Saturday, February 27, 2010
The A.T. is open to walkers, hikers, and backpackers. It is closed to motor vehicles and bicycles. It is closed to horses, except in certain limited sections where they are expressly allowed. Dogs are prohibited on the sections of the Trail within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC & TN) and Baxter State Park (ME), and must be on a leash on all national-park lands and most other Trail sections. I'm not a hiker but I think it's a shame that dogs and horses aren't allowed on the entire trail.
Conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937, the footpath spans the nation from north to south, Maine to Georgia. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, more than 9,000 people have hiked the entire trail since its completion. First-time thru-hikers may spend anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 to travel the entire AT, not including the cost of gear. You can figure on a minimum of $200/week. The trail has more than 250 shelters and camp sites available for hikers. Shelters are usually spaced a day or less apart. The trail crosses many roads, thus providing ample opportunity for hikers to hitchhike into town for food and other supplies. Many trail towns are accustomed to hikers passing through, and thus many have hotels and hiker-oriented accommodations.
In heavily used areas, A.T. “ridgerunners” and “caretakers” act as roving “eyes and ears” for Trail managers and for public education. Some carry two-way radios that may enable them to radio for help where cell phones do not work. However, many areas of the A.T. are remote, and help may be far away. ATC has no law-enforcement authority but can readily contact those who do in a particular area and help them help you. Cell phones won't work all the time because of no reception. But carrying a gun for protection is actually illegal. They are illegal on National Park Service lands (40 percent of the Trail) and in most other areas without a permit. Non-lethal weapons are illegal in some states. And you can't have your dog with you on some parts of the trail!?! Their suggestion is to think through various scenarios and know ahead of time what you would do and carry a whistle. Then dial 911. I'm not kidding, those are the suggestions on the nps.gov site! It's absurd! And, for those reasons, I would never be caught on the AT. If you do brave it, then let your family know where you are as often as you can, travel in a group, do NOT hitch hike and pray a lot.
Outside of the handful of towns it passes through between ridges, there are a variety of private stores, restaurants, and lodging options available relatively close to the A.T. in many areas. Many long-distance hikers plan "town stops" every few days to refresh and resupply, visit the post office, make phone calls, shower, check in, etc.
Here are some other things to be aware of:
Bugs-yes, I said bugs. You have to be careful with bugs. Ticks, spider bites, etc can be dangerous when you are out on the AT and nowhere close to a doctor. If you have any allergies to bug bites like I do... forget it. But even a hardened outdoorsman can get Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, infected mosquito bites, etc.
Snakes-a no-brainer. A snake bite on the trail and you could die before getting help.
Illness-let's say you eat something that doesn't agree with you and you vomit and have diarrhea. Not such a big deal at home but on a trail, you could get dehydrated and not be able to make it to a town. You are on your own 2 feet and if anything happens to keep those 2 feet from moving... you're out of luck! You may think you are in excellent health but you never know what could come up such as a kidney stone or foot blisters... anything that could come up and make you unable to walk out.
Injury-you trip over a root and break an ankle. Too bad. You have to wait for someone to come along and get them to go for help.
Storms-lightening, heavy rains, hypothermia
Other hikers-I'm sure there are many wonderful hikers on the AT and I've read some of the stories of people going out of their way to be helpful, friendly and caring. But who else is on the trail? Weirdos? Criminals? Perverts? Any isolated spot can attract the wrong kinds of people and you simply don't know who a person is. You've just met them on the AT and really have no idea who they are. They may really be that nice buddy who becomes a lifetime friend but they could be one of Manson's family for all you know.
Now I've told you the worst parts. (That's enough to keep me off the AT. Aren't you glad?) But there are reasons why people put themselves through a hike on the Appalachian Trail.
OK, so I couldn't think of a reason why people hike the AT. For the same reason I can't think why people climb Mt. Everest or sail around the world. It's just not in me. If I want to see beautiful mountain scenery, we take a drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway. If I want to picnic, we take a picnic basket to a nice park. If I want to walk, I take a walk and come home to sit in my hot tub. And I've always hated camping. So I don't feel like I'm missing out on something by not hiking the AT. But from what I see on the Internet, there are people who love it and are devoted to it. Some dream of hiking the whole way (called a thruway hike). Our Governor, Mark Sanford, used the AT as a smokescreen to run down to South America and play around with his mistress. (How embarrassing!) So the AT is good for something, LOL! I'm very proud of our nation for having the foresight to set apart our national parks and keeping huge chunks of our precious land and resources from being destroyed and the AT is a part of that. It's a good thing!
If you are one of those hardy souls who dream of hiking the AT, here is a list of things to take:
Guidebook/Map(s). While you could conceivably download and print out all the information you'll need with you on your hike, it's much more efficient to procure a guidebook and maps from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's online store. A good guidebook will give you all the info you need, in one compact package. If not included in the guidebook, get a macro view map of the complete trail as well as maps of trail sections.
