AT

The 14 AT States - Common Perceptions and Misconceptions

Whenever people talk about states along the Appalachian Trail just the mentioning of the name will give you an image in your head.  For those of us who have travelled the trail in those states, however, our perception of those states can be quite different.  My topic today is kind of a fun one - the expectation versus reality of the states along the Appalachian Trail.  

The map image came from  The Cat's Meow Village  and is available for purchase!

The map image came from The Cat's Meow Village and is available for purchase!

Georgia

Expectation: Springer Mountain - the beginning or end of a long journey. 
Reality: Well, you do get Springer Mountain.  You also get the crowds of newbies and all the excited and nervous energy that comes along with that journey.  It's truly a magical (albeit crowded at times) place!

North Carolina

Expectation: Max Patch-like views, your first/last state line to cross
Reality: Big climbs (anyone remember crossing from Georgia into North Carolina?!), your first 5000 foot peak, gorgeous southern Appalachian balds, and two trail town stops you can walk right into - the NOC and Hot Springs!

Tennessee

Expectation: The Smoky Mountains - this can mean snow or dreary weather to most hikers
Reality: You do get the Smokies, but we get good weather here too!  You also get the Roan Highlands, more gorgeous vistas, and views of the Nolichucky River from a cliff face further north near Erwin. 

Virginia

Expectation: "After Tennessee, Virginia is flat! You'll make easy 30-mile days there!"; the ponies and McAfee's Knob
Reality: Virginia isn't flat, and easy 30 mile days on the AT are hard to come by. Sure, you do get the ponies, and McAfee's Knob.  You also get Dragon's Tooth, Tinker Cliffs, and Shenandoah National Park.  You also get the Green Tunnel and the Virginia Blues.  The Blues are common for thru hikers (I even got them!) because of the Green Tunnel effect.  By the time most thru hikers reach VA spring has sprung and you're constantly in tunnels of rhododendron.  It can seem like endless miles in a persistent green state.  

West Virginia

Expectation: The halfway point at Harper's Ferry
Reality: While West Virginia is a short state with the fewest miles (many hikers do a 4-state challenge and skip through it in a matter of less than an hour), the actual halfway point of the Appalachian Trail is still quite a bit further north in Pennsylvania.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Headquarters, however, is in Harper's Ferry and is a really cool place to stop by and kill a few hours!

Maryland

Expectation: A short and easy, relatively flat state without anything to see
Reality: It turns out Maryland is one of the prettiest states on the AT.  With lots of park/green space, relatively well-maintained trails, and really cool things to see, lots of hikers doing the Four State Challenge miss a really neat place.  Also in Maryland are Gathland State Park with a memorial dedicated to War Correspondence and the original Washington Monument.  You've also either just crossed or are about to cross the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania

Expectation: Rocks. So.MANY.ROCKS.
Reality: Not so many rocks.  With approximately 230 miles of trail in Pennsylvania (lovingly nicknamed Rocksylvania), it seemed that every time we thought it was about to get rocky we would hear that it was actually not rocky yet.  We rolled into Caldonia State Park to hear that it actually doesn't get rocky until Duncannon.  Then when we got to Duncannon we were told it gets rocky at Port Clinton.  Then in Port Clinton we were told it doesn't get really rocky until Wind Gap.  By the time we hit Delaware Water Gap everyone had mixed emotions.  Many felt we never hit the rocks and others like we only hit rocks.  Little did the northbounders know what rocks would await us further north!

New Jersey

Expectation: Dirty water, smoggy and polluted air.
Reality:  It turns out New Jersey is actually a very pretty place to go on foot!  They don't call it the Garden State for nothing!  Walking through New York/New Jersey didn't take us over the highest peaks, but we did visit an ice cream stand, a beach at a state park, and walked through the Wallkill Game Preserve - a birding park that was absolutely gorgeous.  Lots of boardwalks and tall grasses awaited us here. 

New York

Expectation: Whenever you say New York, most people only think New York City. 
Reality: Well, you can actually see NYC from the trail!  From West Mountain Shelter and Bear Mountain you have gorgeous views are you're only about 30 miles away from it.  We also could hear cannon fire from nearby Westpoint.  You also can hike from deli to deli on this section of trail, as they're close to every trail crossing. A lot of thru hikers are surprised to find those promised rocks of PA in New York instead!  NoBo's and SoBo's alike complain of sore feet here!

Connecticut

Expectation: Snooty people who are rude to hikers. 
Reality: While the town of Kent, Connecticut has a reputation for being inhospitable we found that many people who went in didn't have a bad experience.  We stayed in a town called Falls Village and ate a very nice dinner at an incredibly upscale B&B and were treated very kindly.  We were also allowed to camp in the backyard of a quaint cafe here.  While the mosquitos were killer, the people were friendly!

Massachusetts 

Expectation: Massholes. 
Reality: Gorgeous hiking and history, phenomenal views into Vermont from Mount Greylock, and the Cookie Lady all make Massachusetts amazing.  Hiking through the Berkshires region in summertime is going to give you bogs and boardwalks and rocky summits.  You get a little bit of everything. 

Vermont

Expectation: Mud
Reality: Okay, so there's a lot of mud.  But there's also some incredible trail maintenance!  When I hiked through in 2012 so much of southern Vermont was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irene.  When we hiked the Long Trail in 2015 it was very clear how much amazing work the Green Mountain Club had done to clean up the damage as well as drain a lot of the standing water on trail.  You also get gorgeous fire tower views in more remote places than you've seen further south, breathtaking boreal forest, and glacial ponds for swimming.  

