Planning a Long AT (Thru?) Hike
June 8, 2023 § Leave a comment
You can read through my entire list of entries and find more than a few dedicated to the Appalachian Trail, however I am nowhere near a “significant” portion of “hiked” when it comes to the full Springer Mountain to Katahdin distance of 2100+ miles. It looks more impressive to say that I have hiked All of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, most of Vermont, and some of PA and Virginia, but that total still doesn’t even add up to the length of the trail in Virginia alone, and that is less than a fourth of the total.
So, as I near retirement, and as each year brings me another year closer to my end of days, and eliminates another year of accomplishments, it seems it might be time to try something, and so I have set in place an initial itinerary for starting a thru hike in 2024, beginning the 2nd of March from Georgia.
First question you might have is “What does that even mean?” If you don’t follow AT Thru-Hiking, then you probably are unaware that it is more popular today than it has ever been before, and with Social Media, and near 100% signal availability, is brought to a viewing public through Video journals on You Tube, as Pictorials in Instagram, and Blogs via any of the many Bloggable platforms available to content providers. For example, this year I have been following Chris Howard on he blog, and last year I followed Hiking Mitch (The Endless Mountains) on Instagram, and Natalie on You Tube, and before that it was Dragon Sky, Dixie, and Rocket. Anyway, what am I getting at? Well, the AT is a limited resource. If a highway interchange consistently has 0 available rooms, someone will build another motel/hotel to cash in. That doesn’t exist on the AT, so the AT Conservancy manages a tool that allows you to create an itinerary where you can plan your journey against everyone else’s planned journey, and they will keep track of all the “sites” you choose for your overnights. This allows them to manage those resources by not allowing someone to select a site that theoretically doesn’t have any available spots for you.
What does that mean? Will there be “Campsite Police” out there making sure only hikers with “Reservations” can stay in any site? No. It’s simply a tool for planning your trip. If there is one take away from nearly 100% of all thru hike attempts, it will be this. No trip goes according to plan, so while you can’t really plan an entire 2200 miles on the trail, you can barely plan 200. It all really depends on what happens on the trail, and how aggressive, or passive your individual plan is.
Now, most of my friends know that I am usually an aggressive planner, however I am going to be 65 next year, and do I really need to be aggressive? I don’t think so. So, there is no reason for me to planning 15-20 miles days in the first month of this adventure. The longer you push it each day, the more the body suffers, and if you really want to make your goals, then you have to choose reasonable goals, and that doesn’t mean simply, reasonable daily goals. It means reasonable weekly goals.
So, what is one of my “reasonable goals”?
- I would like to last at least 1 Month
A month? That’s it? Let’s look at me. Until 2010, almost 100% of my backpacking experience was limited to long weekends. Yes, I did two and half weeks in 1982 on The Long Trail, and yes, I have done a fair number of week long adventures out west in the last 12 years, as well a couple of week long adventures on the AT in Mass and Jersey, but I have not spent that much time, day in and day out camping since I rode across the country in 1981.
Let’s look at another reality. Weather. I have been very very lucky with weather throughout my outdoor adventures. Sure it has rained out West, or snowed, but it hardly ever lasted more than a few hours, and then the sun came out. What didn’t dry immediately, could dry later after we made camp, and if still not dry, then with the aid of a campfire, everything was restored to normal. Even when it snowed all night and most of the day in Banff, we still got a fire going, eventually, and spent all evening drying out before sleeping dry. And we started dry the next day.
The exception was my first attempt to hike the NY section of the AT in 1998 when a tropical storm hit the second morning, and instead of trying to sit it out, I moved out onto the trail and got soaked, eventually abandoning my hike. Bad rain gear, and a bad decision led to that abandon, but the point is this. Georgia in March is wet, and it’s cold, and when it’s wet, it can be wet for a few days, so there is a key to success, and “dry clothes” have to be kept dry, and away from wet clothes, AND, you have to be able to don wet cold clothes (unless you can dry them somehow) and continue on the next day. As long as it isn’t pouring and windy as fuck, if you keep moving, you generate warmth, so you really have to be able to manage the bad times, and I have never really had too many of these bad times. So, I can’t say for sure how I will handle them. I am making some new gear purchases to handle backpacking in the rain better. What does that include you ask? 1. I usually hike in a kilt, so I have rain kilt from Z-Pack. 2. My LL Bean gore-tex rain jacket is now shit, and I have replaced that with a cheaper, and thru-hiker approved solution. 3. I will get the cheap simple pack liners and use them, though I also purchased an insert for my Osprey Pack, though I am not sure I would take my Osprey on this adventure. 4. I might consider a small hiking umbrella as well.
