Saturday, March 5, 2011

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail bit by bit

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,181 mile continuous footpath extending from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mt. Katahdin Maine.  The AT is a popular trail for hikers all year long, but every year a select group of people decide to thru-hike it - walk the entire trail.  This can be a life changing experience.  They spend 5-6 months on the trail, spending time alone with their own thoughts or hanging out with other hikers.  Many people also hike the trail in sections, they are called section-hikers.  These people either have no wish to spend 6 months hiking or can't because of other committments.  In either case, it is no easy task to walk 2,181 miles.

Ever since I knew what the AT was, I wanted to hike the whole thing.  One day I will thru-hike the trail, but for the moment I am section hiking it.  To date I have hiked 260 miles - I have a long way to go!  Actually the total number of miles I have actually walked might be double that.  I usually do out and back hikes, where I hike the same section on the return trip.  I have also repeated several sections that I liked.

trail running on the AT

On the trail people bring camping gear, and can generally stop and camp at any point (although sometimes not legally).  It is far easier to stay at the shelters though.  These are located 5-15 miles apart and provide a nice place to camp, without having to set up a tent.  There are downsides to staying at the shelters though.  For one thing there are mice, and you must protect your food from them.  For another, it can be noisy if there are other hikers there.

Typical shelter

I am always amazed at the people I meet on the trail, they are from all walks of life.  However, when they are on the trail - they assume another identity.  Thru-hikers have trail names and will introduce themselves with their trail names on the trail.  In fact, many thru-hikers don't know their hiking friends real names.

Turtle and Trailbug

My own hike of the trail has been a mixture of traditonal overnight backpacking, day hiking, and trail running.  I can usually get the most miles in trail running, often doing 20+ miles in a day.  However there is just something nice about staying overnight on the trail.  Relaxing by a campfire after a hard day on the trail, that is what backpacking is all about.

The AT is blazed with rectangular white blazes.  If you want to hike the entire trail, just follow them and don't stop until you get to Maine!

If you would like to do a hike on the AT I suggest you get a guidebook.  The one I recommend is called The AT Guide.  It has all the logistical information on the trail that you need.  And remember, hike your own hike!

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