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.
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 »
Weminuche 2021 – Day 5 Over Columbine
December 22, 2021 § Leave a comment
It rained most of the night, but when I awoke it had abated long enough for us to break camp and grab some breakfast. Though the rain had abated it wasn’t done for the day, and we’d be lucky to see the sun at all on this day. We didn’t really have all that far to go with the pass at maybe 2-2.5 and then another 1.5 down the other side. Remember from an earlier post that we were advised to take a site in the upper Chicago Basin where few, if any, of the Needleton access 14er-seekers will bother to hike up to. With a sense of urgency we broke camp while our water heated, and with no sun to dry anything, packed all our wet gear as it was. Sure it would be heavier, but we didn’t have to go far. With the main gear packed we took in our morning breakfasts and coffee drinks; we took care of our morning business and then we were off for Columbine Pass.« Read the rest of this entry »
A Return To Michaux
December 15, 2021 § Leave a comment
The plans for a late Fall adventure began to take shape during the 3 day Indigenous Peoples Day weekend in October when I accepted an invitation (I invited myself) to spend some time with my longtime friends Larry and Melanie Butler at their cabin in the woods behind Woodward, Pa. As it so happened, this was also the weekend of Pennsylvania’s tremendously successful gravel bike ride UnPaved, which Larry and I planned to “Bandit Ride” a shorter segment. I brought all my Pennsylvania Lizard maps with me so we could take some time to glance at “possibilities”.« Read the rest of this entry »
Weminuche 2021- Day 4 Up, Up and Away
December 11, 2021 § Leave a comment
If you recall, we broke two long days into three shorter days, and today was the second of those days, and this day would be nothing but regaining most, if not all of the elevation we lost yesterday. Distance-wise it was a little shorter, but terrain-wise we would hit some big gains in two sets of switchbacks, where I believe each set was 20-30 turns. The feeling was that we would find something between the second and third set where we could pitch our tents, but until we got there, we wouldn’t know. We hadn’t seen anyone we could ask.
The morning was another fine morning where the mountains to our East shielded us from direct sunlight until long after we hit the trail. Our fourth morning, and everything is very routine by now. Before I even leave my shelter, I have dressed, re-stuffed my sleeping bag, deflated the air mattress and returned it to its carry sack, deflated my pillow, and broken down and rolled up my tarp. Then it is time for hot water and a little relaxation while I watch everyone else do their thing. Of course Kevin is already up, as is Jim, and by the time I sit down, everyone is up and moving.« Read the rest of this entry »
Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 3 Easy Peasy
December 9, 2021 § Leave a comment
We met a lot of people on this adventure. Way more than in past adventures excepting Banff. The least number we ever saw was in the High Uintas where we met a Ranger, and then a guide with two charges, all on horseback. After that, nothing. This day would not be a high volume people day, but the two characters we did meet (Father/Son) were a real eye opener.
Our second morning was a little different than our first. For one, we weren’t in a hurry to get over two passes as all we had on the agenda for the day was mostly all downhill, or perhaps it is better to say our net elevation gain today would be a loss. About 1000 feet (304.8 meters) loss. No need to hurry for that. We would probably be done by 1 or 2 and then have the rest of the afternoon to relax, and maybe even cleanup a little in Vallecito river/creek. Another difference was our tree cover was greater, so the view of the surrounding mountains was obscured. That wouldn’t last long once we started to hike, but until that began, we were in the shade of mountains we couldn’t really see, and it was a cool night. I had my usual 3 times up for personal business, and my usual sleep issues, but that doesn’t keep me in bed.« Read the rest of this entry »
Weminuche Wilderness 2021 – Day 2 A Two Pass Day
December 7, 2021 § Leave a comment
It’s been awhile since I last climbed the Continental Divide under my own power. I crossed it as a bus passenger in June, but that doesn’t count in my book. We were in the Pacific drainage when we both started and ended this day, but we hiked in the Atlantic drainage for a short while, which meant that we had two passes ahead of us. I can’t find a name for the first pass, and maybe there is a definition of “Pass” that I am unaware of that this first “Pass” doesn’t meet, but I feel like if I cross from one side to the other, say from one valley to another, that is a pass. The second for our day would be Hunchback Pass. A real name.« Read the rest of this entry »
Mid Fall Long Weekend New Jersey AT Hike
November 30, 2021 § 3 Comments
I was preparing a Purple Carrot dinner when the first group text came in.« Read the rest of this entry »