New Hampshire

Expectation: Getting your butt kicked in the Whites and freezing cold temperatures even in summer.
Reality: The Whites do in fact have some of the worst weather in the world, especially on Mount Washington - the highest point in New England.  While we were here we didn't get many views, but The Whites were also known for making all the butt kicking worthwhile by rewarding you with alpine summits (meaning you're above tree line).  One thing I didn't expect in New Hampshire was the fact that despite being a strong hiker I would slow my pace to approximately a mile an hour - something that does happen to a lot of thru hikers!

Maine

Expectation: Katahdin and the epicness that is the 100-Mile Wilderness
Reality: You have 281 miles to hike in Maine before you finish the trail and first you are going to travel through some mountains even harder to hike than the Whites!  Southern Maine doesn't get nearly the attention the neighboring Whites do, but they're just as hard and exhausting.  The infamous Mahoosuc Notch is the hardest mile of trail (or most fun depending on what you're into!) on the entire AT!  Of course, you also get amazing views from those alpine summits, ponds so big they look like oceans, and then you get to cross the Kennebec River in a canoe.  You'll also find out that the big, bad, and scary 100-Mile Wilderness doesn't live up to it's hype and you'll make it through unscathed for your big finish at the summit of Katahdin.  

So, there you have it, the common ideas of what it's like to hike the fourteen states of the Appalachian Trail versus the reality of hiking them from someone who has.  Have you hiked through any of the states listed above?  What were your impressions of the Appalachian Trail there? I'd love to get your input in the comments below!

Trail Trash - Why You Should Pack it Out

I recently linked to a really inspiring group hiking the PCT in 2016 called Packing it Out.  These guys hiked the AT in 2015 and packed out over 1000 pounds of trash during the duration of their hike.  Recently, the Packing it Out crew got 126 pounds of garbage in one haul making it their record breaker!  While it's really inspiring to hear of someone doing work like this, it makes me wonder as a guide and a hiker myself why in the world it's necessary to need hikers to have to do this in the first place.  My post today is more of a rant about why I feel like it's getting more and more important for all hikers and walkers to pack out their garbage. 

Chances are you've been on a hike for a few hours or maybe even an overnight backpacking trip and you've seen what I have dubbed to be Charmin Flowers - blooms of used toilet paper women leave behind on the side of the trail after they pee.  Recently, I was at a campsite in the Smokies where an active bear warning was posted.  Imagine my shock when I wandered into the woods and found panty liners stuck to the base of trees!  No wonder animals are a problem at this particular campsite!  The next night on our trip we had a problem bear wandering through camp several times.  He was not afraid of us and even kept digging holes at the further edge of the campsite and eating something.  After we finally pelted him with rocks to let him know he wasn't welcome, I went to investigate.  Yep.  It was a hole someone threw their toilet paper into and hardly buried at all.   Living in the US we are all used to living in a disposable society now.  You throw your garbage in the can and someone comes once a week and picks it up and you never have to think about it again!  You can flush things down a toilet and they're magically gone!  However, when it comes to heading out into the woods people often have this same disposable mentality.  Your toilet paper and small trash isn't magically gone at all - someone else has to pick up after you... and isn't going to be happy if they're the ones peeling your panty liners off a hemlock tree!

Another way we are seeing garbage in the woods is by people who truly mean well.  A former thru hiker will hike a cooler full of goodies, maybe with a few bags of snacks as well, out to a trail junction and leave it for other grateful hikers.  Unfortunately, our former thru hiker isn't coming back to pack that cooler and garbage out - he has just left a note on the cooler and trail magic for hikers to pack out their trash to the trailhead.  How many hikers do you think are going to do this?  Chances are, the hikers will leave their trash inside that cooler, which will sit in the sunshine and cook for a period of a few days or even weeks.  Animals may come by and tear apart the cooler trying to get to the sweet smelling food trash inside.  The cooler may get knocked over and the trash will blow into the nearby woods.  Either way, our well-meaning hiker has created a problem for someone else to deal with.  

My most common place to find garbage, however, isn't either of these two, although the toilet paper is becoming a bigger and bigger problem where I'm at now that it's summer time.  The most common place I get to pick up someone else's inconsiderate litter is from a fire ring or a fireplace.  If you're the kind of person who is burning garbage on your backpacking trip I have some advice for you - STOP IT.  If you're a person who believes it's the best way to deal with trash let me offer you some statistics on black bears.  Black bears can pick up and track a scent for two miles.  There is no better way to invite an animal to your campsite than to burn your trash.  Also, I guarantee your fire isn't anywhere near hot enough to burn the things you're tossing in there.  The most common culprit would be Mountain House freeze dried food bags.  Next would be aluminum foil, followed by tin cans, beer cans, and the pop tops from glass bottles.  Why you'd pack glass bottles in a backpack and carry them is beyond me, but I can promise you the items you're attempting to burn aren't going to be gone completely.  It turns out someone like me has to dig through that fire pit and pack it out for you.  Meanwhile, you were out for just one night and were capable of doing it on your own.  

The final thing I want to talk about is something I don't see a lot in the Smokies but I do see a lot in the neighborhood I live in - dumping.  I live in an area only a few miles from a small local trash collecting facility.  This facility was recently closed for a few months to repave it and bring in better collection and recycling systems.  Instead of driving on a few more miles to a larger trash facility, people around here decided the remote, curvy road I lived on was a much better place to dump their tires, recliners, fast food trash, and even leave their entire trash cans filled with garbage in front of an empty house at the end of the cul-de-sac.  Dumping is a problem on distance trails as well, especially at remote trailheads where road access sees sparse traffic.  Either way, again, this trash isn't disappearing.  Someone else has to pick it up for you.  