Food. You'll need to carry at least a week's worth of food at a time, allot 1.5 to 2 lbs. for each day's worth of food, and count on consuming 3,000 to 7,000 calories each day, depending on your size and the hike's length and difficulty. This means you'll have to pack light, favoring dry goods over canned. Thru-hikes and long sectional hikes will require either buying food along the trail, or making mail drops—mailing supplies ahead to stores along the trail, so you can minimize backpack weight. Along a hike, dogs can eat as much as twice their usual amount, so pack dog food accordingly. Also consider bringing concentrated energy dog food with more calories—it will save space.
Resources for planning mail drops are available from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Resupply and Mail Drops page.
Water Filter (certified). Giardiasis is an illness that can be contaminated water, and the resulting acute stomach problems are sure to put a damper on your trip. The most reliable way to kill it is to boil the water, but a properly certified water filter will work as well. Before buying a filter, make certain that it is marked as an "Absolute 1 micron filter," that meets "International Standard #53 for Cyst Removal."
Water container(s). You can go with a traditional canteen, or a form-fitting, flexible hydration pack. What's important is to have water easily accessible while hiking. Consider getting a large, flexible water tank for transporting larger amounts of water between the creek and the camp, or keeping it overnight.
Leash. Bring two 6 to 9 foot leashes for your dog, as well as a long tie-out for frolicking at camp. If you let your dog run free on the AT, he may get lost and die of starvation or worse.
Stove. Especially if it's cold weather, however, make sure to bring a lightweight Camping Stove. Campfires are permitted in certain designated areas (consult your maps and guide books), but Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages their use, due to the negative environmental impact and potential for forest fires. If you're going on a Summer hike, consider lightening your load by eating food that does not require cooking.
Cook pot/utensils. Utensils and cooking gear come in all varieties. A dedicated camping pot will be lighter weight than a standard kitchen pot. Eating ware and cooking utensils that are meant specifically for camping are easy to carry and less likely to be lost.
First aid kit. Pick up a readymade kit specifically for hiking. It should include sterile dressings, antibiotic and burn ointments, adhesive bandages, solutions for flushing eyes, a thermometer and other crucial items. If bringing along a canine companion, also procure a dog first aid kit, as well as the American Red Cross' guide to Dog First Aid.
Prescription medications. Make sure you pack these in your first-aid kit. If your dog needs prescription meds, bring those along too!
Matches/candles. Also, a waterproof container and waterproof matches.
Cell phone. Though reception is spotty along the trail, a cell phone could just save your life in an emergency. To conserve the battery, you'll keep it off most of the time, but you make want to bring along some extra juice in the form an emergency cell phone charger.
Radio. Try to acquire a hand-crank model that receives National Weather Service alerts.
Clothing. It's an art to pack enough clothes without weighing yourself down. Windshirts are lightweight and make the most of your base layers. Wool socks, be sure you bring enough in case they get wet. You want to prevent blisters and problems. High-tech wool socks are lightweight and don't itch. Bandanas. Very versatile: you can use them for covering your head, or as a sieve for straining pasta. Just not the same bandanas! Dog booties. For dogs on the trail, foot injuries are common and disabling. You would need booties to keep them walking. Bring a pair of protective shoes for rough terrain.
Other tips: Pick items with multiple uses, like a poncho that can double as a tarp, and see if you can share clothing with your hiking partner (if you have one).
Tent. Dome and tunnel tents are two popular styles of tent. Nylon and polyester models are preferable to cotton for their light weight.
There are some ingenious tent designs on the market today and you can outfit yourself for a few hundred bucks.
Pocket knife. The classic Swiss army knife can range from a basic model to the state-of-the-art.
Prescription glasses. If you wear them, bring an extra pair.
Toilet paper. Go green with your TP, using Bio-Wipes, or a similar product.
Footwear/flip flops. Don't forget a comfy pair of sandals for hanging out around the campfire.
Sleeping bag/mat. Something to put between your sleeping bag and the hard ground can make a big difference to your back.
Flashlight/batteries. LED flashlights are a great option, and some of them also double as lanterns.
Cellophane bags. You will find innumerable uses for these.
Trash bag. Can be used as a poncho if needed.
Nylon rope. Get a few lengths of nylon rope for everything from hanging laundry to holding up the tent.
Pocket mirror. Can be used as an emergency signaling tool. A powerful whistle can help searchers find you if you get lost. You can get them on Amazon.
Insect repellent. Whether you want to cover your entire campground or just spray it on yourself, it's a great way to get relief.
Compass. The age-old Compass navigation device is a must-have. You can even use your cell phone as a compass. In taking your cell phone, be sure you have a way to recharge the batteries and always keep it charged.
Sun screen. Use something with an SPF of 15 or above. And remember, the sun is strongest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Hat. The bigger the brim, the better. You want to make sure the back of your neck is covered, too.
Earplugs. The trail is home to some noisy nocturnal creatures. You can go plastic or pick up a container of foam earplugs at any drug store.
One of the shelters along the way.
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