Local Black hiking organizations are taking advantage of Los Angeles’ outdoor terrain.
By Jason Lewis
Los Angeles is a massive concrete jungle, and many people meet their fitness needs within the confined structures of the city. But getting off of the beaten path and into the great outdoors is a great change of pace. Many locals are incorporating hiking into their exercise program.
“My wife is very outdoorsy, and she got me to start hiking,” said Jelani Nattey, founder of Black Men Hike. “I’ve always been a guy who’s been in the gym and on treadmills. But she wanted to get me out to nature. As I started to hike with her, I started to get a passion about it, and I realized that I started to feel better. It wasn’t just like physically better, but I felt like I was becoming recharged. And I felt less stressed. In 2019, I was in a place where I felt overwhelmed and stressed. I used hiking as an outlet.”
Nattey reached out to some Black men in his network, and they formed Black Men Hike. The group meets on the first Saturday of the month, and they’ve had joint hikes with Black Girls Hike LA and Black Girls Trekkin.
In many Black neighborhoods it’s common to see people walking up and down the street for exercise. Hiking is similar, but there is an added degree of difficulty that can enhance the workout.
“Hiking taxes your body in a different way,” Nattey said. “The elevation helps with your wind. The diverse terrain helps with those secondary muscles as you’re climbing mountains or coming down a hill. It’s just another way to hit your physical goals. I think the best way to have holistic health is to continually switch it up.”
Hiking can be very difficult, but Nattey said that they choose moderate trails so that people of different fitness levels can participate. Most of their hikes are done within a three-hour period.
Besides the physical benefits of hiking, the stunning visuals also make this activity appealing.
“Nature is just inspiring,” Nattey said. “We live in a society that we built. We have homes, concrete roads, and such. We almost kind of forget that we’re a part of this big thing called Earth. When you go out into nature and you see these landmarks that haven’t been touched by humans, and you see a massive mountain, a waterfall, a valley, or a trail that’s surrounding by trees, it just gives you another aspect of life. It kind of unplugs you from the day-to-day of society that we’re used to.”
There are hiking trails throughout Los Angeles County and surrounding areas, so hiking groups can explore different areas on each hike.
“I didn’t realize how many hiking trails are in Southern California and Los Angeles,” Nattey said. “It’s over 1,000 I believe. We’ve done hikes as far as Rancho Cucamonga, as far south as Laguna Beach, as north as Vasquez Rocks. We try to switch it up every month just to give a different experience each month.”
Black Men Hike is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and they have created youth programs. Their Summer Youth Hiking Experience takes children in Watts to various hiking trails.
“We want to show them that they have access to nature,” Nattey said. “It gives them an opportunity to get out there and see what the beauty is. This is an opportunity to give some youth who have not been out to nature a first glance of what’s to offer. And it gives them an opportunity to unplug from social media, and focus on their mental and spiritual wellness.”
This program is sponsored in part by Aqua Equity, which is a Black-owned water bottle company which uses aluminum packaged cans that are recycled at a rate of more than 20-times that of a plastic bottles. A portion of Aqua Equity’s revenue is donated to community service organizations in Watts.