I’ve decided to document my journey along the AT in various ways: Photography, A trail Journal, blog posts, and maybe a video of the journey on the trail. In the next few months I’m going to be posting about why I want to hike the AT, the things that I’m working on along the way to prepare, and about the trail itself. And the best place to begin this tale is with a simple introduction: What is the Appalachian Trail?
Starting from Springer Mountain in Maine, all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine, the trail snakes its way through the Appalachian mountains for 2184 continuous miles through national parks, highways, and some of the most scenic forest of the Eastern United States. From the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee with its early snows and cold winds, if you’re leaving early in the year like I am, to McAfee’s Knob in Virginia that overlooks one of the most iconic vistas on the trail, to the wetlands of New Jersey where you follow planks of wood inches above the marshy water. The trail comes across all strains of wildlife from across the east coast such as black bears, white tailed deer, red winged blackbirds, and copperhead rattlesnakes. I’ll be walking the trail from winter into spring into summer, and one of the joys I’m looking forward to is watching not only the landscape change and shift as I make my way north, but enjoy the melting snows and warmer climbs that will bring the trail to life as I move further along.
It’s not the only major trail in the United States. Existing as one of the Triple Crown of Hiking in the United States, the AT is one of three. The Triple Crown consists of The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail (2654 Miles), and the Continental Divide Trail (3100 Miles). These three trails represent the three greatest sets of continuous trails in the United States and are known as one of the premier challenges in backpacking for those who want to thru hike, walk from beginning to end continuously. Only about 400 people are known to have completed thru hikes of all three trails. Understandable since completing all three would take a little under two years for the average thru hiker.
The Appalachian trail was completed in 1937, and since then has gone through numerous reroutings, iterations, and changes since then. It’s inspired books, movies, and documentaries aplenty, and holds a special place in the collective culture of backpacking in the US. Although the other two may be more intense and more spectacular in their vistas and in their routes in certain ways, neither holds the place or the recognition that the AT does in the collective subconscious of trails. Countless backpackers have looked at the trail with longing and dreamt of striding across its rocky vistas and dirt roads, going the distance from beginning to end while only actually ever seeing one small sliver.
You can thru hike the trail one of three ways: Flip Flopping by doing one half of the trail, typically hiking north from Harper’s Ferry, then south from the same point. You can do a northbound, or NoBo, hike from Springer Mountain in Georgia going, wait for it, North to Maine. Or you can go Southbound, or SoBo, from Mount Katahdin to Springer Mountain. Any way you slice it though, you’re going 2200 miles on foot and it’s gonna be a trek.
I personally am planning on a Northbound Hike. This is the most commonly chosen option, but I’ll be leaving February 23rd, not as common. Leaving so early in the winter, I’ll have to face snow, ice, wind, and some serious cold going through the smokies on my first month to two months, but this will allow me to get out ahead of the pack and find myself solo for more of the hike. Every year thousands of hikers attempt the trail, but only about 25 percent end up completing it. By leaving early, I'll be dealing with harsher weather, and will have less support from trail angels and other fellow hikers out and about, but I will get more of the thing that I’m going out for: Quiet and Solitude.
I’ve heard that the trail can get a little bit of a party atmosphere at certain times of high density hiking, especially towards the beginning, and I’d really like to avoid that. One of my major goals on this hike is to reflect and be a little more isolated from other people and I’d rather not start, only to find myself in a crowded shelter every night.
This is not the very beginning of my journey to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’ve already spent months researching, talking to previous thru hikers, and getting gear, But it is where I will begin to document my steps towards that sign in Maine, and the things that I’ll be learning along the way. This is the first of many posts leading up to the hike, and a prep for my trail journal that I’ll be posting as I make my way on foot from North to South.
This is the beginning stages of this Journey and I’m thoroughly excited, and I hope that you’re excited to come with me. Happy Adventuring Friends!
P.S. The trail is maintained by countless thousands of volunteers, as well as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. If you’d like to learn even more about the trail, do your own thru hike, or donate to keep the trail pristine give it a look here!