Hikers on the Appalachian Trail have many unique experiences; some are pleasant while others are best forgotten. If you are planning a thru-hike or multi-day hike on the A.T., you should set your mind to face challenges like sudden thunderstorms and exciting experiences such as making new friends and losing many unwanted pounds within a few weeks. Here are some highlights of what to expect on the A.T.
The Appalachian Trail is the best marked long distance hiking trail in the world. Each year, as many as 6,000 volunteers grouped into 31 trail management clubs invest hundreds of thousands of hours to maintain the white trail blazes placed on trees at an average distance of 70 feet apart. These blazes are 2 by 6 inch vertically placed rectangles. However, there are some other coloured blazes on the trail. For instance, the blue blazes indicate an alternate route or side trail. Usually they lead to a spectacular view, water source, campground or vista.
Most thru-hikers are very supportive and helpful to fresh and less experienced hikers.You can easily tell a thru-hiker from a day hiker by their long hair, thick legs, fast pace, and light backpack. They offer advice, support and vital information that will help you to avoid injuries, bear encounters, hunger and dehydration. Hikers are also kind enough to share their food and tools at campsites. However, you should observe basic rules of hygiene when sharing anything with a fellow hiker.
The Appalachian Trail has over 250 shelters spread across the entire length of the trail. These three-walled shelters are usually about 8 miles apart. Most experienced thru-hikers take advantage of these shelters, which are available on a first come first serve basis. But due to the ever increasing number of people (now about 2,700) that set out to thru-hike the A.T. from Georgia to Maine annually, there is no guarantee that you will find a space when you arrive at a designated shelter. So do yourself a favour and take a waterproof tent or hammock.
Weight Loss and Fitness
Virtually every hiker on the A.T. will lose weight after a few days of hiking. The rate of weight loss could vary from one hiker to another. If you want to get in shape, a multi-day hike will provide a more efficient and effective form of exercise than a gym. This means that you should be prepared to wear a small sized bra as a female and be ready to wear pants with an adjustable waist line as male hiker. However, you must monitor your level of fitness on the trail. Do not start at a very fast pace trying to cover more than 8 miles per day. Your body will eventually adjust to the daily “punishment” and you will be able to cover more miles, especially when you set out before dawn and the weather is conducive for fast paced walking.
A thru-hiker will experience a wide variation in climate on the A.T., from the temperate weather in the rainforests in Georgia to the windy and cold alpine climate in northern Maine. Most thru-hikers set out at Spring Mountain in Georgia before April 1st so they can arrive at Mount Kalahdin by early October. However, late starters or those who are slowed down by blisters, pain or injury may arrive at Maine in winter. Lightning is a major weather hazard on the A.T. and wind and rain storms can occur suddenly on high elevations due to rapid condensation. It is essential to have rain gear with you always.
Climbing Rugged Terrain
A large part of the A.T. is strewn rocks of various sizes. You will climb over rocks and some could cause you to trip. Some are so irregular, they require you to use your leg and foot muscles to keep your balance with every step you take. Be aware that you may fall a couple of times especially when you are descending a steep cliff. So it is wise to keep your smartphone on the top of your pack so it does not break if you fall on your back. When you are trekking downhill, it is very important to use a hiking pole to improve your balance and protect your knees from damage.
Surely, hiking on the A.T. involves enduring pain and overcoming many challenges. But you can have a successful and rewarding hike if you focus your mind on completing it against all odds.