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How to get in shape for backpacking season

  • On a clear day, Mount Rainier dominates the skyline from the eastern edge of the Wonderland Trail.

    Jessi Loerch / The Herald

    On a clear day, Mount Rainier dominates the skyline from the eastern edge of the Wonderland Trail.

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By Craig Hill
The News Tribune
  • On a clear day, Mount Rainier dominates the skyline from the eastern edge of the Wonderland Trail.

    Jessi Loerch / The Herald

    On a clear day, Mount Rainier dominates the skyline from the eastern edge of the Wonderland Trail.

When people train for an adventure like the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, they instinctively know the best way to go about it, said mountain guide and athletic trainer John Colver.
Load up your pack and start hiking.
As we prepared last summer for our weeklong loop around Mount Rainier, that was essentially my entire training program.
I loaded my daypack with a couple of gallons of water and my new hiking partner, 15 pounds of weight plates that I named Fat Stanley. Then I set out to bag uphill trails, taking pictures of Fat Stanley every time I reached the top.
News Tribune editor Matt Misterek took a similar approach, hauling a sack of grout on his hikes.
At 53, photographer Drew Perine was the oldest in the group, but he also has the physique of a teenage athlete thanks to a five-day-a-week weightlifting and tennis workout routine. While he didn't train on the trail, his routine prepared him well enough.
Thad Richardson also didn't train much on the trail. But as a Graham firefighter used to climbing stairs and ladders in bunker gear, we figured not only would he be ready, but he could carry our packs if we got tired.
While it's obvious that hiking with a loaded pack is the best way to train for hiking with a loaded pack, there's even more you can do to make sure you are up for the Wonderland challenge.
Colver trains people for outdoor adventures such as climbing Mount Rainier. His book "Fit by Nature" (The Mountaineers Books, $24.95) was published in 2011.
Colver, a former guide for Ashford-based Rainier Mountaineering Inc., has developed a three-pronged training approach that frequently yields success.
1. Take a long hike once per week. "This hike should get progressively longer until you get used to walking the distances you will be going on your trip," Colver said.
2. Find a nearby hill or set of stairs you can visit twice each week. "Use this for more intense training, like sprints and intervals," Colver said.
3. Spend two days per week cross-training. He recommends an activity such as a circuit class at your local gym.
These classes can help build strength in areas some people often neglect when training for a trip like the Wonderland Trail.
Back, shoulders and core strength are vital to avoiding injury and staying strong for a 93-mile hike with 22,000 feet of vertical. Especially when you're hauling a 35- to 50-pound pack.
"A lot of people I see have done something challenging like climbing a mountain when they were in their 20s, but now they are 40," Colver said.
"A lot are executives or doctors who are in a more corporate or institutional setting and they lack core strength.
"We want them to get on that right away."
Colver says when people start carrying a backpack, he frequently hears complaints about pain or tightness in their backs, abdominals and, especially, their shoulders.
Take extra time each week to strengthen these areas by hauling a pack and cross-training and you can quickly resolve this problem and make the trip more enjoyable.
"I've never seen this written anywhere," Colver said, "but so much is made about getting the right pack. There's so many ideas about what you need.
"But, ultimately, what you need is a strong back. If your back is strong, you can carry almost any pack."
Craig Hill: and

Read more
This story is part of a series on the Wonderland Trail from The News Tribune. Read the rest at
Hike the Wonderland
Permit reservations should be made by April 1. Reservations can be made by fax or mail. Get the form (which list the fax number and address) at
Story tags » CampingHiking

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