I think a key thing for me, is I feel like I can exist better sleeping in a shelter in the rain, rather than my tent. While I have a vestibule, I am a big human, and I also don’t like mixing “Where I eat” with “Where I sleep”, so at this point, I feel like when it comes to foul weather, I would rather be in a shelter than in my tent, and if I keep my distances low, then maybe, so the thinking goes, I can be first at a shelter, and guaranty a spot inside. That is what I am thinking.
There is another big challenge to get over on a trip like this, and it comes down to what I already know about the AT, and that is this. Except for a small percentage of the time, and this goes just as much for a canopy free forest as well as the full canopied forest, the AT is 95% hiking in a limited sight range under the canopy of trees. While the type of tree may change as you move North, hiking in trees has limited rewards. I contrast that with hiking out West where the visual rewards are almost 100% on all the time. Out West you might complain about too much Sun. That is never an issue on the AT. Another factor on the AT is a lot of the trail was laid out after much deforestation, and so with all the second generation forest, many of the vistas once numerous on many smaller hillocks, are no more, and it feels like the trail takes you up for no reason what so ever. Some of these minor hills aren’t such easy climbs either, so after a few of them it’s easy to start yelling at the trail designers who more than likely are all dead and buried.
What happens if I last a month? To last a month, at the pace I was looking at is about 325 +/- miles and could be in the middle of the Smokies, so clearly at that point the next goal, which really seems pretty straight forward, is to make it to Virginia. Looking back at my first goal, I might ask “Did I already try to chew too much?” One thing to consider here though is that of all the people who do start a thru-hike, many of them quit within the first month, so the point of that note is that the further you survive into a thru-hike, the less congestion there will be for resources. So that impacts just how close I need to try to track my itinerary, and once that is behind me, then it’s simply a matter of assessing my interest in continuing, and then setting the next goal. For example, once I get to Virginia, and since Virginia is 500 miles, it would seem like the next goal would simply be to make it to West Virginia, and Harper’s Ferry. That’s at least another month, and since it will be April, that isn’t a cakewalk, but most of Virginia, once you get into the Shenandoah’s is high up on the ridge, and I have backpacked some of those sections, and they aren’t really that bad. Gradual climbs as I recall.
If I reach Harper’s Ferry, then it’s decision time. Am I done? If I am not done, then continue NOBO, or jump to Maine and do the Flip Flop and hike South from Katahdin back to Harper’s Ferry. I think it will depend on the “when”. What time of year is it? Let’s be reasonable and say I make it to Harper’s Ferry the middle of May. That might be too early to start from Katahdin, and everyone knows that Black Fly season is no fun in Maine, but that begs the question “Are the Black Flies a Coastal thing or a woods thing?” The other thing is to just keep going. Maryland is only 40 miles, and then Pennsylvania another 260. I know what May in PA is like, and it can’t be any worse than Georgia in March. Anyway I like PA.
Another item I haven’t covered here are visits along the trail. Andy is at the beginning, Bill and Lorraine are just off the trail in Weaverville near Ashville NC, and then Terry and Laurie in Smith Mountain Lake Virginia. Of course there will be some time off the trail to see these folks, and not to mention my Northern Virginia backpacking friends when I reach that locale.
So, that is it for now.
The following is what the first 3 days will look like as formatted in my itinerary.
SP Visitor Center
N/A (0.0) Section 1
During the spring thru-hike orientation will be provided
throughout the day at the AFSP Visitor Center. You
should also plan to begin your thru-hike here due to
poor road conditions and limited parking at Springer
(9.0) Section 2 Shelter holds 12 people + 18 tent pads, 2 privies and
3/03/2024 Hawk Mountain
7.90 <<< daily mileage
(16.9) Section 2 <<< total mileage
Hawk Mt. Shelter is likely FULL by 3pm during Feb. 22
through April 18 – use Hawk Mt. Campsite if arriving
later than 3pm. The shelter holds 12 people + 9 tent
sites, privy, food storage cables and spring.
August 20, 2022 § Leave a comment
This is going to be a very short post. I promise.
