Tree, Poison Flat, Carson Iceberg Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney: Your Backpacking Guide to the High Sierras Yellow Flower
Leavit Peak in December with Snow Plume
Looking back at Leavitt Peak during a Winter Circle to Sonora Pass, over Leavitt, then back down to Highway 395.


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Backpacking Fitness:
Backpacking Fitness and Injury Recovery Section





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It's a bit of a mess...


See the Index below for the finished parts of the Fitness Guide.

Right now I'm working on (SERIOUS INJURY RECOVERY) & the Trail Guide Pages and Backpacking Forum.

Secondary topics are currently on hold. All that follows is in draft status...

I strongly suggest that you find a lifetime of fitness through a lifetime of High Sierra Hiking!


Starting a Long Distance Physical Fitness Program

A long life on the long trail...


The following index links to different sections of the fitness guide.


Fitness Index

1 This Page>
Part I:
Why I Hike
Page 2 >
Part III
Getting Started: Off the Couch- Injury Recovery
Page 4 >
Part V
Upper Body, Weight Lifting Section

Page Index

Basis and Role of Physical and Perceptive Skills

Truth and Consequences: Loss of Skills

Restoration of Skills

Ekulytes tells it like it Is

Section Index

Injury Recovery Basics Page

Beginning an Injury Recovery Program Page

Building and Injury Recovery Program Page

Who's Program Page

Section Index

Free Weights

Bench Press




This Page>
Part II
Your Personal Approach to Injury Recovery
Page 3 >
Part IY
Legs & Lungs Section
Page 5 >
Part VI
Related Topics Section

Page Index

Personal History

Flexible Approach

2011 Annus Horribilis

Intro: The Program

The Standards

Section Index

Establishing a New Program

Starting: Walking Mid-Program: Walk-Jog

Top Level Fitness

Section Index



Psychology of Adversity & Injury

Gear: Weights

Gear: Braces & Such

Links o Links


The Fundamental Skills
Physical Fitness

The basis and role of physical and perceptive fitness

Your physical state is an important part of your life. Some argue health is the most important part of life. I don't. Yet your level of fitness is going to determine your ability to access many environments, and your level of fitness will determine the character of your experiences; how you "feel," during physical engagement with nature. Our backpacking experiences are going to be very different if we are exhausted and stumbling through nature than if we are fit and stepping strongly.

Proper fitness is our ticket to enter and engage nature with a minimum of discomfort. But that's only half of the experience. Our ability to perceive is the other half. Fitness will allow our perception to expand into the natural terrain, rather than keeping it solely focused on struggling to meet the physical requirements and withstanding pain.

Pain is a poor lens to observe through. Thus our fitness program.

The Basis of Human Physical and Perceptive Assets

Our basic physical and perceptive assets as humans were established by the physical construction of nature itself. We were designed to effectively perceive and engage nature with our perceptive and physical assets long before the social requirements of modern urban civilization generally degraded both.

The power of our abstracted perceptive abilities are so profound that our societies were able to subordinate nature with brutal efficiency. This ability to quickly master nature made human's natural skills, the skills of dealing with nature itself, secondary to the social and technical skills required to deal with each other within society, and manage relations between societies.

The majority of the urban populations around the world have discarded their fundamental physical and perceptive skills. People have turned inward, into social life, and have generally abandoned natural engagement and its related skills. These skills remain within us, despite the changes in society that have made them all but irrelevant.

The Skill Set

Every one of us has within us the ability to quickly and effectively observe, analyze, make good decisions, communicate these, while engaging all aspects of our natural environment while walking, climbing, crawling, or running across every natural terrain existing on this planet.

We do so while fully loaded, through all types of weather conditions while communicating in complex groups while chasing or being chased. And having a blast doing it.

We are quite amazing in our original natural habitat.

Ancient Field Artists

Humans have amazing natural physical and perceptive assets that mirror and compliment the requirements of our natural environment. These physical, perceptive, and their related social skills constitute the most effective combination of forces nature has yet created.

The power of our perceptive and physical skills have changed the nature of the game of life itself on this planet. We kicked Nature's Ass (Escape the Tech Trap) . Our basic perceptive and physical "skills" that first allowed us to see deeper into nature to live easy within nature, have now separated the majority of us from any natural experience at all, and this has hardened all of our lives. How ironic.

It's time to pull our skills and capabilities out of our...reserve.


Current Status
Human Created Enviornment
These same skills, which once made us the masters of mountains, tundra, forests, plains and savannahs, have now corralled the majority of humanity within massive urban centers. This urban concentration has made our lives worse, more insecure and more dependent rather than bringing a "better," quality of life, as claimed by economists. Economists cannot even perceive, let alone measure the priceless value of independent engagement with nature.

Natural engagement does not register on the economist's charts as an independent resource nor a fundamental value. Nature is consumed by the economists, not experienced.

The consequences of this economic definition of nature, when magnified by our industrial power's impact on nature, and multiplied by our vast population, are tragic. Our impact on our natural environment has almost drained the mountains, tundra, forests, oceans, skies, and plains of the remaining bits of the rich web of life that filled them just a few decades ago, during the time-span of a couple of generations. These environmental changes have serious consequences.


Tech Tards

A dangerously small percent of humanity is maintaining any type of engagement with their natural environment, let alone any contact with nature whatsoever. The vast majority of humans are now spending their whole lives within environments completely created by humans.

This is what is driving us crazy.

Backpacking the Sierra Neavada Mountains is the physical and spiritual antidote.

Escape from the Tech Trap


The Goal

The whole point of getting us off the couch and working our fat asses through an escalating program of aerobic and weight training is to access the slumbering physical and perceptive assets within you. These assets are key to accessing what remains of the wild places inside of yourself and outside, in the tattered remnants of the natural world.

Viva la Difference

If you are confused by my defining "perception" as part of a workout program, let me tell you what I see. There are at least two physical realities and at least three perceptive realities. There is a physical reality created by nature, and one created by man. Perceptively, there is individual and social human perception, and there is inherent consciousness in nature.