I went on this rant for a reason.  I want people to start thinking about what truly happens to your trash in the woods when you leave it behind.  Someone else has to walk behind you to pick it up.  If you're big, bad, and strong enough to go out for a hike into the woods you are definitely big, bad, and strong enough to pack out everything you brought in with you - even apple cores, orange peels, peach pits, etc.  I am a strong advocate for packing out your own toilet paper as well.  By packing out your garbage, you're not only keeping the woods a prettier place, you're also helping keep animals wild by not allowing them to get access to human garbage.  

How do you feel when you see litter out on the trails?  Are you the kind of person who picks up microtrash?  What's the most bizarre thing you've seen discarded? 

Reflections of the Appalachian Trail - Four Years Later

I recently had the opportunity to hit the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia right in the middle of thru hiker season.  It was such a wonderful chance for me to relive some memories from my first few days on the AT with a woman who was setting out on her own to try tackling the trail.  From meeting newbies in the Springer Mountain parking area to seeing the Benton MacKaye Trail terminus to summiting Springer for the third time this trip was full of memories.  Here are some reflections I have from those few days down on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. 

Since it was a long ride down to the southern terminus I had lots of time to think about all the feelings I had flowing through me.  No matter how many times I head to Springer over the course of my lifetime, I suspect that I'll always feel that nervous energy.  While I know I've successfully completed two trails with a terminus here, the feeling in your stomach is always the same - the excitement of getting out on trail and the uncertainty of knowing what each day will bring.  When we went to Amicalola Falls Lodge to pick up the friend I'd be hiking with I was just so excited to be seeing the Approach Trail.  While I've been to Springer twice before, I have never hiked the Approach Trail to the top.  There were quite a few newbie thru hikers (thrubies I've seen them called) and you could almost feel their excitement.  From the lodge we had about an hours' drive to the top of Springer going the back way the GPS device took us (which I would never recommend by the way - ALWAYS take Doublehead Gap Road!)

After climbing out of the car in the Springer Mountain parking lot the nervous butterflies mostly disappeared and I was mostly feeling excitement - excitement for both myself and my friend who would be experiencing the trail for the first time.  I made the 0.9 mile walk up to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail with her, talking to all the other thrubies hitting the trail for the first time.  To my surprise, I met several blog followers and Instagram followers up there!  For being a Tuesday in April there was a lot of activity happening up there at the summit.  Signing the registry book in the rock up there for the third time just made me feel like I was at home.  After walking the 0.9 miles back to the parking area I was reintroduced to Warren Doyle, whom I had met briefly when working at the AT Lodge in Millinocket back in 2013.  

Hey there, Springer Mountain! 

Hey there, Springer Mountain! 

The first day and evening on trail were a flurry of happy activity.  We did approximately 4 miles down to a campsite near a stream where I taught my friend how to throw a bear bag and we camped in relative cold temperatures.  The next day brought more hiking and quick thinking, using my finely tuned Yogi skills to get us a ride to cell phone service and a shuttle to Wolfpen Gap Country Store/Hostel in Suches, Georgia.  Riding through the Georgia countryside gave me a whole new view of the BMT and AT - it was very cool to see the mountains I have climbed so many times from a different perspective.  We stayed in the hostel and I got to see two old friends - Carry-On from my 2012 hike and Odie (of Hiker Yearbook fame) from my time working in the hostel in 2013 and going to The Gathering in 2014. I helped Carry-On do pack shakedowns at the amazing Top of Georgia Outfitters satellite store at Wolfpen Gap.  By the time our ride came to pick us up the next day I had felt like I already assimilated back into the Hikertrash Culture and wasn't ready to hit the real world again. 

Doing a pack shakedown with a client at the outfitter. 

Doing a pack shakedown with a client at the outfitter. 

Being back on the Georgia section of the AT brought back so many fond and happy memories for me.  I made it through Georgia in about 5 days during my thru hike, so going a little slower and meeting those hikers in the beginning really reminded me more of meeting hikers up in Maine.  Too many people with no experience wearing packs that don't fit and carrying so much gear they're blowing out their knees.  We saw so many injuries and so many ill-fitting packs!  I often wonder about some of those people I met down in Georgia that first week of April and I hope to see some evidence of them making it through the Smokies soon.  It was such a great experience to get to go back to those first few miles of trails with a thrubie and share those wonderful memories with her.  I can't wait for my next trip back one day. 

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So You Wanna Be a SoBo?

Most people reading this blog know that I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail as a northbounder, or a NoBo as it will be abbreviated in the rest of this post.  When I lived and worked in Millinocket during the 2013 thru hiker season I had an idea in my head that Southbounder (SoBo) hikers would be more prepared and better equipped to deal with the journey beginning the trail in Maine. I was sorely mistaken by the people I met getting off the bus in Medway, Maine who were ready to tackle the trail.  While many people do some degree of research about the trail in general, I found it was incredibly common for people to chose a SoBo thru hike just because they graduated school in May or June - having done absolutely no research on what it truly means to start a hike in Maine that early in the season.  If you're considering a Southbound AT thru hike, check this post out and think about a few things you might not have known!

Katahdin can mean the end of an epic journey for many, but the very beginning of a difficult first month for a few!

Katahdin can mean the end of an epic journey for many, but the very beginning of a difficult first month for a few!