If you follow my writings then you know that I just finished writing up my adventure from 2021 a few weeks ago. These long multi-day trips become a chore to sit down and compose sometimes, and I don’t want it to seem like I drone on and on about the same old drivel. So I got distracted and didn’t finish documenting last years trip, and then time kept marching forward, as it always does (tick tock), and before I knew it, other adventures had come and gone, and been written up as well. It wasn’t until I rode the Rockies again in June, that I came to realize I needed to finish the 2021 write-up before I began 2022!
So, what is going on in 2022? Well, let’s begin with who is going. There were four people who wanted to go last year, two of whom actually had monies invested in the trip when shit happened. The other two, father and son, had family obligations that kept them away, and so on the second day of our trip last year, amidst the beauty of the San Juans, I decided then and there to come back this year. I wasn’t going to do the exact same trip, but I would plan a new trip and anyone who wanted to join was welcome.
For a while, I had the interest of a couple of campers who came last year, but other things got in the way, and they backed out. So, it is five of us. A pretty nice compact little group. We have Larry and his son Drew, myself and my daughter Alyson, and my friend Mike. Everyone has spent time with me in the back country before, though this is the first time that my daughter has been able to join us again since the Grand Canyon in 2012.
That is the base. I have been in contact with some others that could join us, but as of this writing, I am not sure we will have anyone else just yet. You might be thinking “If they were going to join you why wouldn’t you know that, and since you are in Durango, wouldn’t they have had to make arrangements already?” and you would be right for most people, but the extras I refer to all live in Durango. We shall see what we shall see.
What are we doing? Last year we took the Durango Silverton Diesel to Elk Creek and then backpacked an inverted “C” from West to East to South To West and eventually came out at the “other” stop on the train. So train in, train out. This year we are going to start at Pine River Trail Head, further East and South of our adventure last year, and hike North East for a couple of day, then turning North West to intersect the Continental Divide Trail, which we follow to the Vallecito. If you read last years trip details, then the Vallecito will be familiar, and we will basically then follow the route from last year. The only difference from last year will be instead of a two day Columbine effort, we will do it in one day.
Now, again, if you read last years account, it should be obvious by now that decisions are made on the trail, and last year we made more than a few. I am sure the same will happen here as well. It all depends on how people feel, however we have distance that has to be covered, so there isn’t a lot of room to do less in a day while there is a lot of room to do more. So let’s leave it at that.
We depart into the wilderness next Friday. I am going out tomorrow, and people are joining starting Sunday. There are things to do still to prep, and I will be working still as well. I am not sure at this point if I will post anything more until I return, but …
The Assault on Mount Mitchell 2022 – A Baby Seal was I
July 30, 2022 § 2 Comments
When Terry Downs sent me the registration link, this seemed like a great idea. I was going to sign up for Ride the Rockies again, and having this activity in May would force me to get out there and train, because this beast is a monster. In case you aren’t aware, Mount Mitchell is the highest point East of the Mississippi. The term highest has to be understood. The Appalachian Trail does NOT traverse Mount Mitchell and so Clingman’s Dome (soon to be renamed thus ridding us of another Confederate traitor) is the highest point on the AT. Mount Mitchell Highlands NJ is the highest coastal point South of Maine (Cadillac Mtn though is on an island). Mount Mitchell in NC is the highest thing around for man miles. This ride begins all the way South in Spartanburg South Carolina and generally winds it’s way North and West until it ascends to the Blue Ridge, and then its South to the final climb to the summit. One hundred two miles and more than 10K feet of elevation gain.« Read the rest of this entry »
Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 8 Goodbye Weminuche Wilderness
July 30, 2022 § Leave a comment
Let’s see if this can be a short write-up. Ha!
We awoke with maybe a half a mile to walk to get to the train. The ETA for said train was somewhere around 10:30 in the am, so with all that in consideration, we didn’t feel any sense of urgency, and that showed in just how slow we were moving that morning. There wasn’t really all that much to do. Breaking down camp doesn’t take long. I recall we had enough left over wood that we had a morning fire. Just enough of a blaze to take the chill out of the air when you needed it. Our seats were all right where we left them the night before, so why not simply light it up, turn up the seats, and chill around the fire drinking coffee drinks and eating our last bits of oatmeal?« Read the rest of this entry »
Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 7 Goodbye Chicago Basin
July 29, 2022 § Leave a comment
Once the decision to NOT hike another 14er was made, that made today and easy choice. If you have read any of these posts, for example this, or this, then you know that the conductor on the Durango Silverton Historic Train told us that even though our purchased ticket was a one-way ticket from Needleton to Durango, “IF” we were out there when the train was headed north, we could in fact simply board the train and proceed North to Silverton where the train lays over for two entire hours, and then re-board for the trip back to Durango. So, we had a few options on the table. We could simply remain high in the Chicago Basin, and simply have relaxed all day long, doing nothing, except maybe some local exploring. Door #1. We could pack everything up and hike all the way to the train and get out 1 day early. Door #2. We could pack everything up and hike most of the way out, and find a beautiful site along the Animas River leaving only a half mile to take full advantage of the conductor’s offer. Door #3.« Read the rest of this entry »
Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 6 Wyndom
July 26, 2022 § Leave a comment
When I started planning out this adventure, I allocated two full days in the Chicago Basin for two days of 14er attempts. Even more ambitious was the thought that in those two days, we would bag 4 peaks over 14K! Ha! So naive!
