Appalachian Trail Thru~Hike Update

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… ๐Ÿ™‚

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.ย  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…

The trail winds through 14 different states :

  1. Maine (281.4 miles)
  2. New Hampshire (160.9 miles)
  3. Vermont (149.8 miles)
  4. Massachusetts (90.2 miles)
  5. Connecticut (51.6 miles)
  6. New York (88.4 miles)
  7. New Jersey (72.2 miles)
  8. Pennsylvania (229.6 miles)
  9. Maryland (40.9 miles)
  10. West Virginia (4 miles)
  11. Virginia (550.3 miles)
  12. Tennessee (287.9 miles)
  13. North Carolina (95.5 miles)
  14. 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.

Cosby Knob Shelter on the AT in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

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:

NOBO:
Total Ascent: 629899 ft
Total Descent: 628623 ft

SOBO:
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)ย  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…

 

Gear List Excerpt ~ For Full Gear List Click On Picture Or On Link Below

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:

AT Thru~Hike Gear List

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…

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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24 Responses to Appalachian Trail Thru~Hike Update

  1. Karen Clayton says:

    Thanks for the info. My dad and nephew plan on hiking a section of the trails later this summer. I’ll send them this post. My 13-year-old wanted to go too, but had a conflicting activity. C’est la vie! We hope to make it that way soon. We love hiking and National Parks. That’s what we write about too. Only ours are a little more fictional. Happy Trails!

    https://www.createspace.com/4190049
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0989098605

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  2. Jon Magee says:

    Stick

    I’m a 20 year old definitely dreaming of thru-hiking the AT. Bought a book on preparation today and then stumbled across your blog. I’m in school at LSU and the “itch” has hit me hard haha. I’d love to pick your brain about any and all advice you could give me on how to prepare for it that isn’t here, so get back to me if possible! Hope to hear from you soon.

    Jon

    ***EDITED TO REMOVE PRIVATE EMAIL***

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    • Stick says:

      Jon,

      Great to hear that you are interested in hiking the trail! I would love to thru hike, but it doesn’t look like it will be in the next couple of years… one day though, I will… until then, it will just be sectioning it as I can…

      And feel free to pick my brain anytime! You are welcome to comment on any of my posts and I will be sure to answer any questions that you may have. As well, if you have particular questions which I have not yet posted about on my blog, feel free to email me and I will also get back to you this way. There is a contact button on the right hand side in the top bar of my blog. It will provide you with how to contact me this way.

      Good luck with school, and in your planning!

      ~Stick~

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  3. Josh Barnett says:

    I too plan to thru-hike the AT in 2013. As of now, I am making the trip alone. I wouldnt mind finding someone to make the journey with. If you are interested in having someone hike with you then by all means email me at autigers31c@gmail.com

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    • Stick says:

      Josh,

      Thanks for the offer, but I am not going to be able to do the trail in 2013… I wish you the best of luck on your hike though…

      ~Stick~

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  4. nathaniel says:

    Good luck with ur dream brotha….I’m hitting the trail april 7th of this year…I’ve been planning this for the last 3 years…and let me tell ya.. now that I’m only a month away, I feel like I can’t contain myself…

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    • Stick says:

      Nathaniel,

      Dude, that is awesome! I wish I could be joining you…one day I will get to though…

      I hope that you have a great trip and do stop back in every so often and let us know how it is going! Will you be doing a trail journal or anything similar?

      Happy hiking,

      ~Stick~

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  5. Kerri says:

    I loved your blog! I too am dreaming of hiking the AT. I feel it calling me. I have never been a hiker but all of a sudden it is all I think about– it consumes me! Living in TN for many years the AT was in my backyard and I did very little with it. I now live in Texas and almost mourn the fact that I am not there. I am in the first stage… reading books, watching documentaries and dreaming. I am going on my first weekend hike next week and have no clue what to expect. Everything about your gear I read is so foreign to me… I guess I will learn. My immediate goal is just to begin to hike. I will work my way to the AT; within 2 years is my goal. I have to talkor read about it all the time because I don’t want the desire to go away. I am graduating in May with my Masters Degree and now just want to focus on my physical goals. Thank you for your inspiration, I will check back in!