Before delving into the things you should know about hiking SoBo on the AT, here are a few quick facts from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
- In 2014 it was estimated 2500 hikers began hiking at Amicalola Falls in Georgia to hike NoBo.  It was reported that 242 hikers began hiking SoBo from Baxter State Park. As of March 2015, 653 hikers reported completing a NoBo thru hike and 76 had reported finishing a SoBo thru hike.  Obviously, SoBo is much less crowded as a direction to hike!  
- Numbers of completed hikes on the AT are also steadily rising.  According to their statistics, the number of thru hikers reporting a completion each decade has doubled steadily since the 1970s.  More than 15,000 people have now reported a completion of a thru hike!

Now that you know a few things about people on the trail, here are a few things to consider about starting a SoBo thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. 

The Weather in Maine in May and June

When I arrived in Maine in late April in 2013, there was more than a foot of snow reported to still be on the trails on Katahdin.  By late May, this was still in the double digits.  The snow began to melt in late May, but the mountain didn't officially open for hiking until June 3rd that year.  We had already had more than a dozen thru hikers stay with us by that date.  Some hikers gave up on waiting and began their hike in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Unfortunately for them, the recent heavy snow melt also meant the wild streams of Maine, which are nearly completely unbridged, were dangerous and cold to cross.  Statistically speaking, we pulled out nearly 80% of the people we dropped off at Baxter State Park or on the Golden Road after approximately 50 miles of hiking - at Jo Mary Road.  I would easily guess another 5% had dropped out by the time they reached Monson. (Statistics are rough and include both hikers that claimed to be thru hikers and section hikers.)  When asked what made them throw in the towel we heard mostly that it was cold at night, the streams were dangerous to cross, and the black flies were maddening.  Not only will the black flies be swarming, the mosquitos and gnats will be relentless.  NoKey and I did a day hike over Chairback in late June and by the end of our 16-mile hike we were both covered in bites and blood from the flies.  I spent the early part of my summer scrubbing blood and scabs off my neck and face!  While June means summer to most of us, in Maine I would compare the weather to early spring in most other places. 

The Logistics of Getting to Katahdin

Thru hikers are known for their ability to improvise and do it well.  Unfortunately, Baxter State Park isn't the place to try your new skills on improvising!  Not only do you need to find a way from the bus stop in Medway to Millinocket, there are a few things you need to know about getting into Baxter State Park.  First of all, you cannot drive in after dark.  When the bus arrives in Medway, more than an hour away from the park entrance, at 7:30 p.m. (if it's on time, which it often is not!), if you haven't found a way in to town, chances are you're hitching a ride.  Baxter State Park will NOT let you drive in after dark unless you've got a long-standing reservation for a campsite - and you're going to get an earful about your late arrival as well.  As a shuttle driver, I was scolded several times for people who poorly planned their arrivals.  Also, a good 90% of SoBos were not aware that they needed a RESERVATION to camp in the park the night of their Katahdin summit.  Hiking Katahdin is a 10.2-mile round trip hike.  It is another 9 miles out of the park to the Abol Bridge Campground.  Unless you can do a 20-mile day easily in New England, and we only had TWO hikers (that I know of) the whole season who did it, you need a camping reservation!

Hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness

Many of us who have hiked this section of Maine can tell you the name evokes deep, dark, secluded woods.  However, the experience of hiking through here is completely different.  For NoBo hikers, it's a 3.5-4 day hike.  For many of our SoBo hikers, I found the early June arrivals took between 8 and 12 days to get through.  It should be taken into consideration that streams will be too deep to ford this time of year and you may spend a day or so waiting for the river to drop.  We had several hikers get swept downstream during the summer of 2013.  The trails in Maine are very primitive.  The MATC takes pride in keeping their trails looking like the did 75 years ago when the AT was built - minimal bridges and switchbacks definitely make for harder hiking.  If you aren't used to hiking in New England, you will definitely have a rude awakening when you begin your hike in Maine.  If it's raining, your trail will look like a river.  If you see a mountain, you will climb straight up and over it.  Many people who have trail experience in other places of the country definitely report struggling a bit in this section.  Instead of carrying 8-12 days worth of food, I highly recommend looking into doing a food drop bucket like those offered by hostels on either end of this section, and carrying a lighter pack!

Minimal Support or Trail Magic

This factor of hiking SoBo is one that many don't think about at all.  While more hostels are staying open longer each year, SoBo's may have less of a chance of finding cheap places to stay during their hikes.  Especially for hostels on the southern end of the trail, their NoBo season is hectic enough for them!  I know where I worked in Maine, Baxter State Park closed for camping at Katahdin on October 15th and that's the day we drove out of town.  Again, more and more hostels are reopening or staying open to accommodate the throngs of people every year, but it is something to consider. Trail Magic in the traditional sense of the word isn't common for SoBo hikers.  Many NoBo's these days are experiencing trail magic nearly every day in the form of free snack cakes or a cold soda left in a cooler at the roadside.  While the ATC is starting to strongly discourage trail magic left as trash at trailheads, many SoBos don't see much of this at all, especially after they've passed the last NoBo thru hiker bubble.  However, one shouldn't think of trail magic as just free food.  Trail magic can take many forms, be it a hitchhike you we're expecting or an offer of a hot shower and a ride to town.  While the magic may not be in the traditional sense, SoBo hikers often say they don't feel like they're not being provided for. 

