Can you imagine what it would be like to take that first step from Springer Mountain…the thoughts rattling inside your head…pure excitement, wonder and awe, lifting one foot at a time and placing it in front of the other…eager to see what’s around the next corner…but not too eager to miss what’s in front of you at the moment…every step laid out before you and waiting for you…on the continuous footpath that leads from Georgia to Maine…
When I first started this blog, all I could think about was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, and to this day, I still find myself thinking about this, a lot… Also, this time of the year happens to be an inspiring time for any would-be thru~hiker. This is the time of the year that hikers begin their journey north, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. So, for the would-be thru~hiker (me) this time of the year really gets our brain to itching…
My goal is to thru~hike this trail, from one end to the other, at one time in the year 2013. Last year, 1,460 people set out from Springer Mountain in Georgia to accomplish the same task I am planning to do, but only 349 people were able to complete the entire trail. This clearly shows that people get off the trail for many different reasons; some which cannot be helped (such as injury), but some that can be (such as ill-planning). For this reason, I am planning as much of my trip as I can now. I am getting prepared. (For more stats click here.)
By planning, I mean there are numerous things I am currently doing. For instance, I am following others hikes (such as Wallace & Annette Hunters current AT thru~ hike) and learning what works for them, and most importantly, why it works. I also study other people’s gear list which have already successfully hiked the trail. Of course I read books by people who have thru-hiked as well as stories and even other people’s blogs on the net. As well, Trailjournals offer some nice insights and offer nuggets that can make you aware of the simple things overlooked. I also enjoy hanging out in backpacking forums and asking questions and just reading everyone elses thoughts on everything from gear to, well… there are a lot of things discussed in the forums… 🙂
Now I know that simply reading about it will not necessarily prepare me for the trail, so I like to take every opportunity I get to try out my gear. Also, testing my gear may not always be out on the trail somewhere…I have been known to sleep outside in my yard on many a night. But I get a feel, a personal understanding on how the actual gear works for me, which is very important. Finding out that a sleeping pad doesn’t keep my bum warm in the field is something that can easily be dealt with before I get on the trail. So, I try out my gear first, before I need to rely on it.
On another note, I have come across a lot of stories of how people simply packed a bag and headed out on the trail and some have made it. So, in this light, there is obviously a bit of luck that can go along with the journey… I am just hoping that I can use my share of luck on things that I really need it for, like finding that ride into town 5 miles away after hiking in the rain for 4 days, while everything I own is soaked and I’m cold… Just sayin’…
So, after all of that, what is the Appalachian Trail? As can be seen from the map below, it is a continuous footpath that leads from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. The trail is, on average, 2,175 miles long, however, this figure is subject to change at any given time due to rerouting/maintenance of the trail. And if your curious, it takes approximately 5 million steps to complete the trail…
- Maine (281.4 miles)
- New Hampshire (160.9 miles)
- Vermont (149.8 miles)
- Massachusetts (90.2 miles)
- Connecticut (51.6 miles)
- New York (88.4 miles)
- New Jersey (72.2 miles)
- Pennsylvania (229.6 miles)
- Maryland (40.9 miles)
- West Virginia (4 miles)
- Virginia (550.3 miles)
- Tennessee (287.9 miles)
- North Carolina (95.5 miles)
- Georgia (76.4 miles)
*Mileages taken from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy site.
Other than this, the trail also crosses through 6 National Park systems, 8 National Forests, and numerous other state and local forests and park systems.
Regardless of how unseemingly long this foot path is, following the trail is quite simple. There are some 165,000 (+/-) white blazes painted onto trees, rocks, roads, posts, and no telling what else along the entire trail. So, to get from one end to the other, all one has to do is to simply follow the white blazes… And if you need a break along the long, winding trail, there are 250+ shelters, lean-tos and huts along the trail, spaced out on average between 8 – 12 miles apart. These structures are generally open, three-walled structures with a wooden floor, although some shelters are much more complex in structure.
As far as the trail itself, there are quite a few ups and downs along the entire trail (which does well to rival their bigger brothers in the west). It is said that the “hardest” sections of the AT are at each end of the trail, with the “easier” section being in between. The climb out of Georgia is quite tough (I have experienced this for myself) but they say that the trail leading out of Maine is a little tougher. There is some theory that this is one reason most hikers begin NOBO (North Bound) rather than SOBO (South Bound).