Before going to bed we all agreed that we would NOT be targeting a 4:30am wake-up, but we did agree that we would arise at first light and make a go of it, conceding before we even started, that if we made the summit of 1 14er, then that was accomplishment enough for the day. We also decided that based on the descriptions of all the climbs that were possible, that Wyndom would be our goal.« Read the rest of this entry »
Ride The Rockies 2022 – Day 6
July 25, 2022 § Leave a comment
And we have reached the last day of a tremendous ride in the Rockies. Of course there is still the ride, and that ride includes first getting up and over Loveland Pass, but once that is completed, then it is generally a simple task of losing elevation all the way to Golden. Getting over Loveland would not be a simple task though we all start the day with at least 340 miles in our legs already, and having lifted ourselves up and over the Continental Divide four times already. This is another front-ended climb day that has nothing but downhill afterwards, and on this day there is no forecast for high headwinds. We might hit some weather, but at least we don’t have to fight the wind to get to Golden.« Read the rest of this entry »
Ride The Rockies 2022 – Day 5
July 23, 2022 § Leave a comment
A glorious day!
I tested negative the night before and today was a beautiful rest day. Yes, there was still a ride, but we were looking at 30 miles with only Swan Mountain to climb instead of a longer day that included and out and back to Ute Pass. It is the fifth day of the ride which means it all comes to end on the morrow, but let’s not fret about that just yet. The plan was a simple one. Follow the leaders into Frisco, and Silverthorne and find a place for some coffee, or even a sit-down place to get a bite for either a late breakfast, or an early lunch. It isn’t possible on a trip like this to take in too many calories. Every day of Ride the Rockies is calorie deficit day!« Read the rest of this entry »
Ride The Rockies 2022 – Day 4
July 13, 2022 § Leave a comment
You might think that after 3 days of Ride The Rockies 2022 the body might have it’s own built in escape mechanism where it simply shuts down and like a little kid with its mind set, just simply refuses to do any more. Well, you would be wrong. We all awoke and the RV camp was astir with anticipation for the coming day. Our route would take us back North on 285 to Buena Vista (Remember Jeremy had his room there in yesterdays post. Smart cookie that Jeremy was) where we continued on 285 North, where we would cross Trout Pass, a minor pass that simply separates the head waters of the Arkansas from the headwaters of the South Platte rivers, to Fairplay Colorado where we would leave 285 on Route 9 and climb over the beast, Hoosier Pass to take us back into the Pacific drainage and Breckenridge. There is a lot of Colorado where I haven’t been, but one place I did want to see was this town. I am not a skier, but the town name just exudes ski when you hear it. Kind of like Aspen and Vail, but better. That was my impression at least.« Read the rest of this entry »
Ride The Rockies 2022 – Day 3
July 10, 2022 § Leave a comment
Independence Pass. By just its name, it doesn’t sound that daunting. 12, 095′ sounds a little daunting though, and if Ken’s Epic Ride forecast was still accurate, then we would be in for another long descent into a crossing headwind, though if we started early enough, we might actually get a little assistance on our ascent. I was told that this was the harder side, but maybe, similar to the first day’s route, getting the climb out of the way first would make it less of a hardship. First we had to cover 2000′ in 23 miles to get to Aspen, where the first Aid Station would be setup, and then over the next 16 miles gain the extra 4000′, or 250′ per mile to reach the second Aid Station. When I train in Harriman, we are always impressed that no matter how far we ride there, it always works out to 100′ per mile, and those roads are sometimes pretty steep, so 250′ per mile did sound an alarm in my head. As Ken noted as a comment in my last post, the route designers probably should have considered an additional station somewhere during the ascent as it would take a long time to cover those 16 miles.« Read the rest of this entry »