Fewer Hikers on Trail

While I have met both introverts and extroverts who were SoBo hikers, definitely be prepared to be in the minority of hikers on the AT.  With less than 10% of thru hikers choosing the SoBo route, you'll deal with fewer thru hikers.  While this can be nice if you're wanting a less crowded experience on your thru hike, you'll definitely have to deal with fewer services and less traditional trail magic, as mentioned above.  That being said, working as a hiking guide in the Smokies, I meet many SoBo thru hikers in the fall.  They're usually traveling in a group, albeit a small one.  Like any hike of this length, chances are you'll find a few people to hike with for a given period of time. 

The Difficult Start

While I mentioned the 100 Mile Wilderness near the beginning of this article, I didn't mention the rest of the state of Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont.  While the 100 Mile Wilderness is actually relatively flat, it still takes many SoBo hikers longer to complete it.  While Maine is only 281 miles of hiking, it's not an easy 281 miles!  It takes a lot of SoBo's between 3-4 weeks to complete this state, only to move on to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  It's definitely a trial by fire for those who have never hiked in New England!  Granted, the portion of the AT in Vermont is a lot smoother and less difficult, it's still bigger mountains for SoBo hikers.  The good news is, in my opinion, the hardest mountains and climbs are definitely behind you once you hit Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. 

While my experiences working with SoBo thru hikers in Maine was only for a season, I got a lot of insight into the mindset of a person deciding to tackle the hike this direction. As someone who had hiked the trail NoBo and met many SoBo's along the way, I just always assumed the SoBo hikers were more prepared and better equipped to tackle this difficult section of trail. Based on the many, MANY people I met, both thru hiking and section hiking alike, I couldn't believe how wrong I was!  

Here is my advice to anyone looking to do a thru hike as a Southbounder: 

1) Get your reservation set up for Baxter State Park at Katahdin Stream Campground.  Set it up for the day after you arrive in Maine. If you get off the bus July 1st, stay in town that night and head up to Baxter State Park early on the July 2nd to hike Katahdin and camp at Katahdin Stream Campground. I cannot stress this enough!  Baxter State Park is already warning the AT of skating on thin ice due to the sheer number of people trying to cheat the system.  Don't be that guy - make your reservation!
2) Make sure you have enough food to get through the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Again, I highly recommend doing a food drop bucket from one of the hostels if you think it's going to take you more than 5 days to hike this distance!  Yeah, it costs upwards of $35, but if you're carrying half the weight in food, it is worth the money!
3) Start in July - not June!  I know you're excited to get on the trail. I get it!  The weather is drier in July.  The bugs have chilled out a bit, the nights are warmer, and the streams are more tame.  You'll see more people in Maine and New Hampshire as a result, but if I were to do the trail SoBo I would wait until July 4th at least to start. 
4) Don't let the crowds freak you out.  They'll be gone soon!

After all that I've said here, I will definitely say that if I were to ever thru hike the AT again I would definitely do it Southbound.  After hiking shorter and less densely populated trails in the summer of 2015 I definitely prefer the smaller crowds and I plan on hiking the PCT as a Southbounder as well - whenever it is I can save the funds to do so!  I think hiking as a SoBo has many appeals, but as with any hike it definitely helps to do your research and make sure the direction you chose is right for you.  

Did you do a thru hike in the opposite direction from most other people?  What would you add to this list of things to know? Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook to get the conversation started!

 

 

Controversy in Baxter State Park

Check out Baxter State Park's Facebook status this morning about Scott Jurek's record setting thru hike- https://www.facebook.com/baxterstatepark/posts/1682502611969384

I'd love to hear your opinion of how Baxter State Park feels about this - check out the Sprinkles Hikes Facebook page and let's talk about it!

Reflections - What I Would Have Done Differently on My Thru Hike - Appalachian Trials

Food Review - Picky Bars - Appalachian Trials

My Name is Sprinkles and I'm a Hike-a-Holic - Appalachian Trials

Hiking Snowbird - September 28

We took a very, VERY short vacation to Tennessee to see some family and friends recently.  Since we were on vacation we decided it wouldn’t be a complete trip without a visit to our favorite National Scenic Trail and took Gracie along for the walk.  We had originally planned to hike Mt. Sterling this day, but due to cloudy weather and the summit being engulfed in clouds, we packed up our dog and headed out to hike Snowbird.  We chose Snowbird over Max Patch for a few reasons - we wanted to hike more than just a few miles and we wanted solitude.  Max Patch is always busy, especially on weekends and considering you can park less than half a mile from the summit, the choice was easy. 

We parked on the side of Green Corner Road, less than a quarter mile from Standing Bear Hostel, and started up the trail.  We immediately passed two older gentleman moving very slowly and walking like they were in a lot of pain.  The packs they were carrying were easily more than 65 pounds.  We said hello and continued our way up the trail.  The trail was very dry and the gentle uphill grade made for smooth sailing up the hill.  We passed a group of boys and four adults, all of whom weren’t very talkative, about 2 miles from the summit.  When we reached the top we had the place to ourselves and talk about a view!  Even though the sky was overcast and the bald was overgrown, we had 180-degree viewing of seven different ridgelines.  The mountains around were the signature Southern Appalachian blue you always see hiking down south. 

We took a snack break and headed over to the other side of the bald, near the FAA tower, to take in the views toward the French Broad River.  Heading back down was quick and we took our time heading downhill, taking photos and goofing off.  About a mile and a half from the road we passed the two older gentleman again, one of whom looked to be having a really rough time now.  Still, they were friendly and kept on going.  We got back down to the car and had finished the hike in about 3 hours.  I took Gracie up the road a little bit and let her play in the creek, a site where I had some pretty epic trail magic during my thru hike. 