You should be acquainted with all three, independent of how you explain or define them. Call them whatever you want, as long as you find your balance point between them. I find religion insufficient to explain the totality of the magnificance of the reality around us, but necessary for many. Many need to fill in the uncomfortable distance between their understanding of the operations of this reality around us with social rules and perceptions they impose on each other.

It is obvious that far too few people in our country even have these social, natural, and spiritual aspects of their lives in play, let alone balanced.

The Source
has unfolded out of the inherent consciousness that constitutes the physical basis of reality itself. It's all frkn alive. We define ourselves, our principals and values, and our societies not but what we say, but by how we actually approach and use "it," nature, and how we use each other.

We're going for extended personal engagement with Nature, here on Tahoe to Whitney.

Wealth, Power, Gratification, and the Status Quo...

What a sad mental, physical, and social prison we have build for ourselves within this Eden of Nature. What meaningless lives of destructive consumption. This is an improper use of human physical and perceptive assets, and is a waste of the beauty and potential of our world.

It is a waste of our human consciousness. Restoring your physical and perceptive assets along the Sierra Crest is one of the paths back to natural engagement, to finding your own particular balance of the fundamental forces of life operating around and within you.


The Natural World

Backpacking offers a natural counter-point and depth to the materialistic aspects of social experience. Backpacking will nurture your physical and perceptive skills while emersing you in a natural environment where you can access the elements of natural wisdom and balance within and outside of you.

The levels of physical pain and exertion we will have to endure to get there is predictable from our preparation.


See it Now

If you want to see the last bits of unaltered nature, you're too late. Everything has changed everywhere, just over the past thirty years. If you want to see what's left, the fragmented tattered remnants of the "old" ecosystem that remains, you'd better get going right now.

This planet's remaining bits of its classic and ancient ecosystems are going to be completely gone, completely transformed, within 20 years at the very latest. They are being stripped of life right now. Within 20 years there will not be one spot on the planet that has not been radically altered by the radical changes the weather and the seasons are undergoing. If you want to see the last remnants of the old natural world, you better see them now.

If you want to see the environment that created and nurtured your fundamental physical and perceptive assets (a very long time ago), you better get in-shape and get-out now. Fitness, the way I approach it, is all about building a bridge to perception.

As the last remnants of our ancient environments are dissappearing, so too is your chance to perceptively and physically engage and experience the same natural environment that our ancestors engaged throughout human history. You will not be able to walk their walk once the natural environment we shared is gone.

The disappearing Skill Sets

The lazer-like focus of our perceptive and physical skills on, "social applications," have not just degraded the perceptive and physical skills we once used to engage nature. Intellectually, our modern pre-occupation with playing video games, watching movies, being constantly connected to the internet and phone, and constant listening to an ipod are poor replacements for physical and natural engagement.

As Research and Reality are proving...
Tech Tards

These modern uses of our perceptive assest have dulled our senses.

Physically, the growth of American urban areas have almost completely eliminated our kid's chances for natural contact and physical engagement as they grow up. Kids who do not have a wild field with a creek running through it, or other ample natural contacts and physical activities, are being denied access to their vitally important observation and engagement skills. As most kids grown up in vast cities without natural engagement, they grow up without accessing or learning how to use their basic perceptive and physical skills. This has had serious physical and psychological consequences for the kids.

The kids have gotten obese. They have gotten highly frustrated. They have become dull and inattentive to their environment. They vast majority of today's kids have poor observation, analysis, engagement and reaction skills. And it is getting worse.

Billions of people will live their whole lives in mega-cities never having experienced the reality or feeling of engagement with nature. The costs of this loss is hard to measure but very easy to see.

I believe this lack of natural engagement is a main reason that 50% of the American population is on, or has been prescribed antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medications. The Chinese peasants are jumping into the nets trying to kill themselves. What is clear is that the social reality we have created for ourselves is sufficient to drive the majority of us psychologically crazy and physically sick. There is some good news.

It's Still out There, It's Still in You...

It's still out there in nature, and you still have the physical and perceptive skills inside of you to engage nature. Ancient physical and perceptive skills are still within you, and each of us. They are "hard-wired" in. Though your natural physical skills may be buried deep in fat and your perceptive skills dulled into submission by the obnoxious sounds, smells, and experiences so common in our vast cities, they are still there. We are just going to have to dig them out of your fat ass.

As our physical and perceptive skills have been dulled by physical and cultural de-training within our social environment, so too can we resurrect them through physical and perceptive engagement with our natural environment. Er, well what's left of it...


Let's get Out There

This physical fitness section of this trail guide is designed to help you find and bring out the basic physical and perceptive assets nature empowered you with, to allow you to reconnect these assets with their original context and purpose.

I can't tell you what you will find or express on your voyage. I can't tell you who you are. You are unique. But I can show you a path to physical and perceptive engagement with nature that will lead you to a different aspect of yourself, a different perspective of who you are in relation to yourself, society, and nature. If you choose to explore it.

The bottom-line is that you are a carrier of these fundamental physical and perceptive skills, the legacy of your ancestors and a reminder of your potential. Either you use 'em, or you don't.


It's your choice.

Your Thoughts, Questions, Comments, and Experiences are Valuable

Each page in this Physical Fitness Section is linked to the Physical Preparation-Mountain Conditioning Forum, where you can post up your comments or questions about all the topics in the Physical Preparation section of this trail guide. The Welcome to Backpacking Physical Fitness Forum page is this page's Forum.


It's Easier Said than Done

It may be time for you to begin to draw these fundamental physical and perceptive skills out of yourself, and put them back into the natural context that created them. What it will take to get you back on the trail depends on the state of your current physical conditioning, your perceptive common sense, and will ultimately depend on how seriously you take your obligations to your physical and perceptive potential. This will not be an easy journey if you are recovering from injury or a long spell on the couch. But it will offer extended deep satisfaction.

If you are in decent or declining condition, it may be time to stabilize your state of fitness by building a stretching, aerobic, and strength training program that suits your status and goals.

If you are in good or great shape, keep it up. Do what works for you. Head over to the gear page and start figuring out how to properly gear yourself up. If you're just getting started with a fitness program, or are recovering from a tough injury, I may have some helpful information for you on the following pages. Tailor the information to suit your circumstances and needs.

