The Appalachian Trail (the AT) is a hiking trail in the eastern part of the United States, which extends from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The trail runs through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Map of the Appalachian Trail - Google
I became interested in this phenomenon after reading Cheryl Strayed’s book entitled “Wild,” a memoir of her 94-day walk on the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast. If I were younger, I believe I would walk the 2,185 miles on the east coast as it is closer to home. However, I do not intend to become the first 84-year-old woman to accomplish this feat.
A Hiking Trail
The AT is called a hiking trail because neither bicycles nor any transport with wheels are allowed except in two designated areas. Horses are also banned in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through which a section of the trail extends. This is in contrast to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which allows horses and is thus termed a hiking and equestrian trail.
The Northward Trail
Most hikers begin their trek in Georgia and hike northward to Maine, usually starting in March or April. They may encounter temperatures that reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; water bottles or water filters are necessary to prevent dehydration. As the hikers proceed north, colder temperatures and even snow accompanied by poor visibility can prove to be a danger.
“Thru hikers” complete the entire trek in one attempt. A thru-hike takes about five to seven months to accomplish, although some hikers are able to complete it in three months. The hiker needs about $3000 to finance a thru-hike if he wants to have a more comfortable trip. This amount does not include the necessary gear which he has purchased previously. In 1948, Earl Shaffer from Pennsylvania brought national attention to the AT by accomplishing the first documented thru-hike. Since 2006, there has been an increase in the thru-hike completion rate to 29% from the previous rate of 15%.
Appalachian Trail Sign - Wikimedia
Those who choose to hike just on a certain portion of the Trail are known as “section hikers.” Inclement weather and rugged turf tend to deter thru-hikers from their original goal. Three to four million visitors hike at least a section of the AT each year.
The Appalachian Trail has been in existence since 1937 and is maintained by a multitude of trail clubs and is managed by the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There are more than 250 campsites and shelters available for hikers who want to rest or to spend the night. The shelters are situated about a one-day hike apart, and visitors can take advantage of toilet facilities and fresh running water. Some hikers prefer to sleep in their own tents to experience outdoor life in its entirety. The Appalachian Mountain Club operates several huts in the White Mountains which offer lodging and meals during the summer. Inns provide more upscale lodging near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The AT crosses a road every four miles or so, giving hikers the opportunity to hitchhike into town for food and other supplies.
Pre-planned Mail Drops
Many thru-hikers set up a series of mail drops, so that they can send packages ahead in pre-arranged towns along the route. Their packages usually contain enough food and supplies to last until they reach the next town where another mail drop is waiting for them.
White-Tailed Deer Fawn - Google
Dangers and Pestilence
The possibility of seeing a black bear is a reality for the hiker, who needs to be alert to the danger. Venomous snakes are plentiful and not easy to see. Deer, elk, wild boars, and moose are prevalent but do not usually present a threat. In some sections, foxes, raccoons, and other small animals can spread rabies and other diseases. Poison ivy is common throughout the hike, more often seen in the South. Ticks, mosquitos, and black flies are a constant presence as well as mice that make their home in the shelters.
Although the AT is comparatively safe, violent crime and lesser criminal behavior have occurred on the Trail. Hikers are forewarned not to wear expensive jewelry and to keep your money and credit cards hidden on your person. Equipment should never be left unguarded. In heavily walked areas, A.T. caretakers are present and will report back to the Managers any unusual circumstances that occur; they also provide information and education to newcomers to the adventure. The guidebook entitled “The AT Thru-Hikers’ Companion” is a valuable possession before and during the trip. It offers a wealth of information about towns along the way, including recommended restaurants and hotels, and anything else that the town offers. Many hikers have experienced what is commonly called "trail magic," or assistance from strangers who offer kind actions, gifts, and other forms of encouragement.
Markers Along the Way
The AT is marked with 2" x 6" white blazes which are placed before forks and junctions, or other areas that require hikers to be alert. There are approximately 165,000 blazes along the Trail providing important information to the travelers.
Appalachian Trail - Pochuck Creek - Pixabay
A regional planner named Benton MacKaye is responsible for the seed of an idea which he proposed in 1921 to preserve the Appalachian wilderness as a retreat from urban life. This resulted in the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy which aided in bringing MacKaye’s vision to completion.
Reward for Completion
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy christens anyone who completes the thru-hike with the name "2000 Miler." As of 2010, more than 11,000 people have reported completing the entire process, three-quarters of whom are thru-hikers.
No Further Extension
Although the southern end of the trek starts in Georgia, the Appalachian Mountains continue further south to Flagg Mountain in Alabama. In order to designate this additional section, which is named Pinhoti, as part of the original Trail, it would require an act of Congress to extend the Trail.
The Triple Crown
Presently, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail, form what is known as the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking in the United States.
I may decide to walk just part of the AT if one of my children would join me.
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