M&K's Thru-Hike FAQ, part I

What's the deal with this AT thing, anyhow?

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175 mile long continuous footpath from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It passes through a total of 14 states (Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachussetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). The trail is marked with white paint blazes for the distance. The map at right uses the GPS coordinantes of the trail shelters to draw the path. Though some of these are slightly off trail, you can get a pretty decent picture of the path. We'll be updating it with our progress as we hike. There is some good basic information here:

Also, a great map is available from the National Parks Service if anyone wants to order a copy or print it out and follow along.

Many people hike parts of the trail each year. It has been said that it is within a day's drive of 60% of the population of the USA. What we're attempting is called a Thru-Hike, to hike the entire distance of the trail contiguously in one season. Many people attempt a thru-hike, but few succeed - take a look at some statistics.

There is quite a community of present and former AT thru-hikers, and there is a wealth of information available about how to prepare and what to expect. For those who read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, though it was a humorous book, it is not a good picture of what an AT thru-hike, or AT thru-hikers are like. If you're curious, take a look at some of the following:

  • Trailplace - a comprehensive AT message board and info center maintained by Dan 'Wingfoot' Bruce. Requires a username and password, but is free, and really a great site.

  • Whiteblaze.net - "A community of Appalachian Trail Enthusiasts"

  • The Thruhiking Papers by Spirit Eagle capture a lot about the considerations and emotions that go into a thru hike. So many sites are just concerned with gear and scheduling, but there's a lot more to it than that.

  • Then The Hail Came by George Steffanos is basically a trail journal from his thru hike in 1983. Much better picture of the experience than Bryson, and though a lot has changed since then, it captures the feeling and difficulty in a humorous and easy to read way.

Hikers are known to give each other (or themselves) a 'Trail Name' for the duration of their hike. This can be an existing nickname or one that is related to some incident along the trail. K and I are not choosing trail names, as we figure we'll pick them up along the way.

How Far Is It?

Though the actual distance varies from year to year due to trail reroutings, it is approximately 2,175 miles from Springer to Katahdin.

How Long Will It Take?

According to the Appalachian Trail Conference, it takes the average Thru-Hiker somewhere between 5 and 7 months to hike the entire length of the trail. Baxter State Park, the site of Katahdin in Maine, closes on October 15 (or sooner depending on weather), so most thru hikers start between March and May. We've opted to leave earlier in the season, to allow more time to explore, and quite honestly because we're restless at home. We should finish around the beginning of September.

How Far Do You Have To Walk Each Day?

Assuming a six month (180 day) trip, we need to average 2,175 miles / 180 days = 12.1 miles per day. However, some of those days will be spent off trail in towns (doing laundry and bathing) or hiking shorter distances in bad weather or tough terrain. Other days will no doubt make up for this - most hikers have at least a few 20-mile days.

Won't Your Feet Hurt?


People have actually asked us this. On average a hiker goes through three pairs of boots over the course of the trail. Blisters are inevitable. Infections (of the blisters) as well as orthopaedic problems from too much weight or ill-fitting boots can take a hiker off the trail for some time. Even with great, pre-broken-in boots, plenty of fresh socks, insoles, and a light pack, we're talking about walking 2,175 miles almost continuously. A little foot pain is to be expected.


John said...

I enjoyed reading your AT posts. I was a thru-hiker in 2000 (SOBO), and there's not a day that's goes by that I don't think about the trail.

I did my master's thesis on Motivations of AT Long Distance Hikers, I'd currently conducting a research study for my dissertation on thru-hikers as well. If you get a chance, would you mind filling one out? It'll take about 30-45 minutes from what people have told me. if you'd like the, results of the study, there's a prompt on the last page where you can submit your email address.

The link is at http://www.sourcetosea.net/thruhiker/study.html

Take care,

-John "Johnny Swank" Pugh

John said...
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