more information about Stephanie Keenan and the AthElite, visit www.theathelite.com