Physically, it's a lot easier to get out of shape than get back into shape. It's always going to be a struggle to get in shape, but the joys of long-term physical engagement far exceed the pains. Interestingly, each confirms and validates the other, clarifying and explaining the value and definition of a healthy relationship between pain and pleasure.

Physically, once we get off the couch and recover from our injury, we will focus on building long-term sustainable patterns of stretching & flexibility, upper body strength, and aerobic fitness. By long-term I mean lifetime. My goal is to maintain physical and perceptive engagement with myself and nature as a cornerstone of my life.

Natural engagement brings physical and perceptive experiences that will offer joy and meaning that rewards the blood, sweat, and tears you shed getting back into shape and putting yourself on the trail. Nature provides a context and balance we have yet to properly reflect in society. Maybe you can do it for yourself.

You will access natural experiences outside of yourself and find things within you that cannot be found in the urban environment. You just have to make yourself fit for the job.


Take it Easy

We are in no hurry. We are establishing patterns of exercise and activity that will continue for the rest of our lives. Therefore we are in no particular hurry to reach a particular "goal," as the trail is the goal. The means and ends of backpacking in nature are deeply interrelated, and enjoying one is enjoying the other. Getting there is the fun. And the pain.

This will give us the time and patience to manage our injuries, avoid re-injury, and gradually work through our various weaknesses. A consistent approach means we have no need to rush, which decreases the risks of damaging ourselves during our recovery through re injury, overwork or burnout.

The physical goals of this program are simple: We are beginning a slow and steady progress from serious injury and/or extended periods of inactivity to bring ourselves first to basic recovery, then develop a solid workout program, which will be our starting point for building a regular training regime. This level of fitness will obtain and maintain the ability to deeply access nature with a backpack. Our backpacking trips will allow us to occasionally work ourselves up to the top echelons of fitness and perception.

The goal is to obtain and maintain excellent overall conditioning to preserve our ability to access and observe nature. Getting back into shape is not physical work alone.

We are going to learn how to reliably monitor our injuries, our metabolism, and our body's responses to increasing exercise. We must come to understand our body's responses, and modify our pace and program as necessary to prevent injury, find the correct balance between proper rest and recovery balanced against the stresses of an increasing work load. This is very important to prevent injury and re injury as we begin, and expand, our program.

As our program evolves through healing and rehabilitation into a strong training regime we will begin to invert our perception from internal to external observation. We must develop the ability to observe the external terrain we are crossing as closely and as accurately as we are monitoring our internal physical status.

We will turn our attention to external observations, observations about the nature of the terrain, the patterns of tree growth, the movements of wind and water, and how life ties all of these elements together within the range of our perceptions, rather than just internally monitoring our physical status. But before we can look outward we must understand how our bodies are responding to exercise.

The first steps of this physical and perceptive journey is going to be accurately observing the physical consequences of our first stretches and exercises. Before anything else we must learn the difference between productive and debilitating pain, between pain that is a natural part of rehabilitation and gaining fitness, from pain that indicates continuing injury or expanding inflammation. The former pain can be carefully worked into fitness, while the latter type of pain robs us of fitness. Both types of pain require proper rest and healing.

A goal of your training to to prepare you for the rigours of the trail. Just throwing yourself in without preparation subjects you to greater risk of injury. You want to experience no dehabilitating pain on the trail. These injury and fitness issues must be worked out and tested for reliability during training prior to your backpacking trips.

As our internal perception becomes sufficient to monitor our muscular and metabolic status during hard work, and our fitness level rises sufficiently for safe and happy long distance backpacking challenges, we will again turn our attention to perception. But the next steps will be treated in the Art of Walking and Trail Skills sections, which are all under construction...

The whole point of gaining the physical skills to penetrate nature is to give yourself the phyiscal platform (you!) from which to observe and experience its natural wonders. If we are straining under the fear or reality of exhaustion, it's really hard to enjoy the view. If we do not have the observational skills to match our physical skills, and visa-versa, we are shortchanging ourselves.

Thus the wisdom of physical engagement and fitness begins to make sense intellectually, on its own as an esthetic state in its own right, as well as being the physical basis, one of the classic approaches to higher levels of consciousness.

Throughout human history cultures have recognized the spiritual value of individuals subjecting themselves to sustained periods of natural exposure. Going back to what made you is a persistant topic in human cultural and spiritual history.

I'm beginning to treat some of the observational aspects of backpacking in the Trail and Camp Skills section and the physical mechanics in The Art of Walking section. These sections are under construction.

Once you recover from injury and inactivity, and develop good physical and perceptive fitness you will have the physical platform from which to comfortably observe and engage the natural environments as you pass through. This, my friends, is an aspect of pure joy.

Here in the fitness section we are mostly looking at physical perception, or how you can understand and build a useable mental context for the physical sensations and metabolic stresses generated by physically engaging your environment. Physical perception is vital for proper analysis of a backpacking situation or making realistic plans.


Physical Perception

Physical perception can be pragmatically described as your basic understanding of when it is better to back-off and take a break, as opposed to bearing down and pushing through. Physical perception is the ability to understand the physical consequences of your exercise decisions (and eventually your hiking decisions), and will give you the self-knowledge to accurately predict the trajectory of your physical status over the course of your walks and runs, and eventually over the miles and days of your long distance backpacking trips across the High Sierra.

Understanding your body's capabilities before you hit the trail is vital to properly planning your backpacking trips. Monitoring your physical status as you hike the trails will allow you to modify your hiking plan to prevent you from breaking down during the trip.

After you gain some physical self-awareness and fitness you will be able to feel how your body and metabolism are responding to one step, to one mile, to one full hour of backpacking, and finally, one full day on the trail. This feedback is going to give you all the information you will need to predict exactly how your body will respond to every subsequent step along each subsequent mile for all of the days left in your backpacking trip.

Though backpacking is potentially physically grueling, this Fitness Section is dedicated to reducing those episodes to a meaningful handful. Experiences you will never forget.