Snowbird was a great hike for us since we were short on time, but wanted to really pack in some substantial miles.  We did the 10 mile hike in about 3 hours with plenty of time to hang out up top.  The really fun part of this hike was that NoKey and I hadn’t met on trail yet, so we were experiencing this mountain together for the first time.  

The photos above are: the trail headed down Snowbird (and how different does it look in the fall?!); NoKey taking in the view from the Summit with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind him; a hint of fall color in the south; a view of the AT through the Smokies… Mt. Sterling is the tall one in front with the clouded summit; Gracie enjoying the view; NoKey in the Green Tunnel; NoKey hanging out between double blazes. 

Throwback Thursday #6 - Gulf Hagas loop hiking in July 2013. 

The Gulf Hagas rim trails are known only in passing to AT thru hikers.  By reading guidebooks, you’ll know that 0.7 miles apart, the AT bisects the Gulf Hagas Trail, but it takes you more than 5 miles to hike that distance if you take the Gulf Hagas Trail.  Many thru hikers keep on going when they have this gem of a hike within a stone’s throw of Katahdin.  

This trail system has some beautiful waterfalls, seven to be exact, and is extremely rugged hiking.  When we hiked it in July it was incredibly hot and the black flies were brutal, but being that we had to cross the east branch of the Pleasant River to get there, it was nice to get the chance to cool off a few times during the hike.  Despite being a waterfall-heavy trail, there are only two stream crossings that are of any concern.  The only hitch in our day was the fact that one of the trail signs wasn’t properly secured in the ground and had actually been turned, so we did “bonus miles” taking us to the Head of the Gulf instead of back to the AT.  Thankfully, we ran into the only people we would see all day on this particular trail and they showed us their map, getting us back on course.  

The photos you’re seeing above are: 1) The plaque on the other side of the second water crossing with the double blue blazes, letting you know you’re now off the AT and in Gulf Hagas, which is designated as a National Scenic Landmark; 2) Screw Auger Falls; 3) Buttermilk Falls; 4) A typical canyon/gorge that follows this trail system. The water below feeds the east branch of the Pleasant River; 5) The Head of the Gulf, where two large streams convene into a larger one and create the system which feeds the waterfalls. 

Throwback Thursday #5 - Hiking southbound on the AT over Chairback and down Third Mountain Trail, forming a loop with the logging roads in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  

We did this hike in June 2013.  The Gulf Hagas area of the 100 Mile Wilderness takes nearly 2 hours to drive to from Millinocket, but the drive is definitely worth it.  We decided to hike a “loop” that we formed by hiking southbound up and over Chairback, down Third Mountain, Trail, and finally hiking 2 miles on the logging roads back to our car at the Gulf Hagas Trailhead.  The weather was beautiful and starting to warm up, but the warm weather and sunshine after weeks of rain and cold in Central Maine means one thing - BLACK FLIES.  They were absolutely brutal on this hike, nailing us in the face and back of the neck (they left scabs on my neck for weeks after this hike!) 

The hiking southbound over this mountain, which is a boulder-scramble for the SoBo’s, was a lot tougher than it seemed the first time we hiked it (northbound, of course) during our thru hike in early September 2012. A 16-mile day in the 100 Mile Wilderness was ambitious and it was a full day of hiking, but the views were stunning and the hike left us both blissfully exhausted.  Above, you’ll see 1) the view from Monument Cliff, 2) a bog on the logging roads on the way back to the car, 3) the typical trail scenery in this part of Maine, 4) the view looking at the back of Chairback (aptly named, now you can see), and 5) NoKey on top of Chairback. 

Today NoKey and I went hiking in Baxter State Park after more than a week of rain and being stuck indoors.  This was our first official hike together since we finished the AT more than 7 months ago.  We hiked north from the AT from the Abol Bridge after taking in the morning view.  There was a ton of snow as it had snowed up there Friday and Saturday nights.  We were able to keep dry feet for about 4.5 miles when we ran into a SoBo, our first official trail SoBo, who let us know that Neswadonahunk Stream was running high and we’d definitely have to take the high water trail.  Even this trail had high water!  We got our feet pretty wet before coming back to the AT and passing both Big and Little Niagra Falls.  We walked around Daicey Pond and were less than a mile from Katahdin Stream Campground when we thought we heard someone in the woods.  We kept going, but heard a voice behind us… it was Erick, a hiker who stayed with us for a few days waiting for the high water to receed before starting his section hike.  He made the statement “Only you two could make a SoBo hike north on the AT to catch you!”  We gave him half of a giant sub and some Little Debbie cakes for trail magic before we ran into another one of our hikers from the weekend, Stinky Jesus! (We named him SJ because a hiker came in hypothermic and he helped him take off his boots to help him into the shower.)  We gave SJ some trail magic too and wished him well for his hike.   
 After getting to Katahdin Stream we decided to take a break, but the black flies and mosquitos were out in full force, so we kept moving on to the Blueberry Ledges Trail.  We had no idea what to expect on this trail, as we’d not ever really seen pictures.  Much of the trail was flooded for the first two miles and had been washed out quite a bit from all the rain last week, but we kept on until coming to the ledges, which were all granite rock with alpine plants.  The ledges go downhill to meet Katahdin Stream, which was running swift and high.  (Pictured above).  From here, we had a short 1.4-mile walk back to the AT near Abol Bridge and it couldn’t have been more pleasant, an old roadbed where we followed moose prints nearly the entire way down.  At the bottom of the trail we had another wonderful view of Katahdin and much of the snow melted in the direct sunlight and 70+ degree temperatures of the afternoon.   
 It felt great to be hiking again back into Maine.  I can’t wait to get back into the 100 Mile Wilderness next time!

