Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts Simone Tchouke and HOKA Advocate Nicole Snell share how they train, the affirmations they tell themselves, and everything in between that get them ready to hike Mt. Whitney.
There are some people you meet who possess such a sense of fearless that it stops you right in your tracks —- Nicole Snell and Simone Tchouke are those type of people. The founder of Outdoor defense and personal trainer, receptively, are nature lovers who’ve each made a conscious decision to let their sense of adventure and community lead their lives. “Sharing my passions and my joys with others is a gift. My goal is to help people open up their world and realize that they are worth fighting for,” Snell says when asked to describe why they choose to share their hikes with the world. Tchouke on the other hand wants to use her love of the outdoors and background in training to help folks see that when it comes to health, preventative care, like hiking or going on walks, is the best type of medicine.
Coincidently both are planning their biggest adventure yet, within weeks of each other, climbing Mt. Whitney. As they prepare, mentally, and physically, the LA-based hikers share why they want to hike the highest mountain in the United States, their current training routine, and others in their community doing work to diversify the outdoors. Keep scrolling to read their incredible journeys.
HOKA: What is your earliest memory of nature? How did you get into hiking?
Nicole: One of my earliest memories of nature was being in my front yard in the desert. It was Spring because there were several grasshoppers hopping around. My older brother caught one firmly but gently between his fingers and brought it over to me to look at and hold. Then he showed me how to catch one myself. I was fascinated at being able to interact with a bug and it eliminated my fear of it and also helped me to respect it and hold it in a way that wouldn’t cause it any damage.
Simone: My earliest memories were the mountain, here in California, because in New York we have buildings, so just being able to see those huge mountains, it felt so real and breathtaking. Just how high they are, and you see how small you are.
HOKA: Can you tell me what your first major hike was like? Where was it? How did you prepare for it?
Nicole: My first major hike was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand in 2016. This was the longest and most technical hike I had done to that point. I had to get actual hiking gear for this since it is a 12mile hike over difficult and varied terrain that passes between 2 active volcanoes. Before the trip, I had been hiking in athletic shoes with only a couple of water bottles in a waist pack and hadn’t thought much about anything else as far as gear. And I live in SoCal where it rarely rains so my arsenal of waterproof gear was nonexistent. I got to purchase everything I’d need, and I started hitting the gym more frequently for cardio to get ready for the hike.
Simone: My first major hike in California, I was really not prepared for. I didn’t have a backpack and I only had a water bottle in my hands, so this is kind of the beginning, rookie mistake, you don’t know what you’re doing. We took such a really crazy trail, and literally, by the time we’re done, my hands, everything was dirty. I don’t even think I had on sunscreen. It was just like a whole mess, and I couldn’t even drink my water anymore, because the water bottle got super dirty and I was like, “I’m not drinking this.”
HOKA: How would you describe your relationship with nature?
Nicole: Connected. Serene. Respectful. Fulfilling. Joyous. Curious. Love. Awe inspiring.
Simone: I love it, and I want to keep doing more and more and more. I almost feel like I don’t have enough time to do all the different hikes that I want to do.
HOKA: How did you first learn about Mt. Whitney, and why did you want to hike this particular mountain?
Nicole: I first heard about Mt. Whitney when I started hiking with groups and learned about the 6 Pack of Peaks in 2016. People were doing the peaks to train for Whitney and its name was always uttered with this sense of awe and reverence, so I thought it was a huge mountain like Everest. I never did any research on where it was (spoiler alert, I didn’t realize it was in the Sierras!) I wanted to do the peaks as a personal challenge, not to prepare for Whitney. I never thought Whitney would be something I wanted to climb…it wasn’t something I put on my bucket list the first time I heard about it, and I honestly just dismissed it as something I’d get to one day if I felt like it.
Simone: I just asked, “What is a higher mountain here in the US?” And then I found Mt. Whitney. I knew about Everest, I knew Kilimanjaro, because I’m African. I also know about Mount Cameroon. But every other mountain, million-dollar question, I would’ve never guessed where it is. But once I found out about Mt. Whitney, I said I’m going to do that, but people told me, “Simone, you need a permit for it, and I have been trying for a long time.” And I said, “Okay, I’m going to get a permit. I’m going to get it.” Nobody really believed me either. I think I believed in it so much that I went, I applied and then I think around May I got a letter saying, “Congratulations, you’ve been picked to hike.” It’s just my competitive side that kicked in, I love a challenge.
HOKA: Can you tell me about the type of training you’re doing to get ready for this hike? How have you been preparing for this mentally and physically?
Nicole: I was sidelined for a month with a broken toe which was incredibly frustrating, so at the end of May when I was cleared to hike again, I knew I had to build up my endurance again. I did a 20-mile backpacking trip and have hiked every weekend. My plan is to continue hiking at least 1 day every weekend hitting a different Six Pack Peak each time (or something comparable). In July I’m working on doing longer hikes at elevation and in August I’m going to start hiking with a heavy pack to build up that strength and endurance. I might through in another backpacking trip as well.
Mentally I’ve been reminding myself that I can do anything that I put my mind too. And even if I have to hike 1 mile an hour to get to the summit once I’m there, it is an attainable goal. I’m also going to get a prescription for Diamox (for altitude sickness) just in case. I’ve never had an issue with elevation (I’ve been at over 17000 ft in Peru), but that was a few years ago and I know my body could have changed.
Simone: I’ve been hiking going off to the next higher mountain, the next higher altitude, longer miles. And then, at the gym, I kept doing strength training, training my legs, doing conditioning to make sure that I have the lung capacity and my legs are strong enough to keep going. I hiked Mount Baldy as practice as well. The first three miles, I went slowly. I was not playing, because I knew if I tried to go fast, I might get sick. The slower I went, eventually, I acclimate. That particular hike, from all the hikes, prepped me, I think, the most mentally, also, emotionally.