Few activities have the potential to change the way you feel, the way you think, and the way you live. Rather than go through the brutal physical transition from city to nature and back to city over and over again as you continue to backpack, I strongly suggest that you maintain good fitness and sharp physical perception as a regular part of your life.


The Real Deal

Backpacking is a physical transformer, a time machine, a mirror, a trip through the garden of eden, a test, and a torture chamber, and can be all of these things at the same time or in rapid sequence. Backpacking will will reflect fundamental elements of beauty, joy, nature, society and pain through your mind and body. Being reasonably fit will avoid having the torture and pain predominate during your voyage, so the rest of the experiences can properly develop.

This whole fitness section is designed to give you a heads-up about the necessary physical work you must do while in "civilization" to obtain and maintain deep access to Nature without too much pain.

Therefore this section is dedicated to all of those who want to see the beauty of nature without too much brutality, and redirecting all the brutal suffering of unprepared backpackers I've seen on the trail to to the most beautiful experiences of their lives.

As you will most likely experience both the beauty and the brutality of the trail, I hope this section will help keep these experiences in context, and you able to continue on down the trail.

Understanding your level of fitness will help you properly set-up your daily hiking mileage, re supply options, and days off suited to match your specific physical capabilities and needs.

Truth and Consequences

The Loss of Skills

A brief physical history

The Mechanism

People in the US are in terrible physical and perceptive condition, and their ability to observe and engage their environment is generally very limited.

Our basic physical assets, our physical and perceptive skills degraded considerably when the majority of our population eliminated the natural environment from any part of their daily lives. This happened on the West Coast with the massive concentration and growth of urban centers during the past forty years. An American can now live almost their whole life indoors, while seated, within the vastness of a mega city far distant from nature.

This physical fitness section seeks to restore our basic physical and perceptive assets through physical re-engagement with the natural environment. My efforts are swimming against the tide of our never-ending urban expansion.

This recent loss of natural engagement on the West Coast of the US has also degraded our internal and external perceptive skills, as well as our physical skills. The people on the West Coast of the US have gotten fat and become disengaged from their environment and each other during one generation, within the span of one lifetime.

This is not a "legacy" we can be proud of passing along to subsequent generations of Americans.

The Situation: Fighting against Degraded Physical and Perceptive Skills

This fitness section will "set the table" so you have the internal physical preparation and the external perceptive skills to put yourself in a position to observe and reflect the operating logic of life on the trail, within nature, and that is buried within you, somewhere.

What you will see on the trail and in nature is quite different than the operating logic of our society within our cities, and especially within our mega cities. Your other option is getting into physical and perceptive shape on the trail, which never works out well. Though you may do it, you will suffer unnecessarily and miss a lot of cool detail in the environment around you due to the deep distractions of suffering. Getting in shape and sharp has other beneficial effects.

Trail Values

I believe perceptive skills tuned through physical engagement with nature play a critical role in formulating an individual's frame of reference and judgment. Engaging directly with nature provides a framework for interpreting experience that allows individuals to give a broader "context" to the character and values of their social experiences when they return to the social world.

This is because I believe that an individual's basic relationship with nature offers the ultimate reference point for measuring themselves, assessing their society, and understanding their relationship to society.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals in our country have lost their personal fitness, they have absolutely no physical relationship with nature, and their social frame of reference has devolved down to nothing more than the pursuit of crude social dominance, crude self-gratifications, personal wealth and conspicuous consumption, of "success" as currently defined by our political and economic leadership.

These terms of "success" have proved problematic. The vast majority of "us" now have "values" and practices that are completely contradictory to the values and practices necessary to sustain a healthy body, a healthy ecosystem in the United States, a healthy economy, and we long ago left behind a healthy democratic society in hot pursuit of these false values.




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Restoration of Skills

Restoration of Skills

Nature, thought greatly diminished and really beaten up, is still out there.

Travel through nature will draw out the natural skills it so long ago endowed you with, if you let it, and nature will show you why we humans, and you personally, possess the particular physical and observational assets we enjoy.

We are just one part of a grand living natural puzzle. Our particular skills, our particular role in life fits perfectly within nature's context. But that's not enough.

As abstract creatures we have the capability to choose the role we play in life, to choose the values we live by, and our choices drive modifications to the environment which automatically reflects the wisdom and values, or the lack of them, behind our choices.

The failure of our values is easy to see: the pathetic status of our environment is a constant measurement of our choices. The social dangers in our cities, the open corruption of our politicians, and the destruction of our natural environment all reflect the surging responses, the failures of nature and breakdown of society caused by our own ignorance, greed, and brutality. We have created an incredibly dangerous situation.

Karma is a bitch.

Exercise is your individual "ticket" back into re-engagement with nature, if you point it that way. The following program is my own, developed over decades of injury, recovery, re-injury, and re-recovery. Fitness and engaging nature is a never ending cycle of ups and downs.

Thus my program is cyclic in nature, starting at the base point of injury or extended lethargy, with the goal of rest and healing the injury, then on to stretching and walking, and finally again running and lifting our way back up to top levels of fitness.

Those of you who have gone through this before realize how difficult and painful recovery can be. Thus I advise a very careful and slow approach to recovery, focusing on self-analysis and feed back while gradually building the long-term exercise habits that will be your foundation for restoring a life of long distance backpacking and natural engagement.

It's a long, difficult, and sometimes painful trip back to nature, but well worth all these difficulties. You will suffer a lot more over the long term if you don't work, than if you do. In any case, the rewards far exceed difficulties, but you must show great care not to damage yourself further, or damage yourself at all, while starting a training program.

Engaging nature, ourselves, and each other is why we're here, if you forgot. This is not a competition or a contest, so relax. Being rich in mind, body, and spirit is not a race. We are building fitness over the long-term, so there is no reason to endanger yourself with overwork. The key to our strength, endurance, and fitness is going to be based on our constant steady work, our careful observation and analysis of our injury and metabolism, ane is not based on throwing ourselves into occasional bouts of frenzied exercise.

But work you must, and you must take the first steps, which are the hardest. Our urban lifestyle has moved us far away from any balance with nature, so it has become incumbent upon each of us as individual citizens, and as humans, to put the first foot forward on the trail back to nature. Discretion is the better part of valor. You risk re injury if you overdo it, so approach your fitness program as a gradual development of strength and endurance over the long-term.