Today NoKey and I went hiking in Baxter State Park after more than a week of rain and being stuck indoors.  This was our first official hike together since we finished the AT more than 7 months ago.  We hiked north from the AT from the Abol Bridge after taking in the morning view.  There was a ton of snow as it had snowed up there Friday and Saturday nights.  We were able to keep dry feet for about 4.5 miles when we ran into a SoBo, our first official trail SoBo, who let us know that Neswadonahunk Stream was running high and we’d definitely have to take the high water trail.  Even this trail had high water!  We got our feet pretty wet before coming back to the AT and passing both Big and Little Niagra Falls.  We walked around Daicey Pond and were less than a mile from Katahdin Stream Campground when we thought we heard someone in the woods.  We kept going, but heard a voice behind us… it was Erick, a hiker who stayed with us for a few days waiting for the high water to receed before starting his section hike.  He made the statement “Only you two could make a SoBo hike north on the AT to catch you!”  We gave him half of a giant sub and some Little Debbie cakes for trail magic before we ran into another one of our hikers from the weekend, Stinky Jesus! (We named him SJ because a hiker came in hypothermic and he helped him take off his boots to help him into the shower.)  We gave SJ some trail magic too and wished him well for his hike.  

After getting to Katahdin Stream we decided to take a break, but the black flies and mosquitos were out in full force, so we kept moving on to the Blueberry Ledges Trail.  We had no idea what to expect on this trail, as we’d not ever really seen pictures.  Much of the trail was flooded for the first two miles and had been washed out quite a bit from all the rain last week, but we kept on until coming to the ledges, which were all granite rock with alpine plants.  The ledges go downhill to meet Katahdin Stream, which was running swift and high.  (Pictured above).  From here, we had a short 1.4-mile walk back to the AT near Abol Bridge and it couldn’t have been more pleasant, an old roadbed where we followed moose prints nearly the entire way down.  At the bottom of the trail we had another wonderful view of Katahdin and much of the snow melted in the direct sunlight and 70+ degree temperatures of the afternoon.  

It felt great to be hiking again back into Maine.  I can’t wait to get back into the 100 Mile Wilderness next time!

"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." - Dr. Suess 
 This was me one year ago today, 11:00 a.m. at Springer Mountain in Georgia.  I had walked the 0.9 miles up to this plaque from the parking lot on the forest service road in about 15 minutes.  My head and my stomach were filled with butterflies as I took those steps, saying only “excuse me, excuse me” as I was passing the crowds of people going up to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  When I finally got there, I took a look at the view, got my photo taken (above) with the first white blaze of the AT, and then wrote a rambling, nonsensical, excited first journal entry in the log book.  This is it, 5 million steps until I quit.   
 It was such a beautiful, warm, sunny day on March 27, 2012. My plan for the day was to walk until I felt like I didn’t want to do it anymore.  Even so early in the day, I was passing people setting up their tents for the day on the side of the trail and meeting lots of hikers.  The thing that really stuck out in my mind was how excited we all seemed, greeting everyone walking by with a smile and awkwardly listening to people trying to decide if they had a trail name or if they should use their real names.  I immediately began with using my trail name, feeling like it was a totally different persona.  People almost looked relieved when you gave them a trail name, as if to say “well, you’re doing it, so I can too!”  But enough with my first day memories! 
 I had no idea how much this day would completely change my entire life. You hike the AT and you know something is going to change. In fact, Warren Doyle (a 17-time thru hiker who holds seminars a few times a year) has been known to tell everyone he meets who intends to hike that if you don’t want your life to change you shouldn’t go.  I feel like one year ago today isn’t an anniversary of a journey beginning, I feel like it’s more of a birthday.  I discovered so many things about myself on this trip, even if it wasn’t apparent to me at the time.  I made life-long friends with people who I only knew for only a few days, which is mind-blowing to me.  We all supported each other and, in a way, became a family in a short period of time.  For all of those who were with me on the AT in 2012, be it as a thru hiker, a section hiker, or a trail angel, you helped me become the person I am today and sharing that portion of my life with you means a lot to me.  
 In less than one month, I’ll be leaving my home in Knoxville behind to continue on my journey.  I’ll be moving to Millinocket, Maine to work at the Appalachian Trail Lodge for the hiking season.  If the job works out for the summer, it’s possible I’ll stay on year-round.  One year ago today I would’ve never guessed this would be my life.  I’m excited for all the changes and I can’t wait to share all my new travels and experiences with you.  

"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." - Dr. Suess

This was me one year ago today, 11:00 a.m. at Springer Mountain in Georgia.  I had walked the 0.9 miles up to this plaque from the parking lot on the forest service road in about 15 minutes.  My head and my stomach were filled with butterflies as I took those steps, saying only “excuse me, excuse me” as I was passing the crowds of people going up to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  When I finally got there, I took a look at the view, got my photo taken (above) with the first white blaze of the AT, and then wrote a rambling, nonsensical, excited first journal entry in the log book.  This is it, 5 million steps until I quit.  

It was such a beautiful, warm, sunny day on March 27, 2012. My plan for the day was to walk until I felt like I didn’t want to do it anymore.  Even so early in the day, I was passing people setting up their tents for the day on the side of the trail and meeting lots of hikers.  The thing that really stuck out in my mind was how excited we all seemed, greeting everyone walking by with a smile and awkwardly listening to people trying to decide if they had a trail name or if they should use their real names.  I immediately began with using my trail name, feeling like it was a totally different persona.  People almost looked relieved when you gave them a trail name, as if to say “well, you’re doing it, so I can too!”  But enough with my first day memories!

