Appalachian Trail Intro

AT LogoIt’s time for another long trail! I’m aiming to finish my Triple Crown of American long distance hikes with the Appalachian Trail (AT). I’ve already finished the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 and the Continental Divide Trail in 2011, so doing the AT this year will probably wrap up my desire to do long hikes in the USA… I’ve got my eye on Te Ararora in New Zealand, along with some sort of traverse of Europe on one of their amazing trails. But that’s for later, this is what’s up next!!

So, what’s new for me, for this hike?

Marmot Pass, in Olympic National Park

Marmot Pass, in Olympic National Park

#1 on the list is, I’ve got a partner for this hike, Megan! She lacks experience in long distance hiking, but more than makes up for it in stubbornness (one of the two most important attributes for any thru-hiker, optimism being the other one). We did a beautiful 8 day test-hike last summer in Olympic National Park, and decided we could probably get along well enough to put up with each other for 4-5 months. Our hiking paces are fairly comparable (about the same on flats, she’s faster up, I’m faster down). We also tested out the thru-hiking style in the way we organized each day – wake up, pack up, and go – eat while you walk. Long lunch, with lots of lying down and keeping feet elevated. Hike till dinner, probably more hiking after dinner. Collapse into tent, repeat 🙂 I expect we’ll have some disagreements about personal hygiene and food choices (I generally let both slide).

What’s interesting about the AT itself?

I’m excited to see the East Coast states, and not just the big cities. The trail goes through small towns in 14 states, while also coming within 40 miles of New York City. The terrain itself is very different than what we have out West. The mountains are older, so they often look more like giant rounded hills. The AT also tends to plow right over the top of everything, rather than contouring around.

What’s different about the AT from my past hikes?

Most hikers I met on the other long trails had already tackled the AT, and they almost universally said it was the most physically challenging trail they had ever done. They told me not to expect to hike 20+ miles a day. As I’ve been reading up on the trail, I’ve discovered that the AT has an insane amount of elevation gain – more than either of the CDT or PCT. Since the highest peaks the trail goes over on the CDT and PCT are twice as high as the ones on the AT, it follows that the AT itself is rarely flat 🙂 I’m also expecting a lot more civilization on the AT. I sat down to figure out the logistics of resupply, and within 10 minutes had decided to wing it. From what I can tell, you can barely go 3 days on the AT without running into a town. On the CDT, I had a spreadsheet as long as my arm to figure out where to get food, and how to deal with long stretches where no towns were nearby. Another interesting difference is that the trail is well-marked in it’s entirety, so we won’t be bringing maps of any kind, just a very succinct guide.

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AT Gear Lists

Here’s what we are carrying on our AT thru-hike, excluding food, water, and stove fuel, but including some winter gear we plan to carry only at the very start and end of the trip. You can get the excruciating details of everything we’re carrying by clicking the link below each graph.

Ryley's Gear
Details for Ryley’s Gear

Megan's Gear
Details for Megan’s Gear

There’s definitely some weight savings by having two of us. I’ll be carrying the guide book and “maps”, Megan will have the phone (with GPS) so if she gets lost she can find the trail. The biggest change is the crazy light tent we’re bringing, from ZPacks, called the Hexamid Twin Tent, which weighs just over 1lb. Lighter than the tent I carried on the PCT and the CDT, but with room for two people (barely).

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Concerns before we leave

We’ve been kicking around the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail since the fall. Megan got a job that ends in May, and and it seemed awfully convenient to leave as soon as she was done with that, so we started planning our trip starting on top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, hiking south towards Georgia. Unfortunately, by Christmas, we had both suffered injuries that made us question whether our idea was going to work.

Megan developed some sort of back injury, possibly some bulged discs, but very painful whatever it is. She’s done a lot of physiotherapy and has slowly worked her way back to being able to jog, play a bit of frisbee, and go for walks. As of today, she still gets sore on flat walks over 5km in length.