Being determined is good, if you use your determination to stop yourself from exercising when your injuries are in danger, as often as you use determination to press through lazy moments. A successful program is very achievable and rewarding if you carefully avoid injury while training. The rewards of achieving physical and perceptive fitness can change your life.

One reality, nature, is required to give context and meaning to the other reality, the urban crap hole. These two "forces" are locked in mortal combat. One is going to destroy the other, and I would not bet against nature, even when the old girl looks down. Especially when the old girl is down... I suggest that you seek nature out on its own terms before it comes for us in our cities on its terms.

Your fitness program will put you into position to see nature for yourself, and make your own judgments.

You've got to put in the blood, sweat, and tears required to balance your relationship between injury and health, inactivity and activity, society and nature, while making sure that your efforts restore and strengthen your previous injuries, rather than inflame them.

So take it slow and steady.


The physical practices described below and on the following pages are designed to get and keep you moving across a wide variety of natural terrains while maintaining the strength and presence of mind and body to allow you to observe, understand, and navigate safely as you travel.

For the rest of your life.

Let's get it on.

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Mountain Conditioning - Mountain Planning


  The Silver King Creek ford.       Ari Springing off the root ball!  
  Balance and strength at the Silver King Creek, Spring 2010. The trunk of the ford tree is getting cut away from the bank, and will soon (years) be unusable. Eventually you will have to wade. But for now you've a jump.  
  Ari at the end of the root ball. Toiyabe National Forest, Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.  


Besides its physical, perceptive, and spiritual utility, physical fitness is an important practical part of planning your Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney backpacking trip, or any other hiking trip.

Your physical preparation will allow you to understand your level of fitness. This understanding will allow you to realistically plan your daily mileage.

Your planned daily mileage will allow you to accurately estimate the amount of days it will take to hike between resupply points.

Your real real daily mileage capacity will determine how much food you will actually need to feed yourself between each re-supply point down the trail.

Your real daily mileage capacity vs your planned daily mileage capacity can vary significantly. If you have not validated and tested your actual capacities through physical training and preparation you cannot make reliable trip plans.

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Mountain Conditioning: Joy of Engagement

Ekulytes sums it up very succinctly:


Backpacking is good for you!


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Mountain Conditioning: Couch to the Mountaintop

In the following sections I describe the "couch to the mountains" program I use to bring myself back to the level of conditioning necessary to make the least painful transition from the sedentary world of modern conveniences to a life of carrying all of your necessities in a heavy pack over difficult terrains for long distances.

The goal is to carry your pack though rain and shine, through thick and thin air, up big climbs and down steep mountains through meadows and forests, and across rivers. Your ability to be self contained for great distances across all terrains and weather conditions will bring you into the terrain that our ancestors navigated long before the dawn of history.

My personal goal is to be able to survive and prosper through the physical challenges of backpacking the length of the spine of the High Sierra between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney while observing everything as I hike, to act as the best possible human mirror of the terrain as I walk through.

If I am struggling to survive the weight of the pack and the thinness of the air, I have much less energy for observation and reflection. If I am fit and strong I have much more energy to dedicate to observation and analysis. A backpacking trip can span a wide range of experience, from fear and pain through deep satisfaction and great pleasure.

Poor physical conditioning will enslave and demand your perception be tightly focused onto surviving the rigors and pains of each individual step you take. Excellent physical fitness will allow your body to hike the trail while your mind reflects the terrain you are passing through.

At the inevitable low-points of backpacking, your fitness level will determine how much you are going to suffer, which is also going to determine the character of your trip. A fundamental base-level of fitness is required to prevent your trip becoming an exercise in surviving excessive pain.

As my energy level fluctuates, so too does my pace. I always adjust my pace to suit my status. When my energy is taxed over many days of long miles over hard terrain, I establish the pace required to suit the circumstance. This pace is determined by my base level of fitness, whatever level that may be. If fit, my pace is fast, and if unfit my pace is restrained.

I call it "Compound Al." Have you ever seen an old jeep in the gear called "compound low?" When I am at the end of my rope, I set the trail pace that I can hold all day long for as many days as are necessary, without overstraining myself. I call this pace "Compound Al." It is the pace I take today so I can hike tomorrow, and the day after...

The goal of this fitness section is to bring each of us to the level of physical fitness and physical awareness so we can ascertain, establish, and maintain our own reliable constant pace from Sunrise to Sunset for many days with enough extra physical capacity to support full perception and observation, engagement, and enjoyment of the terrain.

Such simple goals.

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Let's Get Started

Mountain Conditioning: Your Personal Approach

The Fundamental Skills of Physical Fitness

We all gotta start somewhere...

YOUR Personal Physical History

I am forced to take a flexible approach to fitness. You should too. Each of us must know our current physical status to know where to begin our fitness program. Each of us has a particular physical history that must be reckoned with as we recover from injury or build a new program.

You must tailor your approach to restoring your fitness if you have to accommodate Bad Feet, Bad Knees, elbow and wrist problems, a Trick shoulder or a Bad Back. None of the above, or all of the above! No matter. You can work through almost anything if you take a careful and sensitive approach.

Each element of your physical history is going to require you take a considered approach to fitness. This is going to require flexibility with your program and the sensitivity to carefully monitor the status of your body as it responds to stretching and your first exercises.

You are going to need to "counter," to respond to each element of your physical history. Back injury requires floor exercises, sit ups, and proper back stretching. A bad knee requires a cycle of rest, range of motion exercises, and careful road work to bring up strength and endurance while controlling pain. Bad feet respond well to massage and proper rest. It is critical that your feet are properly geared up to support your foot structure.

Injuries can be managed and strengthened up to full serviceability sufficient for long distance backpacking on the Sierra Crest between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney. I have completed this hike four times after compiling a substantial laundry list of serious injuries.

Restoring fitness through a storm of injuries requires that you specifically work and maintain your previously injured parts, use great sensitivity to accurately track the status of your previous injuries, and have the flexibility with your fitness program required to tailor your program to suit the current status of your injury.