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    • Stick says:

      Kerri,

      Welcome to the addiction…the itch that you can never scratch… ๐Ÿ™‚

      I hear ya about reading all the books…they are fun…all kinds…guide books, data books, journal entries…everything…I don’t think that you will get out of this “stage”…or maybe I am just still in it yet and haven’t moved on…

      Some of my fun reads were A Walk in the Woods, Three Hundred Zeroes and Just Passin’ Thru. I am actually expecting 3 more books in anytime… Ultralight Backpacking Tips, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide and Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail (Volume 1). Of course I keep a copy of the Companion Guide close by too… ๐Ÿ™‚ And there are more…

      First trip coming up! Sounds exciting… Just remember…ounces add up to pounds… take what you need and nothing more…before packing each thing up in your pack ask yourself do you really need this…

      As far as what to expect…expect to learn…how does your body react to carrying that pack and hiking up that mountain/down that trail? Keep up with your gear and take notes…what worked the way you planned it too, what didn’t? Make a list of all the items you actually did use, and the ones you never did…review those lists the next time you head out on the trail…especially the list of things you didn’t use or you could have done away with… A multiuse item is gold…it means you can leave something else behind… ๐Ÿ™‚

      Take your time…put one foot in front of the other…breathe in and breathe out… take in the beauty that surrounds you and just enjoy yourself. Listen to your body…when it gets tired take a break…when it gets thirsty drink…when it gets hungry, eat…

      It will all be fine…

      Except for the fact that it will be done and you won’t be able to wait to get back out there again…

      Anyway, I hope this helps some…if you have any questions please feel free to ask away. Also, if you are not aware of it, be sure to sign up at the forums over at Backpacker.com and WhiteBlaze.net. There is lots of great people that are quite helpful…of course you have to learn to take them…

      Happy hiking!

      ~Stick~

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  6. gary - aka grouch says:

    Stick,
    It was great to stumble across your blog as I too am in the dream stage of my hiking the AT. Although I am unable to currently hike the trail due to family responsibilities, however I am getting my supplies together and your spreadsheet will be a big help. I have been reading the books and searching the net for information and will now see if I can link up with those actually on the trail and live through their notes. Best too you and your adventure. I will check back and see what progress you are making.

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    • Stick says:

      Gary,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      At this point, I think it may be a little bit before I get to hike the trail. Mostly because I have come to realize that I don’t think I will be able to be away from my family for that long. So, it may take me some time to get to the point to where I can (unless I can talk my wife to going with me…)

      This was a hard thing for me to admit because I really want to thru hike the trail. However, I do realize that I need to be prepared in every way before stepping out. I don’t want to spend all that time and money to plan a 6 month hike and then call it quits the first week out…

      So, I will just have to see how things go. But one day….

      Good luck to yourself as well. If you have any questions feel free to ask me and I will do my best to help you out. As far as my gear list. It is still in the making. But the list I have posted is a fine list (at least I think so). Some things though will more than likely change…

      Thanks agian,

      ~Stick~

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  7. Man… you are so awesome and a great writer. I would love to talk by phone either soon… or when I get done. Thanks for the reference… and stay tuned.

    Supa Chef – from Standing Bear Farm

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    • Stick says:

      Supa Chef,

      Maybe one day we can get out on a hike. What do ya say about rehiking the trail in 2013?! And yea, I would love to pick your brain about the hike…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  8. John Roan says:

    Chad,

    You might call me your western counterpart…I very much want to thru-hike the 2663 mile PCT, but won’t be doing it quite as soon as your AT hike. You see, I need to support getting my kids through college before I disappear for half a year. Do it while you can my friend! I will be boarding on being an ‘old man’ before I do it! Never the less, my summer trips will get longer and longer, and I will live vicariously through people like you who are actually going to ‘do it’ relatively soon!

    Keep working on your gear to be both light and durable, and spend as much time in advance getting your body in shape as yu can. I’m looking forward to following your preparation and progress!

    John

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    • Stick says:

      John,

      It is not “soon” enough, but I hear ya! There is a slight possibility it could be pushed back a year, but not if I will continue to push and work hard and simply do what I have set out to do. It can definitely be done…just gotta do it… ๐Ÿ™‚ So, I hear ya on taking care of business first.

