"By the time you reach 14,000 feet, the effort to take a step is roughly 27 percent more difficult than it was at sea level," says Nate Goldberg, who spends his summer whipping oxygen-starved flatlanders into climbing shape as the director of Beaver Creek Resort's summer hiking program. In layman's terms, that's the equivalent of a 150-pound body suddenly saddled with 40.5 extra pounds. To haul that, you'll need more leg muscleand fast. Goldberg has crafted a five-week, gym-based plan with hikes on the weekends that guarantees you'll top out (weather permitting), provided you leave yourself at least two days to acclimatize beforehand. Just remember to take it slow. For the uninitiated, it doesn't matter how strong and fit you are, altitudesespecially over 9,000 feetwill beat you down to your great-grandpa's geriatric pace.
Start with Tuesday's treadmill workout, walking 3.5 to five mph with the incline at 3 percent. After five minutes, increase the slope to between 6 and 8 percent for a 45-minute interval. Drop back down to 3 percent for five minutes. In week two, hit an 8 to 10 percent incline; weeks three and four, 10 to 12 percent; and aim for 12 to 15 percent on the final week.
Wednesdays will find you on the StairMaster.
Spend Thursday cross-training on an elliptical trainer, stationary bike, or other cardio machine, and on Saturday, hike outside while wearing a ten-pound pack.
Each week, add five pounds to the pack (hauling extra water is the easiest way to add weight) to simulate the extra effort it takes to hike in thinner air. If you don't live in the mountains, hike with trekking poles to increase the full-body aerobic element.
Twice a week, add this quick leg-strengthening workout: three sets of 40 lunges (20 on each leg) followed by three sets of 15 leg extensions and three sets of 15 hamstring curls using a weight that feels tough on your fourteenth rep.
Nate's final bit of advice for a misery-free hike is to invest in a waterproof parka and pants. "Stuff them in your backpack for when it rains. Staying dry is the key to enjoying yourself no matter if it rains or snows."