It's like Willie Nelson says, "Ya gotta know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em."

Our Flexible Response

You must know the difference between a chronic pain that is manageable for exercise, and an acute pain the requires full cessation of exercise, treatment of swelling and inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs, massage, hot or cold treatments as required, and rest.

You must know when the chronic pain is transforming itself into an acute episode, and have the wisdom to stop exercising.

You must also be able to understand when the acute episode is fading into chronic pain, and respond with increasing exercise and flexibility stretching.

My History

My flexible approach to fitness began when I fractured my kneecap into six pieces when I was 17. The naval surgeons wanted to remove my Left kneecap and replace it with a teflon model.

Though I was just 17, I was very skeptical of removing my kneecap, and I delayed the surgery. During that delay I observed a number of Marines from the fleet and various units undergo the same surgery. They went in with bad knees, they came out of surgery crippled. I refused the surgery, which resulted in a whole lot of hassle.

The Marines who took the surgery got a 30% disability discharge, and I got the run-around.

At around age 28 I could finally get the knee working again.

Since I could not walk, run, or hike-off my energies between ages 17 & 28, I took to road racing great big Jap motorcycles. F1 and Superbikes. First the other riders, then the cops, and finally the clubs. While road racing motorcycles with the American Federation of Motorcycles here on the West Coast, I took repeated high impact injuries over a period of years.

But I never was busted or run over by a car while racing on the track! There were always extra dangers on the streets that caused me to defer speed to safety. Good clean fun.

I once participated in a Superbike Race, and two other races that day, with three broken bones. I think I came in third in the Superbike and F1 Races, second in the Battle of the Twins. It was an unwise decision. The stresses of racing on the improperly set bones seriously hindered healing, and directly contributed to long-term wrist and shoulder problems. I was young and very aggressive.

Between age 17 and 52 I did 7 violent shoulder dislocations, one compound fracture, broke both my lower R arm bones lengthwise from the wrist, herniated a disc, broke bunches of ribs (I have two sternums, on natural and one caused by a broken rib healing funny...) and broke two other bones. Hummm...I also have taken around 90 stitches.

Treating my broken lower Right arm bones at Kaiser was a real challenge. I had broken both lower arm bones lengthwise through the ball joints towards the elbow. The resulting surface roughness on the ball joints deteriorated the wrist joint to the point the ortho surgeon at Kaiser insisted that fusing the wrist was the only solution. I chose cortisone and exercise.

Though I sometimes have to brace-up my R wrist to properly use ski poles, it works fairly well for the insults it has suffered.

Back to the Trail

At age 28 I came to the realization that I could no longer injure my shoulders, elbows and wrists if I wanted to continue to use them in the future. I also understood that the years of acute pain in my knee had finally moderated to a chronic pain level. I could now begin to strengthen the knee and get back on the trail, though with a whole raft of new injuries to deal with.

I traded in my bikes for a backpack. (The pack was in the closet...) I still had the old first-generation aluminum Camp Trails external framed pack from my last trips when I was 17.

The ever changing conditions of my wide range of previous injuries demand that I take a balanced and flexible approach to fitness, to be able to carry the heavy backpack for great distances in all seasons.

My friends had all switched to gore tex in the early '70s, but I had maintained wool and vented windbreakers. Today's "heavyweight" backpacker is yesterday's lightweight backpacker! I don't sweat carrying a heavy Summer backpack because my goal is to be able to easily carry the heavy backpack required for safe Winter snow travel. A heavy Summer backpack makes for easy transitions to Winter backpacking.

I have to work the legs and lungs into aerobic fitness, but without irritating my knees. I have to strengthen my shoulders to carry heavy loads without dislocating or triggering chronic shoulder pain. I have to keep my back and hips flexible enough to carry massive weights for long distances over high altitudes without sciatica and hernia, and without breaking my back.

If I can get my bag of bones on the trail, so can you. But, my injuries are not "bone-to-bone." If you have lost the cartiledge, you are in trouble.

Recent History

2006: complete L knee failure, serious L hip issues. VA issues Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), which induced atrial fibrillation. Ibroprofen burned a hole in my stomach. You may see how this injury spiraled out of control. One drug the VA gave me triggered AF, which is a nightmare. Another burned a hole in my stomach. After arriving at the VA with knee and hip problems, I soon added heart and stomach problems to the list.

I started with orthopedic issues, and soon had a full plate of secondary issues triggered by the treatments themselves. Then the VA said I was "crazy" when I reported my serious heart problems, and tried to get me to take anti-anxiety drugs! I refused. Many months later a VA appointment lined up with an AF episode, proving what the VA had called "anxiety" was actually AF.

Thus I recommend that you use extreme caution with all the drugs prescribed and ms-prescribed by the doctors. Check them carefully for side effects before using them, take the drugs according to instructions. Immediately quit taking any drug if weird things begin happening to you.

2007: Popped Ligament in R Knee while trying to exercise-recover from 2006 L knee and hip problems: My lower Right leg swung outward!! The whole year of 2007 was taken up by recovering, treating, and finally beginning to be able to train up both knees and my L hip.

2008: Back on the trail, back to training.

2009: Tahoe to Whitney #4 during the Summer, and the Tahoe to Yosemite during Fall.

2011: Frostbite. Currently in rehab as of September 9, 2011.


Work Works.

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2011: Annus Horribilis

(See: Injury Recovery & Recovery from Frostbite)

Back in the ER. Damn. On Jan 5 2011 the combined medical staff at the VA urgent care clinic in Oakland California concluded that I was going to lose at least the two biggest toes, if not the whole front of my Right foot. I told them that they were wrong.

I had done fine during a four night Winter Backpacking trip in the Northern High Sierra. Problems occurred hitch-hiking out of the Lake Tahoe Basin down the Western flank of the Sierra. I had the proper gear for hiking through deep cold snow. I had the proper gear for standing around in camp during the long nights. But I did not have the gear to stand idle alongside the snow and slush covered Highway 50 roadside hitching out. Damn.

