Meet the Merinoers - Rowan Smith - Summit Strength

In today's Meet the Merino conversation we chat with Rowan Smith, founder of Summit Strength, a personal training and coaching business aimed at getting folk ready for a big hike or climbing expedition. Oh, and he's an avid merino wearer of course, and an Ottie Merino customer.

Let's jump straight into it. 

Ottie Merino (OM): What got you into hiking/tramping and when?  

Rowan Smith (RS): My first experience hiking was when I was about 6 or 7-years-old. These weren't anything crazy but were short bushwalks with my dad and brothers in our local Garigal and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Parks

 Rowan Smith feature in Meet the Merinoers by Ottie Merino

OM: You and I have known each other for a while. In fact, you wrote a little piece on how beginners can train for hiking over at our sister website, Hiking in Australia and New Zealand. In prior conversations you've mentioned that you spent years in your twenties tramping the globe - what's your most memorable hiking experience to date?

RS: My most memorable hiking experience was a hike I did in Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil. It wasn't the hardest, the longest, or the most spectacular, but it was one that I will remember forever.

A few special things about this hike: we had to do some serious off-roading on the back of motorbikes to get to the trailhead (my first time on a motorbike, I might add!), we slept under waterfalls each night, and we didn't see anyone else for all the days we spent hiking. It was just such a unique adventure that I will never forget. 

OM: Brazil, aye? I don't know much about the hiking scene there but that sounds like an adventure.

A bit more about what you're doing these days. How did you begin your journey in training for hiking services?

RS: My journey here began about five years ago when I returned to Australia and needed a new gym to work at. One of my friends said they were looking for a trainer at their gym, and it just happened to be one of these simulated altitude gyms. And this was the first time I was exposed to hikers and mountaineers in my professional life. 

I worked there for a while and realised how much I loved working with hikers. I also realised just how many hikers out there needed help, and that is when I stepped out and started training hikers full-time under Summit Strength

Rowan Smith feature in Meet the Merinoers by Ottie Merino

OM: Can you give us a bit more of idea on what 'simulated altitude gyms' are? How do they differ from the regular gyms?

RS: Simulated altitude gyms are created to try and simulate a high-altitude environment (without you having to be up a mountain). They are typically used by hikers, mountaineers, and athletes who are preparing for a big mountain adventure, but who do not have access to real altitude to prepare themselves in (so very popular for Aussies and Kiwis). While the simulated altitude environment is a bit different compared to natural altitude, and the specific benefits of this type of training is a bit debatable for hikers, it is an option many hikers turn towards when they are a bit worried about a high-altitude adventure. 

OM: Interesting. Didn't even know that was a thing. And you're right, we don't have a lot of altitude in Australia and New Zealand. So, if you're preparing for the likes of Nepal it sounds helpful.

Do tell us about your proudest training moment?

RS: There are so many that I could share here! But one which sticks out was a lady called Sandy, one of my earlier clients. All her kids had left home recently, and she had taken up hiking as something 'for her' - to escape and enjoy herself in nature. And she wanted to do it for years and years... for the rest of her life.

However, as she started to increase the distance and difficulty of her hikes, she realised that her body was holding her back. She was getting huffed and puffed on hills, struggling to keep up with other hikers and, even worse, was getting some serious knee discomfort. When we first chatted, she was concerned that she would have to give up her new passion...

Long story short, we worked together for a few months and managed to turn things completely around for her. She was doing longer distances than ever, feeling super comfortable and confident with it all. And she was even feeling confident to book some longer 'bucket list hikes' that she had been dreaming of. 

We still chat from time to time, and she is still out there on the trail, kicking off her adventure goals and loving her hiking. And to see such a change, which will impact her for so many years to come, was truly something special.   

OM: That's amazing. The thought of no longer being able to pursue your passion is pretty devastating. Well done getting Sandy back on track, so to speak.

What can your soon-to-be clients expect from a training with you?

RS: Our online personal training programs are centred around 3 big pillars:

1) Specialised training for hiking. To get you fit, strong and resilient for anything the trail might throw at you.

2) Education around all things training and hiking, such as nutrition, recovery, preventing aches/pains/injuries, mental strength and much more. 

3) Coaching, accountability and support to ensure you stay on track through all the ups and downs of life.

Rowan Smith wearing Ottie Merino Men's Short Sleeve T-Shirt in Black

Rowan wearing an Ottie Merino men's short sleeve t-shirt in black.

OM: Let's change tact. This is a question we like to ask all our merinoers in our Meet the Merinoer series. What are the top 5 hikes on your bucket list? And why?

RS: Ok, here goes. 

  1. Overland Track—Every time I have been to Tassie, I have only ever done day hikes. But I always promised myself I would come back and do a big adventure there. And the Overland Track fits that bill!
  2.  The West Highland Way—Scotland has always been somewhere I have wanted to explore. And this trail just looks like a great way to do it)
  3. Everest Base Camp—This was one of the trips I trained my first hikers for. And I would love to get over and experience some hiking in Nepal myself.
  4. Tour Du Mt Blanc—Just for the views!
  5. Tahoe Rim Trail—I was in Tahoe earlier this year for a wedding, and it was just such a stunning area. I would love to be able to experience it on foot.

OM: What's your top tip for people who are only starting out on hiking?

RS: Start small. So many beginner hikers I talk to throw themselves in the deep end right away, with extended hikes, difficult tracks, or groups which are way more fit than them.

This is fine for some, but I also hear from many people who just have bad experiences, and it ruins their confidence. 

For your early hikes, decide what type of trail you think you 'could' do. And then choose one slightly easier/smaller. And once you get a baseline of your abilities, ramping up can be much more enjoyable.