To hike 93-mile Wonderland Trail, bring a buddy on your back

CRAIG HILL TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNEMay 1, 2013 

When people train for an adventure like Washington's 93-mile Wonderland Trail, they instinctively know the best way to go about it, said mountain guide and athletic trainer John Colver.

Load 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. You'll read about his approach next week.

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 firefighter used to climbing stairs and ladders in bunker gear, we figured not only would he be ready, but he also 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 and his self-published Fit to Climb, a guidebook for training for Rainier, is due out this month.

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 elevation. 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 said 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."

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