Arriving at the critical care unit of the Oakland VA a few days later the doctors and medical personnel drew a line across the front of my foot, and I washed it off. I told the combined medical staff that they were absolutely wrong, and that I would lose no toes, and that I would fully recover.

They were not convinced, though they hoped I was correct.

Rather than checking into the hospital for an amputation, I went home to begin a long, painful, and tedious set of treatments and therapies I devised to restore circulation, save skin, and restore degraded soft tissues as well as recover bummed-out bones. The medical staff at the VA figured I'd be convinced to amputate when the front of my foot turned black and started to fall off, while I figured they would be convinced when I restored nice fresh pink skin.

June 22, 2011

After 27 weeks of recover, therapy, and exercise the surgeons who insisted that I would lose two toes, and who also said two weeks ago that I should still cut off my big toe, have just now stated that I would recover fully.

I was told that I had been correct in my early analysis, that my treatment program had worked exceptionally well, and that they had all learned much about frostbite from my program.

As of right now the only sign of frostbite is that I have is a small patch of dead skin at the tip of my right big toe. And my toes are in screaming pain. The patch of black dead skin still covers a bit of bone sticking out of the skin, but it is fully surrounded by growing skin. Hey...not a problem.

(Broken off on September 5 2011. Full Frostbite Recovery Page.)

I did not say this worked out perfectly! Other than that one enduring detail, and continual extreme pain, it is getting hard to see the difference between my feet at this point in time, without close inspection. This is a bit deceptive as much of the injury was internal, and not visible to the eye.

I also suffered "structural" damage, meaning the internal damage to the soft tissues in the front of my foot and my toes. I damaged the internal circulation, nerves, as well as starved the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones in the front of my foot of 02.

This structural damage has healed about 50% from the original injury. and are all parts of my foot are responding well to repeated exercise, and I anticipate the foot will eventually return to full strength.

Mid June 2011

As I am writing this during mid-June of 2011 I am trying to restore as much of my aerobic fitness as possible while working on healing the internal structural damage in the front of my foot. Hot water treatments are supplemented by massage and range of motion exercises.

In the meantime as I am working on the structure of my foot I am also waiting for the hole in the end of my big toe to finally heal and seal up.

I have been walking up to 5.5 miles in the hills, pain and after-exercise consequences permitting.

The final healing of the hole in the tip of my toe is dependent upon the very slow rate of speed that skin grows. It is like watching molasses flow on a cold day. Patience is the key.

But the skin is growing over the "exposed" bone of my big toe, and under the cap of dead skin sitting above the bone.

Grim Shit.

You better believe that this has caused me to come up with a few new twists to my fitness program.

August 2011

Up to 7 miles of walking-jogging. Exercise-Rehab program under way at fullest speed possible.


My point here is that you start your program from where you are. I have. Again.

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The program

It's real basic: flexibility, endurance, and strength.

The Goal

As our goal is to restore our ability to backpack long distances in the High Sierra, our program starts with stretching and walking. As our goal is to walk long distances with a heavy pack, we will also eventually require sufficient upper and lower body strength to support the pack. As our backpacking path will take us over a variety of obstacles and terrains while carrying this heavy load, we must have both the flexibility and core strength to bear this load at odd angles.

The basic elements of the program are simple:

1> Stretching and Walking: Injury recovery, and beginning from sedentairy state.

2> Walking into jogging: Slow progress to top levels of fitness.

3> Sit ups and floor exercises: Core strength and flexibility.

4> Weight Lifting: Upper body strength.

Getting your body to respond with increasing flexibility, strength, and endurance is a little more complex.

Over a number of decades I've developed my own personal program with specific standards and goals for endurance, strength, and flexibility. I have come to understand how my body will react to high altitude backpacking when I am at optimal and in less than optimal conditioning.

Over a lifetime of repeated injuries I have come to understand how to assess and restore fitness to my injured parts and counter the damage that inactivity after injury brings. When I am hitting the trail in less than ideal conditions, or I am taking my first walks after re injuring my knee, I understand that I have to start from where my degree of injury and fitness allows. You too must find the proper exercise and stretching to honestly suit your current status.

Let's find It

This program is designed to show you how to assess your injuries, develop a practical program to recover, and finally filling out the program with strength and aerobics exercises to bring yourself back to the highest degree of fitness you are capable of attaining. This approach also suits those of you who are out of conditioning due to simple apathy and living a sedentary lifestyle.

You can start at the beginning of recovering from an injury, or you can pick up the program at higher levels, depending on your current level of fitness.

Those of us recovering from injury and long-term inactivity have a real need to know what level of performance we are capable of, and then how to work up our flexibility, strength and endurance from that point to develop the conditioning necessary for successful long distance High Sierra backpacking.

Along the way towards developing long distance backpacking fitness we will do "starter" trips to check out our physical capabilities capabilities as well as to help us develop the trail and camp skills necessary to successfully deploy our gear.

This fitness section and the related skills sections will allow you to find all the information you will need about yourself and your physical capabilities before you strap on the pack and hit the High Sierra Trails. These exercise sessions will generate the information that will allow you to make realistic plans for realistic trips for your level of fitness. Trust me when I say that gaining this knowledge during training in civilization will save you a lot of pain on the trail.

This means that the goal of this Physical Fitness section is as much to ascertain the status of injury and general fitness as it is to make yourself ready for long distance backpacking along the Sierra Nevada Crest.

My ideal conditioning regime for backpacking is a combination of jogging, weight lifting, some floor exercises, and stretching. Let's look at how this program looks when it's running well, and I'm in top shape.

The Standards

Top to bottom Fitness

The Top


The top, being the goal of my program can be simply quantified. I can perform my four free weight exercises at high weights every other day.

They consist of four sets of ten reps each at the bench press at 185 lbs, the curl at around a 117 lbs, the forearm curl at about 40 lbs, and the fly at 12 lbs.

The forearm curl exercise incorporates the military press and the reverse-forearm curl behind the head. The fly also incorporates a "reverse" fly, crossing the over the body, and then back to the fly position.

I find this combination of upper body exercises ideal for prepping the shoulders, neck, and upper spine for carrying a heavy pack over long distances comfortably.