I had no idea how much this day would completely change my entire life. You hike the AT and you know something is going to change. In fact, Warren Doyle (a 17-time thru hiker who holds seminars a few times a year) has been known to tell everyone he meets who intends to hike that if you don’t want your life to change you shouldn’t go.  I feel like one year ago today isn’t an anniversary of a journey beginning, I feel like it’s more of a birthday.  I discovered so many things about myself on this trip, even if it wasn’t apparent to me at the time.  I made life-long friends with people who I only knew for only a few days, which is mind-blowing to me.  We all supported each other and, in a way, became a family in a short period of time.  For all of those who were with me on the AT in 2012, be it as a thru hiker, a section hiker, or a trail angel, you helped me become the person I am today and sharing that portion of my life with you means a lot to me. 

In less than one month, I’ll be leaving my home in Knoxville behind to continue on my journey.  I’ll be moving to Millinocket, Maine to work at the Appalachian Trail Lodge for the hiking season.  If the job works out for the summer, it’s possible I’ll stay on year-round.  One year ago today I would’ve never guessed this would be my life.  I’m excited for all the changes and I can’t wait to share all my new travels and experiences with you.  

After nearly a month of not getting to do any hiking, I decided to head up to the AT today to go up to Rocky Top.  Since I was going to be doing a loop hike, I had decided to take the longer, less steep route up to the AT, but at the very last second I decided to change my route and take the steeper, yet shorter, option to the top.   
 I did my first hike ever on the Anthony Creek Trail, passing a troop of boy scouts carrying entirely too much gear for only hiking 3 miles in.  The trail was wet, muddy, and eroded much like all the horse trails in this area of the park, but I was pleasantly surprised when I turned to climb up Bote Mountain Trail and found ice and snow on the ground.  Some of the drifts in the shade were more than a foot deep still, despite the warm temperatures in the valley!   
 When I got to the AT in the sunshine I felt great.  I quickly began to see beautiful views and got to take my lunch break with the view above.  From where I was sitting, you can see Fontana Lake and even the Shuckstack fire tower off in the distance.  The sunshine was warm and there was a very minimal breeze making it a beautiful place to sit.  The silence was near-deafening and it was definitely what I needed to recharge my batteries.   
 I continued my hike along the AT going south to the Russell Field Shelter.  I wrote a log book entry about my reflections on being a thru hiker and wished all the 2013ers reading a good trip.  I was really sad I didn’t run into any thru hikers because, even though it is still quite early, NoBo’s are already coming through.  I only passed one other hiker on the way down, which was quick and very scenic with the snow melt making for pretty cascades the entire way down.   
 It’s amazing to me how a quick 15-mile day can make all the difference you need.  Being outside and being unplugged for the day sure helped clear my head.  As many of you know, I’ve been in quite the rut lately and pretty down so being out in the sunshine on the trail that changed my life in so many ways was all the therapy I needed.

After nearly a month of not getting to do any hiking, I decided to head up to the AT today to go up to Rocky Top. Since I was going to be doing a loop hike, I had decided to take the longer, less steep route up to the AT, but at the very last second I decided to change my route and take the steeper, yet shorter, option to the top.

I did my first hike ever on the Anthony Creek Trail, passing a troop of boy scouts carrying entirely too much gear for only hiking 3 miles in. The trail was wet, muddy, and eroded much like all the horse trails in this area of the park, but I was pleasantly surprised when I turned to climb up Bote Mountain Trail and found ice and snow on the ground. Some of the drifts in the shade were more than a foot deep still, despite the warm temperatures in the valley!

When I got to the AT in the sunshine I felt great. I quickly began to see beautiful views and got to take my lunch break with the view above. From where I was sitting, you can see Fontana Lake and even the Shuckstack fire tower off in the distance. The sunshine was warm and there was a very minimal breeze making it a beautiful place to sit. The silence was near-deafening and it was definitely what I needed to recharge my batteries.

I continued my hike along the AT going south to the Russell Field Shelter. I wrote a log book entry about my reflections on being a thru hiker and wished all the 2013ers reading a good trip. I was really sad I didn’t run into any thru hikers because, even though it is still quite early, NoBo’s are already coming through. I only passed one other hiker on the way down, which was quick and very scenic with the snow melt making for pretty cascades the entire way down.

It’s amazing to me how a quick 15-mile day can make all the difference you need. Being outside and being unplugged for the day sure helped clear my head. As many of you know, I’ve been in quite the rut lately and pretty down so being out in the sunshine on the trail that changed my life in so many ways was all the therapy I needed.

I spent last weekend at the Northern Ruck in Bluemont, VA.  The snow was beautiful, the trail running was fun, and the company of former thru hikers and hikers-to-be was the greatest I’ve had in a long time. 

The food at The Ruck couldn’t be beat!  There was a wide array of dishes, from Indian to vegetarian to BBQ pork.  I can’t even get into how many delicious desserts there were!  If there’s one thing hikers like more than anything else, it’s food, and former hikers sure know how to throw a feast.

A good time was had by all and I’m looking forward to the next gathering ALDHA throws. The photos above are of Bears Den Trail Center, in the middle of the infamous VA Roller Coaster section of trail, and a photo on Sunday morning of NoKey, Rocket, Testament, and me having some coffee and saying our goodbyes.