I started developing some right foot pain, which we initially thought was tibialis posterior tendonitis, but may actually be plantar fasciitis. Either way, it’s been a painful few months for me, being mostly unable to walk at all in January and Febrauary. I biked a lot, and eventually worked up to short walks, and now to 10km with a light pack. I still get some pain from steep ups and downs, but flat walking has been fine. I’ve gotten some aids in the form of orthotics for my shoes, and this weird sleep sock thing that holds my foot in a neutral position, supposedly promoting healing.

I’ve slowly become more optimistic about the whole thing, and we recently went on an overnight trip, 10km of fairly rough terrain each way, light packs, and we both were fine. Not great like “no pain”, but not bad in the sense that neither of us had any lingering discomfort. We’ve basically said “%@$% it” and booked our one-way plane tickets to Georgia, hoping for the best. The plan is to be hiking Mt. Katahdin on June 5th.

What happens if one of us is too hurt to continue?

We’re not making plans for this possibility!

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3….2….1….. ?


Time has ticked down, massive TODO lists are mostly checked off. Time to hit the road! We leave today via ferry, then a red-eye flight to NYC, change airports and then off to Bangor, Maine tomorrow morning. We have a bunch of errands to run in Bangor, before we catch a bus to near the start of the trail. From there, we’ll be picked up by the AT Lodge shuttle, and stay with them for the night, and finally start the trail on Friday, June 5th!

Once we get hiking, we’ll be writing entries with pictures daily, but they may get posted a little less often than that. You can also check out this map of the Appalachian Trail, which will get updated with a marker every time we post a journal entry!

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Day 1 – Mt Katadhin


We finally got to the start of the trail!  Another early day but we finally arrived in Baxter State Park by 8am and started up Mt Katadhin.   Because the start was up top we were able to leave our packs with the Rangers and borrow day packs for the hike up.

What a start to the trail, though! Huge mountain with a 2 mile scramble up and massive boulders in the middle.   Definitely a fitness wake-up call for us and others.  We met a few people who gave up half way up and I can’t blame them.

We managed to get up there though and shared the summit with a thru hiker named Pete and his brother John.  He tried the trail Northbound last year but ultimately quit, so this year he’s going the other way. 

We finally got back to our packs 7 hours after we left and immediately setup camp and were eventually joined by Sam and Ben, two young guys who had stayed at the Lodge with us last night.  They are novice backpackers but were great entertainment for us all evening.  Sam had never really setup his hammock and was carrying 5lbs of peanut butter.  He also made us a nice fire for the evening.

We were in bed pretty early but overall a very successful day.   Both sore but not unreasonably

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Day 2 – Below Rainbow Ledges


Our first full day on the trail started with a big rain storm overnight that bounced drops off the ground a foot up the mesh of our tent and got us a bit wet and sandy. Fortunately the day dawned sunny so we were able to pack up carefully and mostly keep the sandy mess of tent contained.

The majority of the morning was blessedly flat and decent trail until we got to the first river ford.  We took a careful look around and decided to go around on a detour that completely avoided the river.   On the AT there are white blazed trees quite often to let you know you’re on the right trail.  When you get on a side trail like this one, it has blue blazes instead.  Traditionally you’re supposed to only hike the official trail but our hike will be more about connecting steps from Maine to Georgia than following the exact “correct” route.

Anyways we ran into Pete again about 3 times as we hurried past him then took breaks.  We also met a guy hiking in an America t-shirt named Dan, along with 4 guys calling themselves the Ninja Turtles.  We had actually seen then on top of Katadhin but hadn’t realized they were thru hikers.

We had our last taste of civilization for awhile in Abol Bridge, where we had a sandwich and Coke, then headed into the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Which means it’ll be 8 or so days before we get out to another town.  The first shelter in the Wilderness had a logbook and there was an entry from yesterday written by Vocal, a hilarious gentleman I met in Montana in 2011 while hiking the Continental Divide.  I hope we catch up to him at some point.

Once again we are pretty tired from lack of sleep. The rain kept us up last night as we assessed how wet we were getting, so another early night is called for!