I consider myself optimally mountain ready when I can run seven miles in hills over 750 feet of elevation gain in not too much longer than an hour, every other day, on the days I am not lifting weights. I will feel little fatigue, and need very little recovery time after the exercise if I am well conditioned. At my top levels of fitness I feel as if I can run the distance again when I'm done.

Though I am training for walking, I find that the stress-loading of jogging in hilly terrain replicates about the same level of heart and lung stress as walking with a heavy pack.

Flexibility-Core Strength

I do 150 sit ups every day, and execute my stretching program at maximum length for a long time in each position. This is more important than it may seem at first glance. Especially the first time you lean back a bit too far while climbing up over a downed tree blocking the trail.

The stress leveraged by the weight of the pack pulling you backwards while you are hanging off the tree will center in your abdomen, and if your core strength is not up to snuff, you will have a hernia.

The Bottom

On the other side of the coin is getting started again from scratch, either after an extended period of injury or inactivity or both. Sometimes one leads to the other, such as the inactivity following an injury, or inactivity leading to an injury. It goes both ways...

The key is knowing when your injury can be exercised at all without risking re-injury. I identify this as the point when acute pain shifts down to a chronic pain from acute pain levels, and the injured parts can be stretched and exercised without re sparking acute pain.

The approach is the same for injuries to different parts of the body: rest, recover, then gently and gradually rehab the injury, though the specific techniques will be different for each injury. These are the bottom levels of restarting my fitness program after injury.


After re injuring my shoulders (I have experienced a total of 7 "severe" shoulder dislocations and one compound fracture of the R collarbone.) By a "severe" dislocation I mean a violent dislocation in a high speed or heavy impact accident. I can't count the number of times my shoulders have fallen out of their sockets. I don't even count those as dislocations. They are merely part of recovering from sever dislocations. Eventually you can restore the shoulder muscles, ligaments, and tendons abilities' to hold the shoulder in socket.

At this sad level of conditioning I have to start my bench presses by just going through the motions with an empty bar. After recovering the range of motion without risk of further "slip out" dislocations (as opposed to a "severe" dislocation during an accident, a "slip-out" dislocation will happen when you mover your shoulder across the damaged area of the ball & socket. The ball joint will just fall out of socket.) I begin my sets at 117 pounds.

All of my stretching exercises, even the lower body stretches, incorporate shoulder and arm movements that are good for stretching out the shoulders.

I must constantly monitor my shoulders to prevent the acute pains that indicate I've overworked the critical muscles, tendons, and ligaments holding my shoulders in place. When this happens I must stop lifting until the acute shoulder pains cease.


On the endurance front, as it was for strength too, the first thing we must do after injury or inactivity is to stretch the injured parts to restore flexibility, reduce stress, and improve circulation.

As my thing is walking and running, a good part of my stretching program is dedicated to getting the lower body and hips ready to run for miles.

Check out the stretching videos on the Building your Recovery Program page.

Our fist goal is to determine the proper warm-up so we can begin walking with minimum pain. The next goal is to find the maximum distance we can walk without re injuring or triggering acute pain and inflammation, either during the exercise period, or afterward.

Then we have to start bumping up the walking miles and angles of climb and descent as the injury responds to exercise. As we inure our joints to the stresses of impact, and after we have strengthened our injured parts, we can start throwing in little sections of jogging along our walking route.

Soon we will be jogging our whole route, and slowly lengthening it out...

first steps: set you goal

To get ourselves in the minimal shape required for basic backpacking we must get ourselves into the condition necessary to be able to easily walk the daily distance we plan on hiking each day with our pack. Say it is five miles. That comes out to 26,400 feet. The average person covers three feet per stride.

This means that our feet, ankles, knees and hips must be able to take 8800 steps without risking re-injury, tightening up from overwork on the trail, or getting so sore afterward that you cannot walk the next day. Once you can easily walk five miles then you can bump it up.

Walking five miles is good, but not good enough. The extra weight of carrying your pack on the trail will make five miles on the backpacking trail equal to at least 7.5 miles on the trail without a pack.

Each time you reach a distance goal in your walking program, you can either consolidate your gains, or start working towards the next goal. To consolidate your gains I mean that once you reach the goal of repeatedly walking a mile without too much soreness or strain, you can begin to jog sections of the mile walk, until you have jogged the whole mile. Or you can lengthen the distance of your walk as you begin to jog sections of the increased distance.

Heading for the top

From this first mile you can start building up to longer distances bit by bit. Once you hit two or three miles, you should start looking for some hills, elevation changes, and challenging terrain that will put stress on your carriage from a variety of angles, just as you will experience the stresses from a variety of angles on the trail.

My personal goal is to jog 7 miles in hilly terrain without too much strain, lift heavy weights without too much pain, have good core strength when I bend over, and have all my injuries well adjusted to a high degree of stress at high-angle elevations with no more than moderate chronic strains and pains.

This is how I make sense of it all:

1. Walking for Walking's sake

2. Stretching for shape and out of shape

3. Endurance to replicate mountain conditions: jogging and backpacking

4. Weight training for upper body "strap strength"

5. Backpacking fits right in like the key to the lock

6. Achieve and maintain field conditioning

Next page: The Fitness Recovery Section

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Mountain Conditioning: mind, body, culture...


Health and Fitness News


Captivated by critters: Caltech and UCLA researchers find humans are wired to respond to animals, Cal Instit Tech, Sept 8, 2011


Urbanization: linking Population, Poverty and Development,

Urbanization Trends,
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Over one-third of California teens not getting gym classes at school,
Sac Bee, June 1, 2011

Backpacker Health News: Running a marathon halts cellular suicide,
BMC Physiology, May 10, 2010


Exercise no danger for joints,
Journal of Anatomy, Jan 27, 2009


Health and Fitness Reports


The Gilded Age
Project Gutenberg eBook, Mark Twain and Charles Warner, American Publishing Company, Hartford, 1874,

Twain on Tahoe from Roughing It,

Mark Twain.

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Backpacking Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney

Your guide to the High Sierra Crest, including the Tahoe to Yosemite, Pacific Crest, and John Muir Trails

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