      I would like to head out west and hike some, and I have plans to do the Wonderland Trail next year, but I may push it aside and focus on my thru~hike first. In my head I can’t imagine the trails out west, at least not compared to the AT. I have heard that they are not that simple…

      I do plan on continuing to fine tune all of the gear I plan to take. And I want to say thanks to you. I pretty much used your gear list on your site as my gear template for a while, until I put it all on a spreadsheet. But it helped me. I am very thankful for everyones blogs such as yours. Very informative.

      So, thanks for stopping by and good luck to you on your future hikes, including the PCT thru…

      Chad

      Like

  9. Same here Stick…hit the Carolina’s and I will be there…Need a trail name though!:)…I have not officially been on the AT at all yet, so it’s not permitted…haha…I, like you am very new to hiking/backpacking/camping/gear, etc. However, I have zero desire to hump the full AT. Not that I don’t think I could do it. I just don’t have that desire. I like 2 day, 3 day, week, two week hikes. The thru hike on the AT just isn’t something I want to do. So, tell me…what is it that drives a person to want/have to do the entire thru hike? My goals are a bit behind yours. As I have said, I have had several set-backs, but am on track. My first step on a stint of the AT will be on the Nantahal Headwaters Loop which is a three day, 25 mile hike the week of Sept. 23, 2011…Till then, I will be hitting a lot of the local places as well as the family land refining my skills and gear…Maybe the AT thru bug will get me one day! Ha! Seriously though…hit me up when you hit NC…The headquaters of the company I work for is in Suwanee, GA…I should be down that way in the next month or so…

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    • Stick says:

      Patrick,

      That is a tough question to answer…Something inside me just wants to do it, all…since I first heard of people doing it, I imagined it as an adventure that I wanted to partake of, a test to see if I can actually do it, and for the beauty that it is….

      And of course I will give you a call when I get in your neck of the woods! But hopefully we can get together sometime before then and do a few miles of the trail…

      Chad

      Like

    • Ha…I’m easily persuaded in certain things…I got to youtubing some people on the AT…I thing I see myself atleast wanting to do it…Just don’t know how I could ever make that happen though…So, I must ask…what kind of work do you do where you can request six months off? Also, where abouts from Suwanee, GA to live? Approx.

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    • Stick says:

      Not sure where Suwanee GA is, but I am about 10 minutes from TN and 20 from AL, so the very corner of NE MS. It takes me about 6 hours to drive to Gatlinburg and it took me the same amount of time to drive to Fontana a few weekends ago. I can be in Atlanta in about 4 1/2 hours, but that is really pushing it…

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    • Lynn says:

      Patrick, thought I’d let you know, Suwanee is in my county and is a suburb of ATL on the NE side of the city. It takes us about 5-7 hours to get to Mississippi depending on where in MS you’re going. As a point of reference, it takes us 45 minutes to get to Atlanta proper but I’m guessing it takes 30 from Suwanee.

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  10. Raul says:

    when you make it to NY in 2013 I’d be happy to hike a section or the entire state with you. Well I’d try and keep up since by then your legs will be made of steel.

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  11. Heber says:

    I salute you for your goal. Wish I were going with you. You’re doing a great job on gear prep as far as I can tell. But here’s a thought maybe you should consider.

    Gear planning is the funnest part of getting ready for a long-distance hike but it may not be the most important. If you look at the people who don’t finish it isn’t because of their gear. It’s their bodies. On trailjournals.com you read a lot about hips, knees, feet and other problems. These are overuse injuries because their bodies were not used to the workload day after day.

    If I were you I would start a running program. Build up to where you can do 50 or 60 miles a week. Isn’t that about what you are planning on doing (at least)? Post your progress here and we’ll follow along as you build up endurance.

    Hope I’m not being to preachy here. After all I’ve never done a thru-hike. But I know about overuse injuries. I’d just like to see you complete the hike so I can live it along with you by proxy ๐Ÿ™‚ Best I can do until I get the opportunity to do it myself.

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    • Stick says:

      Heber,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      And you make a very valid point. I have also experienced some overuse injuries first hand. On the first hike my wife and I did, I experienced some knee pain like I had never felt before…and that was simply on a 40 mile hike! However, at the moment I am not on a set training program, but I do understand that this is something that I need to get going, and obviously the sooner the better!

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      Chad

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