Considered myself in pretty good shape, but recently did a mountain hike in Alaska that I found extremely difficult. Will be doing more mountain hiking at the end of the year. What is the best way/best exercises to do to prepare yourself physically for mountain hiking.
With mountains of any significance, you have the added complication of acclimatization to the altitude of your objective. This is independent of your physical fitness. For most people, this problem intensifies above 8,000 feet or so.
Adapting to altitude mostly takes time. "Climb high, sleep low" is good advice.
Being fit, of course, is also necessary. Living in Tucson, AZ, elevation 2,500 feet, I could go to the summit of nearby mountains, 9.000 feet +, with a fairly intensive program that involved road cycling and running.
I was just going to say that! (maybe altitude was an issue)
I always recommend lots of walking, inclined stairmaster or treadmill, lots of it.
Followed by a very strict, dedicated, acclimatization regimen, at altitude.
now for some pics
Browsed through my 9th edition of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills and there is an entire chapter devoted to this very issue - Chapter 5: Physical Conditioning.
@YoYo - Freedom of the Hills is an amazing resource. If you are specifically looking to train for higher elevation climbs, check out "Training for the New Alpinism". In addition, TrainingPeaks.com has some great programs. I used TrainingPeaks to train for a Mt. Rainier summit this past summer and it worked very well.
In short - lots and lots of stair climbing combined with aerobic and strength work.
Good luck and enjoy,
A treadmill set to a 10% to 15% incline is great for getting your legs and heart trained for long stretches of climbing. However it doesn't do a complete job.
First, it's a lot different going uphill on a flat surface at a constant incline and pace than it is on a trail that's anything but flat and even.
Second, while this may exercise the muscles you need to go uphill, it does nothing for the different muscles you use on the way down.
To deal with all of these issues, see if you can find a hill in your area. It doesn't have to be high because you want to go up and down several times a session. For added exercise carry a backpack full of weight, e.g. sand bags or gallon jugs of water, etc.
And as others have already said, you need to be acclimated to the altitude, especially at 10,000' and up (although that varies by individual.) For that all I can suggest is arrive a few days early then go on daily hikes of increasing length, ascent/descent, etc. If you've trained well at home you'll get acclimatized that much faster.