The unfortunate truth about planning for the AT (according to all the thru-hikers I’ve talked to/read from) is that you can’t plan for what will happen on the trail. Everyone recommends that you take the trail as it comes to you, and adjust on the fly. The common answer to questions about what method/gear/approach is best is “Hike your own hike” (HYOK). With that in mind, although I’m making a plan of where I’ll be and when, I realize that things could very easily change and I’m going to need to adapt. However, since I’m doing maildrops and also have 2 friends getting married while I’m on the trail, I do need to make some effort to understand where I’ll be and when.
Based on my research, I can safely count on about 8 miles per day when I start off in GA. I don’t want to do more than that because those who hike too fast tend to get injured and drop off the trail. I plan to start the approach trail March 21, so that should put me at the NC border (76 miles away from Springer Mtn) around April 1. As a side note, I did research for my MS degree about 30 miles later right around Franklin, NC, so that should prove to be some good inspiration right at the beginning of my hike.
From there on, I should average 12-15 mile days up until Virginia (460 miles from Springer). That figures to be almost a month of hiking so I should be to the Va-Tn border near the end of April. Trail Days this year will be May 18-20 so I may miss it, but I’m ok with that. If I do miss it I’ll probably attend next year since I don’t live terribly far from Damascus. Incidentally, somewhere around 40% of attempted thru-hikers will have dropped out at this point.
They call the AT the “long green tunnel.” At least part of this is because of the VA section. VA is known both as the easiest part to hike, and also the most boring, resulting in what are called the “Virginia Blues”. The VA section of the trail is >; 530 miles long, making it at least 1/4 of the entire trail. It is also very flat and lacks the rocky areas of the northern half of the trail. Getting to Harper’s Ferry, the halfway point of the trail and the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, is a huge psychological milestone. In Virginia I should be able to count on some 20-25 mile days, better weather (May in VA!) and some encounters/companionship with friends. Although the friends might slow me down, they’ll break up the monotony, so I look forward to their company. I estimate almost 1.5 months to get through VA, putting me to Harpers Ferry right around June 4th.
From there you can figure a little less than 3 months for the northern half of the trail (I’ll be in hiking shape, weather should be good, and the end should be in sight). That puts me at Katahdin right around the end of August.
Below is a table I put together based on three thru-hikers I tracked last year who were very diligent about making trial journal updates every day complete with mileage. I know this isn’t a shelter-to-shelter accounting, but you’ll get that as it happens. For now, this should give you as much of an idea of what I’m planning as I’m willing to plan!
|Approach Trail||March 21|
|Springer Mountain||March 22|
|Neel’s Gap, GA||March 25|
|Hiawassee, GA||March 29|
|Fontana Dam||April 5|
|Hot Springs||April 12|
|Erwin, TN||April 17|
|Damascus, VA||April 25|
|Atkins/Pearisburg, VA||May 4-ish|
|Daleville/Troutville, VA||May 13|
|Waynesboro, VA||May 21|
|Harper’s Ferry||May 31|
|Palmerton, PA||June 18|
|Unionville, NY||June 26|
|Kent, CT||July 4|
|Friend’s house, MA||July 10-ish|
|Hanover, NH||July 23|
|Gorham, NH||Aug 2|
|Monson, ME||August 19|