HOKA: When exactly are you planning to do the hike? How long will it take you?
Nicole: I’m hiking Whitney in early September and my hiking partner suggested we do this as an overnight. We are camping at Whitney portal the night before we enter the trail, then starting early the next day. We’ll go to the basecamp on the first day to set up camp and on the 2nd morning we will summit Whitney! Sure, we could have done it as a day hike, but I think it’s going to be more fun as an overnight and then there is less pressure to complete it in a certain amount of time.
Simone: We’ll be doing this in late July. We are playing to wake up around 1:00 a.m. and start our hike at 2:00 a.m. So hopefully we can summit by 9:00 a.m. then, on our way back, even if rained around 12:00 or 1:00 it’s not too terrible. It wouldn’t be bad. But hopefully, the goal is to be back by 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Also, it’s a group, so it depends on the speed of each person. I don’t want to leave anybody behind, I prefer to go in group and stay in group. Some people do overnight but I didn’t want to do that because then you have to carry more stuff.
HOKA: What are you most excited about and what are you preparing for the most for this hike?
Nicole: I’m most excited for the scenery and to be able to tell myself and my friends that I did Whitney! It’s another challenge that I can cross off my list as I begin looking for the next one. I’ve heard that it is a beautiful hike and since I love nature, I’m looking forward to seeing landscapes that I’ve never seen before and that not everyone gets to see. It will be awesome to share pictures with my family, friends and followers. I’m also really excited about the change in perspective…I’ve been looking up at Whitney from the valley floor…I can’t wait to be at the top looking down on the valley and remembering what I felt the first time I saw Whitney. I’ll hold that feeling for when I’m standing on the summit to remind myself that anything is possible.
Simone: I’m really, really excited and I just can’t wait to get up there and I have my pan-African flag. I feel like I just want to do that. And then, also, because, I feel like, in my community I don’t see a lot of people who look like me. I don’t see that many Black folks who are hiking and that kind of breaks my heart, because I’m not saying everyone has to do Mount Whitney, but even the smaller little hikes that are also very pretty. I just kind of hope that me hiking, more and more, it kind of makes people want to hike to be in nature.
HOKA: What is something you tell yourself when training gets hard?
Nicole: When training gets hard, I think about other challenges I’ve overcome and other obstacles I’ve blasted through where at the time I thought it was hard. I remind myself that if I got through those things, I can do anything. I always think back to day 2 of the Inca Trail and Iron Mountain. Both of those were incredible challenges and at times I didn’t think I’d finish. However, I got through both of them so I will get through Whitney.
Simone: I just tap into, “Why do you want to do this to begin with? Why are you here? It’s almost bigger than yourself. You have to keep going. You said you were going to do it, so you got to do it. You’re fine. You’re not dead. You’re still walking.” It’s almost like I tell myself, “Listen, because you said you were going to do it, now you have to do it. You can’t turn around. First of all, you only have three miles in front of you, compared to the 10 miles behind you. Worry about the 10 miles next. But now, just focus on what’s in front of you and just do it.”
HOKA: Once you complete this hike, what’s next on your list?
Nicole: After Whitney I’m going to take over the world! LOL No, but seriously, I’d love to take a mountaineering class and step up my game by learning some new skills. I’d love to do Kilimanjaro one day as well as hit some 14ers in Colorado too. I’ve been trying to get to the Wave for over 5yrs, so maybe I’ll get lucky this year or next. There are too many beautiful places on this Earth to visit and I want to see as many of them as possible.
Simone: My country has an active volcano, Mount Cameroon, so I want to do that. And I also want to do Mount Kilimanjaro. What I want is at least maybe five days up and three days down for Kilimanjaro. But it’s so popular, it’s been done been so many people that I’m going to do it.
HOKA: What piece of advice would you give to someone who is thinking about going out for a hike and is maybe nervous or doesn’t know where to start?
Nicole: First, understand that the outdoors is for everyone! And you don’t have to have the most expensive items or a closet full of gear in order to enjoy hiking or the outdoors. The hardest part is often taking the first step. Start by finding a trail near you that looks interesting or a place you’ve always wanted to explore. Find a trail that fits your skill/comfort level, lace up your shoes, grab some water and go check it out!
Simone: I would say, first, you can reach out to me, if you like. I’ve come to hike so much, I will go with you, I will go slowly with you. The first thing about hiking, I would say, is the nature is for everyone. The nature is our playground and it’s for everyone. It doesn’t matter how you look; it doesn’t matter if you think you’re in shape, it’s for everyone. And there are so many different trails, you don’t have to start with a huge one. And you can even pick a trail and if you don’t finish, totally fine, you can turn around and then come back the next time, again. I would just say, just get your backpack, get your water, first aid kit, a snack, and a layer, and then you’re good to go.
HOKA: Are there any other organizations or folks you would like to amplify? Or talk about?
Nicole: Yes! I’d love to give a shout to these folks doing great work to diversity the outdoors, empower women and encourage people to experience nature (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Black Girls Trekkin
- Taking The Reins (I volunteer with this non-profit who helps underserved girls in the LA community learn leadership, responsibility and confidence through horse care and urban farming.
- Kaira Lewis
- Chelsea Murphy
- Treeline Review (Gear reviews…and I write for them too)
- Black Surfers Collective (non profit that takes inner city Black youth to the beach for free surf lessons during the summer among other great work.
- Color in the Outdoors
- We Color Outside
- All Colors In Nature
- Basic Instincts Podcast (with Brandy Brooks)
- She Explores (uplifting and amplifying women and an awesome podcast)