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The West Coast Trail: Just Say Yes to Training

Stairway from Bow Bottom Trail to Parkland in City's southeast
Stairway from Bow Bottom Trail to Parkland in City's southeast
photo by Bob Bannon

What is needed in the way of physical fitness to successfully hike the West Coast Trail? For those of us who are 50+, this is an issue that we must approach carefully and honestly. The short answer is that most of us have the ability to handle the seven days of backpacking if we prepare ourselves well in advance and are clear on what our physical starting point is. The truth is that most people are not going to consider taking on this trail unless they have a reasonable level of stamina and strength to begin with and are probably generally happy with their level of fitness. You should check with your doctor if you are in any doubt with regards to your ability to handle this test and the training required leading up to the week itself.

One of the best training tools is a set of good outdoor stairs like the one in the picture. There is another excellent set of stairs in Calgary joining Memorial Drive with Crescent Heights that will also provide the climbing and aerobic workouts to get ready. Any challenging hill will also work whether there are stairs or not and if there are a few scattered trees to climb over - so much the better. Your humble scribe began his training with doing 5 sets of stairs - approximately 80 steps per set and built it up to 10 sets per day and running every other set. He then started adding weight using large pop bottles full of sand in his backpack until he reached 45 pounds and still carried on with the training regimen.

In the end, you cannot over train for the West Coast Trail but the better trained and fit your body, the more you will enjoy the experience. If you decide to employ the services of a personal trainer, you might want to ask if they have hiked the WCT and base your decision on their response. You will want to spend time and money on the right pair of hiking boots; a discussion we will have next week, but wearing your boots during your training program will help break in the boots and your feet for the trials ahead. Put a big emphasis on squats and lunges and start at least 6 months ahead of your trail date so that when the big day arrives you can be excited about the hike instead of worried about your ability.

The West Coast Trail is an outstanding example of a temperate zone rain forest with the bonus of having the Pacific Ocean and all of its raw beauty as a walking companion. Should you plan to hike it? If there is any way possible to add this into your "must do" list, then do it - just say, "YES!"

The author hiked the West Coast Trail several years ago and documented the life changing experience in his book THE WEST COAST TRAIL: One Step at a Time and you can find information here. In addition to a sample of the book, you will find links to the Parks Canada site for more booking and reservation information.