The Appalachian Trail was where it all started for me.
It’s America’s greatest classic hiking trail.
I had heard of the Trail before I even dreamed of the concept of long-distance hiking.
They call it the long green tunnel.
It’s near the East Coast, but it’s far from the city.
It’s the hideout where millions go every year to escape, to find perspective.
“Remote for detachment
narrow for chosen company
winding for leisure
lonely for contemplation
leads not merely north and south
but upward to the body, mind and soul of man” ~ Harold Allen
1) My Embarrassing First Backpacking Trip was an Idiotic Disaster
2) Alone in the Woods at Night – My First Solo Backpacking Trip
3) Hello World! …this was My First Post on the Internet
4) Master Using it and You Can Have This
5) George McFly Would Say I Found My “Density”
Hiking the Appalachian Trail – 2001
1) Vasque Sundowner Boot Camp
2) I Get a Trail Name
3) Hiking in Flip-Flops
4) Gone to Carolina
5) Old Smoky
6) Wingfoot, Baltimore Jack, and Maximus Patch
8) Trail Daze
9) The Grayson Highlands
10) Sleeping with Cows
11) Fierce Goats with Big Pointy Tongues
What is the Appalachian Trail?
(in honor of Bob Cummings)
When the AT first piqued my curiosity in the late 90’s, there was only one active forum on the internet about it – the old Trailplace.com. The site was set up by Dan “Wingfoot” Bruce, but he has since retired and sold the site.
One day somebody asked a question there, and a fellow that went by the trailname of “Weary” (Bob Cummings) had such a beautiful answer that I think it’s worth sharing here. Weary passed away in 2016 and was an exceedingly active Maine environmentalist and journalist.
Is the AT a wilderness trail or is it a tourist trap?
THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL is a nearly 2,200-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine, bisecting most of the wildest country remaining in the Eastern United States. The trail follows the bony backbone of the Appalachian Mountains, the eroded remains of peaks that once stood higher than Everest.
The trail is many things. It’s 40,000 white blazes on trees, rocks and fence posts; and an estimated five million footsteps. It’s also spectacular mountain vistas, wild forests, and great beds of wildflowers – trilium, delicate mountain bluets, wild iris, pink lady slippers, trail side mayflowers, startling bright blaze mountain azaleas, and brilliantly white flowering dogwood.
The trail is walks through national parks and forests; walks past hill farms and woodlots, and occasionally down main streets of quiet mountain towns.
The trail is brisk cold days of early spring, March snows, chilly April rains, the heat of summer and the beauty of a New England autumn. It’s walks above the clouds, through the clouds – and occasionally into cloudbursts.
The trail is a giant black snake, imitating a rattler, rustling dry oak leaves as a hiker eases by; and it’s two bear cubs scurrying up twin saplings, while the old sow disappears into the brush – only to be heard scuffling in the distance, circling to protect her babies.
The trail is the sound of a partridge seeking a mate, drumming on a hollow log, sounding like a malfunctioning chainsaw to one puzzled hiker.
It’s the cry of a pileated woodpecker, its red crest flashing through an ancient and decaying forest, the faint gobbles of a wild turkey on a brisk spring morn, and the slow circling of a hawk, seeking its supper. And it’s a tiny, gray bird flying through the feet of a startled hiker from a trail side nest, filled with the mouths of hungry nestlings.
The trail is the hulks of four 60-year-old cars rusting away in an ancient farm pasture, now part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
And it’s a cooking pot one chilly spring morning in Georgia, and the yodeling of a coyote heard from a remote mountain shelter.
The trail is also 4,000 volunteers clearing blowdowns, brush and thistles while battling black flies and mosquitoes – and sometimes angry hornets – part of the greatest volunteer recreational project in history.
And it’s four million day hikers, out for a summer’s walk. Some two thousand thru-hikers, of which a 100, maybe 200, will actually reach the trail’s end on Katahdin.
The trail each year attracts a community of people: a few thousand with a dream of walking through these wilds for months on end from a wooded mountain in Georgia, north through spring, summer, and early fall, to a barren and often icy summit in Maine; many more out just for a day, a weekend or a week of respite from civilization.
The trail is a community of hikers enjoying the beauties of nature, and sharing concerns, blisters, adventures, sore toes, sprained knees, and the wonders of a wild country. it’s two 20-year-olds jogging to catch Solo Sal, a 62-year-old retired school teacher who had left her tent poles behind.
It’s an 80-year-old-retired grocer in North Carolina offering a hiker from Maine “a ride to the top of the hill.” Some hike alone, others with friends, lovers, relatives – or strangers met a few moments, or a few days earlier on the trail. All share a common experience, a common adventure. All join in each others successes and tribulations, share meals when supplies when low, and lament the mishaps and illnesses. Trail registers are filled with words of encouragement for those left behind.
Like the hay mowers on Robert Frost’s New England hill farms, the people who hike the trail, hike together, “whether together or apart.”
Quick Facts: The Appalachian Trail…
- is about 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine
- passes through 14 states
- is used by millions of people each year, mostly day hikers
- was the vision of Benton Mackaye, but it was Myron Avery that spearheaded the trail’s completion in 1937
- ranges in elevation from 6,643 feet above sea level at its highest point (Clingman’s Dome in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park) to 124 feet over the Hudson River in New York
- is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy under the eye of the National Park Service
- was first accepted to have been “thru-hiked” in one continuous trip by Earl Shaffer in 1948
- takes most folks 5-7 months to thru-hike from Georgia to Maine, or vice-versa
- was done by Karl Metzer in 2016 in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes… the current fastest-known-time or “FKT”
Unfortunately nobody seems to keep records of the “Slowest Known Time.”
Guides, Maps, and Resources
These days the internet is over-saturated with resources about “How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.”
For more about the reality and logistics of thru-hiking, first go to Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s site.
Assuming you already know the fundamentals of backpacking, the following is all you should need (And what I would use if I did it all over again, despite all the other guides out there):
The AT GUIDE by David Miller