An Appalachian Trail Thru Hike in Pictures
The Appalachian Trail stretches over 2,170 miles from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. In 1998 I had the chance to undertake this journey and it still affects me to this day. I started June 1st of that year in Maine and walked south along the AT until I reached the peak of Springer on October 23rd. In that four and a half months of backpacking I perfected my style, eliminated distractions, and found an unmatched peace in my soul.
The following are pictures I took along my sojourn. I mailed the completed film rolls home (yes, it was before digital); I only regret that I didn't take more pictures than the seven rolls I used. As a solo backpacker, I have gotten quite handy with the timer on my camera and the use of a mini-tripod. Therefore, when you see the pictures with me as the subject, I had painstakingly arranged the camera to try to capture the moment. I will update this page as I continue to scan in pictures from this trip.
Quick AT Facts
- A continuous footpath stretching about 2,160 miles from Maine to Georgia.
- Highest elevation is 6,625 feet
- 3 to 4 million people walk some portion each year
- Travels through 14 states
- First national scenic trail (1968)
A Close Encounter with a Couple of Moose
I was a few days in on my hike in Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness, staying in a lean-to overlooking a picturesque pond. I hadn't seen anyone in a couple days and had yet to camp with anybody. In fact, I wouldn't camp with anyone until venturing South of Monson. Though Southbound thru-hikes offer peace away from the crowds and time to contemplate in solitude, at times being a lone traveler can be eerie.
Though your senses are heightened during the first few days of a wilderness trip, after that your mind becomes accustomed to the crashes and sounds of the night. However, the noise I heard on this morning was one I wasn't going to sleep through.
It was in the pre-dawn hours where sunlight strives to weave its strands through mountain passes, allowing just enough light to illuminate the shadows of the woods. I was sleeping, nestled in my REI bag from a cool Maine June morning.
Then I was shaken awake! The entire lean-to was rattling; it felt like a bear had hopped into the shelter with me. I pushed my arms through the opening near my head, and reached over for the hiking pole by me. Sitting up quickly, pole in hand, I was ready to fight off whatever had disturbed my slumber.
But nothing was in the shelter, save the mice that hid under the floor boards. Instead, only feet from me a cow moose and her calf ran through my campsite and into the pond below. My heart pounded wildly never having been that close to a moose before.
Of course what really made me think, as I smiled at the experience, was I almost set my tent up where the moose ran the night before to offer some solace from the black flies. I was glad I was too tired to set up the tent and passed out in the lean to. My exhaustion may have saved me a good moose trampling.
Anyway, after experiencing something like that, you can't go back to bed. You have no choice, but to start hiking early.
One of the most common questions I hear, is "Where do you sleep?" When I started, I had a one-person Walrus Swift tent that I carried (mostly to provide solace from the Maine black flies). However, I found myself squeezing into lean-tos most of the time. A lean-to is, generally, a three sided structure but some of them are mountain cabins; there is a lean-to about every eight-to-ten miles along the trail.
When I started reducing the weight of my pack, I sent my tent home and bought a nylon poncho at an outfitter along the trail. On the occasion I couldn't squeeze into a lean-to, I'd stretch up my poncho with some parachute cord and shelter myself from the sometimes fierce mountain storms. I'd also find "natural" shelters: under picnic tables in town parks, under bridges, and once in a large culvert pipe.
What is a Thru-Hiker?
- A person that walks the entire trail in one continuous journey –versus a 2000 miler that hikes the entire trail over a few seasons.
- It takes about 5 million steps to complete the journey.
- The first thru-hiker was Earl Shaffer in 1948 – (1965 and 1998 too).
- You can walk either direction (Me>Ga) (Ga>Me).
Wear a Kilt to Protect Yourself from Heat Rash while Hiking
Anyone that has ever walked 20 miles a day for a few months, or heck even a few days, can understand the anguish of heat-rash. Each morning I slathered up my legs with diaper rash ointment, but still that rash took some of the joy out of hiking.
Many of my fellow thru-hikers were wearing sundresses, in fact I contemplated buying one myself. I flipped through the racks in a thrift store trying to figure out what size I was. The lady behind the counter glared at me with pity, curiosity, and displeasure.
I left that store with the intention of making my own kilt; I had done so for reenacting a couple years prior. I was overjoyed when I found polyester microfiber in Stewart plaid - it made the perfect hiking kilt. The good news was - I didn't have to worry about heat rash again - the kilt cured me.
Of course, there was that one time I did a somersault in my kilt near a scenic outlook. I'm sorry if anyone bore witness to that incident.
- Average hike is 6 months
- 10-15% of perspective hikers succeed
- It will cost on average of about $3,500.00 plus gear
- 15% of hikers quit in the first week
- In 2001, 2375 people started from Springer 397 completed
- In 2001, 275 people started from Katahdin, 57 completed
- About 8,000 people are 2000-milers
- Women make up 25% of all completions
Another question that thru-hikers are often asked is, "what do you eat?"
Though many people conjure images of eating nuts and berries as we hike merrily through the woods for six months, it would be difficult to consume the massive amount of calories that a thru-hiker requires. Sometimes though, it is fun to play along with people's perceptions of our pastoral playtime.
There are generally two methods of food resupply that long-distance hikers use on the Appalachian Trail: Mail drops and Grocery Stores.
Hikers relying on mail drops have pre-packaged food mailed to them at post offices along the trail. Yes, trail town post offices are well -accustomed to holding packages for hikers. The advantage of this system is that you are guaranteed nutritious food and generally at a reduced cost. The downfall being the boredom you may find eating the same sort of food day after day. Hiker boxes in towns are always full of oatmeal and energy bars. Another downfall to mail drops is arriving in town when the post office is open, you may have to wait a couple days in town if there are no Saturday hours.
Relying on grocery stores is a little more of an adventure and the method upon which I relied for sustenance. Of course the term "grocery store" is used very loosely. Sometimes your resupply point is little more than a gas station. Most places have ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese, but sometimes you walk out of town with pork rinds and snicker bars.
Of course it is every hiker's duty to take advantage of restaurants, diners, ice scream stands, outdoor barbeques and whatever else they can find. It isn't off to "eat out" four or five times in an overnight town stay. Of course those places which are ALL YOU CAN EAT are perennial hiker favorites. Don't worry about not knowing where these places are, for all conversations amongst thru-hikers revolve around food.
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy - Home
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s mission is to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail – ensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come.
- Appalachian Trail - Whiteblaze.net
WhiteBlaze is a Appalachian Trail discussion forum and information site, it also contains an exclusive photo section of Appalachian Trail photos. If you are preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail this is the site you want.