Hiking The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is one of the world’s longest hiking routes on the planet. It stretches some 2,200 miles through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. You’ll be testing your wits and skills in trekking, navigating woodlands rich with natural hazards. On the plus side, you’ll reward yourself with amazing views that only this part of the world can offer. Very few can complete the entire length of the trail. Most of the 3 million hikers who trek the Appalachian only complete a portion of it. If you’re committed to making the journey, here are pearls of wisdom that you can heed. These are all you need to know about hiking the Appalachian Trail.
When And Where To Start The Hike
There are two trailheads on the Appalachian Trail. One is in Georgia while the other is in Maine. On average, the journey can take you about 6 months to complete. The fastest trek on the trail is set by Karl Meltzer in 2016. Meltzer completed the end-to-end journey in almost 46 days, covering about 48 miles of land per day.
The length of your trek depends on one major factor: weather. If you are going to start at the southern end of the trail in Georgia, you’ll want to start trekking as early as late winter or as late as early spring. This way you will arrive at Mount Katahdin in Maine right before heavy snow starts piling up in the north. If you decide to start at the northern end of the trail in Maine, you’d want to start your hike in the summer. As you hike towards the south, the trail will be much cooler by then. You can also start in the fall. However, it is best to move as fast as possible. This is to make sure that you will be out of the cold north by the time winter sets in.
On the technical aspects of the trail, Mount Katahdin can offer substantial challenges. Baxter State Park Authority classifies Katahdin’s trails as very strenuous. As such, many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers reserve the northern end of the trail for last. This means they will move from south to north, starting in Georgia’s Springer Mountain.
Bring Only The Absolute Essentials
If you can imagine traveling through the wilderness for 6 long months, you’ll think you have to bring with you supplies that can last that long. On the contrary, this is where your camping and hiking skills can come in. We always hear people about the need to travel light. In this case, you cannot afford to travel extra-light. You cannot also afford to pack all of your 6 months’ worth of supplies. If you do so, you will not be able to move that fast. You will also tire fast. It is for this reason that you have to strategize.
It is best to pick a backpacking backpack that is lightweight yet very durable. There are plenty of ultra-light backpacks in the market today. Pick functionality over style. Also invest in lightweight sleeping bags, camping stoves, and other hiking and camping essentials. These will help you move faster while reducing the wear and tear on the body. If you can limit your load to 25 pounds or less, then you might be able to complete the 2,200-mile trek.
It is okay to bring a few modern luxuries with you, as long as they don’t weigh you down. For example, having a portable camping coffee maker can be a great way to perk up your mornings on the trail. This should help you get all revved up for the hike. A lightweight folding camping chair can also be handy when enjoying the view from your campsite.
You Can Ditch The Tent
A sturdy and reliable camping tent is something that all hikers need whenever they go on a 6-month long journey. But did you know that the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail features at least 250 huts that you can call your temporary shelter? These huts can serve as “homes” for the hikers that pass through the trail.
In theory, there should be one of these huts every 8 miles or so of trail. However, some huts or cabins are more distant than the others. This is often dependent on the existing terrain and the availability of fresh water. As such, there are cabins that can be 30 miles from each other. It is for this reason that you may still want to bring your lightweight tent with you.
On the other hand, it is also possible to plan your hike well ahead of time. On your map, you can determine the location of these 250 or so cabins. This will help you determine how many miles you need to cover each day so that you will always end the day at a cabin on the trail. If you can get this right, then you can leave your tent at home.
Condition Yourself For The Hike
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not like walking 2,200 miles of concrete pavement. You’ll be hiking up uneven terrain, while always on the lookout for potential hazards on the way. During the first days of the hike, you’ll feel very exhausted. You may feel as if your body is already trying to give up. As you enter the second week of your journey, your body may have already adjusted to the rigors of the hike. It is possible that you may want to make up for lost time or make advances in your hike.
Rather than starting your trek at a snail’s pace, you may want to hit the ground running from day 1. As such, it pays to start hiking on a local trail about a week before you take on the Appalachian Trail. Make sure to carry your full gear (hiking shoes, hiking pants, hiking gloves etc.) when you head out on these practice hikes. This will acclimatize your body to the demands of the trail. Make sure to include cycling and running into your pre-hiking training. This will help strengthen the muscles of your legs while building your cardiovascular endurance.
Once you’re done with the week-long preparatory training, you’re more than ready to conquer the Appalachian.
Watch Out For Bears
The Appalachian Trail is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the United States. It is not uncommon that you may meet a deer, raccoon, or squirrel along the way. There are also snakes and other creatures. But there is one inhabitant that you have to be wary of – bears. Compared to the bears of the West Coast, however, the Black Bears of the Eastern seaboard are not aggressive. In fact, they tend to be shy. But, there’s one thing they are notorious for and that is the love searching for food at campsites.
It is for this reason that you should bring bear canisters with you to store your food and other items that may attract these bears. The 5-mile stretch from Neel Gap and Jarrard Gap in the Chattahoochee National Forest is one section of the trail where bear canisters are an absolute must. Whenever you’re in New Jersey, the Shenandoah, and the Smokies, make sure to have these canisters ready. Also, make sure you bring bear spray just in case you need protection.
Protect Yourself From Tick-Borne Diseases
Bears aren’t the only creatures you need to be wary of in the Appalachian Trail. You also need to protect yourself from ticks. This is most prevalent in the section of the trail in the areas of Vermont and Virginia. This doesn’t mean there are no ticks elsewhere in the rest of the trail, though. There are, except that they are not as prevalent as those from these two states.
Ticks carry germs that cause Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, just to name a few. It is important to bring with you a pair of tweezers so you can remove the tick from your body. Don’t attempt to pull it out with your bare hands as you may leave the mouth parts in your skin. Also, make sure to check your tent and your sleeping bag for ticks before you call it a night.
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants can help prevent these parasites from biting onto your exposed skin. You can also apply permethrin or insect repellent on your clothing. This can help prevent ticks from biting you.
Don’t Forget The Permits
There are several national parks along the Appalachian Trail. In order for you to pass, it is important to get a permit. It’s more than a mere pass, however. This will also give you the chance to avail of the various amenities that these parks offer. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and the Baxter State Park will all require you to obtain a permit to enter the park grounds.
Hiking the entire 2,200-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail is no small feat. It takes months of preparation to make it from end to end. With this guide, you’re now that much closer to your dream of becoming a 2,000-miler.
- 16 Things 2018 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Need to Know, The Trek
- Hiking the Appalachian Trail: What You Really Need to Know, Wander Wisdom
- Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail: What You Need to Know, A World to Travel