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Day 3


We finally had a solid night’s sleep!   The actual hiking this morning was beside a series of pretty little lakes in a fairly flat trail. The actual trail tread reminded me a bit of the Juan de Fuca trail back home – very rough, wet and rooty.  We eventually got to a beautiful river and had lunch in the middle of a bridge hoping to beat the bugs (failed).  The black flies and mosquitoes are getting worse but still aren’t out of control.  I expect worse to come from stories I’ve heard.

In the afternoon we had more rough trail leading to another pretty river this time with a shelter by it. (M: Rainbow Stream, a great place to take off your shoes and dangle your feet in off the foot bridge).   We met up with Aussie and the Ninja Turtles and took a break with them, still haven’t really gotten their stories yet so I can’t say much more than they’re fun to hang around with.   We next hiked up a little mountain but beyond the sweat there wasn’t any view so we just pounded down the other side and met up with some more hikers at the next shelter, including a guy with a massive pipe, and another guy carrying a tomahawk… We decided to move on but almost immediately ran into a nice lake with a campsite right beside it, so we called it a day.  A very quick, brisk swim later, we are ensconced in our tent with most of the black flies on the outside.   Happy campers!

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Day 4 – Cache Wanking


Rain this morning and lots of it!  We met Vocal, who I had seen in the logbook a couple days ago – turns out he was just down the beach from us last night. After spending all morning trudging in the rain, we got to a shelter at lunch and got to hang out with Vocal, Aussie and others for a couple hours. 

Megan tells me that in tree planter parlance this is called cache wanking, aka sitting around talking instead of doing what you’re supposed to.  Vocal and I swapped stories from the CDT, and he told us a bunch about what is to come. I came away excited to see what’s next.  The rain eventually slackened off and we left hoping for a sunny break…

Megan now has a cold and an annoying foot issue that cropped up after lunch (and hopefully will be gone by tomorrow).  We hobbled through the afternoon and stopped by another rushing stream.  Looks like more rain to come…

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Day 5


Crossing a stream with a rope aid

Another semi disastrous night of rain and crazy condensation led to us being fairly wet.  Combine that with rain much of the day and we were finally interested in trying out a shelter for camping.

We hiked through more very west coast-like forest and found our food cache right where we expected.  After loading up with another 5 days of food we headed up into some mountains finally.  Unfortunately due to the continuing rain, we didn’t get to see much.  We met a guy named 1Step, and ended up at a shelter half way up the mountain with him and 3 other guys.  We crammed 6 of us into the shelter with Quiet Earp providing music on his backpacking guitar.

We chatted for quite awhile and met one of the ridgerunners – caretakers of the AT.

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Day 6


Near the top of Whitecap

We finally climbed another mountain!  Whitecap was nice right out of bed, a good way to wake up.  Our first night in a shelter was pretty solid too, no bugs and everyone went to bed early. 

I woke up early enough to watch the 3 older gentlemen get up and leave,  then we rolled out shortly after 8 into the clouds, climbing with a brisk wind pushing misty clouds by us. The top of the mountain ended up being obscured by them so we didn’t see much but it was still cool.  We then bumped up and down over some smaller mountains before dropping down to follow a river valley most of the afternoon.  We got to walk on a really nice flat trail for a whole mile in there too!


Megan found snow!

The end of the day was pretty tough though, first we forded a very wide river, which turned out to be only mid-thigh deep, but obviously soaked our shoes completely. We then climbed another mountain ending with a Katahdin-esque rock scramble.  After that we dropped down to another shelter and camped.  This one is super busy though!  At least 12 South bounders all making dinner and chatting, with Quiet Earp and others taking turns on the guitar.

After a beautiful sunset, we are back in our dry tent.  A few lingering concerns – Megan is still sick and my feet are getting rapidly worse.  Another full day of soaking in my shoes has turned the tips of all my toes into basically one big blister.  This is new to me! A new form of blister – top toe.  I haven’t figured out how to treat it yet, so far it’s just been “grin and bear it”

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