The net elevation gain and loss of the entire trail has been debated, but I have not found a source that is definite. In one thread on WhiteBlaze.net, one poster has stated this:
Total Ascent: 629899 ft
Total Descent: 628623 ft
Total Ascent: 628546 ft
Total Descent: 629832 ft
As well, in that same thread another poster stated that according to a November 2008 edition of Backpacker magazine, the elevation change of the AT is 515,000 feet. Also, just reading though some of the other post in the same thread, others have said that it is “91 vertical miles” and even “14-17 Everest summits.” How true any of this is, I haven’t a clue. But what I do know is that the lowest elevation the AT reaches is 124 feet which is located at Bear Mountain Bridge which crosses the Hudson River in New York, and the highest is 6,625 feet which is when the trail crosses over Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National park in Tennessee. And the AT bounces all over the place between these two elevations…
So, as you can see, the Appalachian Trail (or simply referred to as the “AT” by hikers) is a lot of trail! And this amount of trail, along with the estimated 2-3 million visitors which hike a portion (or all) of the Appalachian Trail each year, requires quite a bit of maintenance. So, to do this, the trail is maintained by a variety of citizen organizations, environmental advocacy groups, governmental agencies and individuals as well as 31 trail clubs. Annually, more than 4,000 volunteers contribute over 175,000 hours of effort on the Appalachian Trail, an effort coordinated largely by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) organization.
So, now that you know a little about the AT, you may or may not understand my desire to hike this trail. God has given us a beautiful world and the AT is a footpath which gives us a glimpse at a tiny portion of that gift, regardless of how long the actual trail measures. I want to spend time out in the mystery. I want to experience the joys of “sleeping with the trees” and then waking up with the smell of wildflowers in my nose and watching the sun light spill over the mountain crest. I want to look down at the top of the clouds as they are caught between ridge lines, and then to watch them as they gently flow over those ridge lines like waterfalls…
So, I am preparing. The biggest part of my preparation at this time is my gear. At this point there is no reason for me to prepare for my meal plans, and to plan an actual hiking itinerary would be futile (although some may disagree). I will begin planning my meal plan towards the end of next year since at this point I plan on using mail drops to replenish my food supplies. And as far as planning an itinerary, well, I will take it one day at a time.
But my gear selections, well I can start preparing this. Heading NOBO from Springer Mountain the first normal stopping point is about 30 miles up the trail, at an Outfitter called Mountain Crossings which is located at Neel’s Gap. (The trail actually goes right through this building, pretty cool!) The staff here “evaluates over 500 packs each year and ships back over 9000 lbs of gear from the store.” That’s a lot of gear, but it’s because many people begin with way too much gear. As well, the staff here will help to outfit hikers with more appropriate gear if needed/wanted. So, my goal at this time is to take the very long amount of time I have until my thru and properly evaluate my gear to begin with. By doing this, I will save myself time and money, as well as undue misery due to hiking with poor fitting gear, or gear that simply does not work, and not to mention from carrying a much too heavy load! Now this is not to say that I will eliminate every possible problem, there is always potential for gear failures, and especially on this long of a hike, but by doing this I will eliminate the obvious ones.
At this point, I have already upgraded much of my gear that I initially bought, however, there is still more that I plan on upgrading for use on my thru (about $1000 more). A great way to keep up with and to plan this is to simply use a Spreadsheet Document and lay it all out there. Using a Spreadsheet Document is nice because I am able to plug-in formulas to do all of my calculations for me. I had previously been using a simple Word Document and while it was simpler to use than the Spreadsheet Document, I quickly tired of the constant recalculations. So, last night I sat down and finally decided to tackle the Spreadsheet…
So, I have finally gotten my gear list on a Spreadsheet Document that is simple for me and I can go thorough it rather quickly to evaluate many different aspects of my gear. Plus, since I am still testing out what gear works for me, I can very easily make changes and the formulas will take care of all the hard work! If you are interested, my full gear list can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
As for other details, my wife will drive me to the trail head near Springer Mountain either March 3rd or the 10th to begin my NOBO hike, although being the amount of time between now and then, the date is still not set in stone. And since my wife will not be joining me on the hike, she will be able to handle/ship all of my mail drops for resupply, so that will be a great help. As well, she will also be at the house to keep everything going smooth there too while I am away. Of course though, she and my children will drive up and meet me as much as possible, and she has agreed to even hike small sections of the trail with me so that will be nice. As far as time planned to hike the trail, I am estimating 4 1/2 months of actual hiking. However, I am going to request off 6 months from work so that I will have some time before I head out on my hike as well as a few weeks at the end before I have to go back.
So, anyway, I have been in deep-thought recently about my thru~hike and wanted to share my thoughts and my “progress” so far. If you have any questions please feel free to post them below and I will get back to you!
Thanks for reading…