• Southbound AT Hiking Rates

    Southbound AT Hiking Rates
    (published March 2013)

    by Steve Shuman (map man)

    I have now found enough thorough journal keepers at trailjournals.com for Southbound AT thru-hikes to feel it is worthwhile to publish some preliminary data for that group -- 39 of them from the hiker classes of 2002 through 2012.

    TABLE 1 -- Mean Days to Complete Each Section

    MEAN DAYS~TOTAL DAYS~~SECTION
    16.4 days...........16.4 days.........Katahdin to Stratton
    10.7 days...........27.1 days.........Stratton to Gorham
    10.3 days...........37.4 days.........Gorham to Glencliff
    22.5 days...........59.9 days.........Glencliff to Kent
    11.9 days...........71.8 days.........Kent to Delaware Water Gap
    16.4 days...........88.2 days.........Delaware Water Gap to Harpers Ferry
    9.7 days............97.8 days..........Harpers Ferry to Waynesboro
    23.2 days.........121.0 days.........Waynesboro to Damascus
    20.4 days.........141.4 days.........Damascus to Fontana
    10.4 days.........151.8 days.........Fontana to Springer

    So far, then, Southbounders in my study have been taking seventeen fewer days to thru-hike than the Northbounders in my study (151.8 days versus 168.8 days -- the median for SOBOs was 156). To further compare the two groups, here is a table showing how many miles per day were covered for each section for both SOBOs and NOBOs:

    TABLE 2 -- Miles Per Day

    SOBO MPD~~NOBO MPD~~~SECTION
    11.5 miles........13.6 miles.........Katahdin to Stratton
    10.3 miles........11.1 miles.........Stratton to Gorham
    9.8 miles..........10.5 miles.........Gorham to Glencliff
    14.4 miles........14.0 miles.........Glencliff to Kent
    14.5 miles........13.9 miles.........Kent to Delaware Water Gap
    16.5 miles........13.9 miles.........Delaware Water Gap to Harpers Ferry
    16.6 miles........14.4 miles.........Harpers Ferry to Waynesboro
    16.8 miles........13.4 miles.........Waynesboro to Damascus
    14.5 miles........12.2 miles.........Damascus to Fontana
    15.7 miles........10.3 miles.........Fontana to Springer
    14.3 miles........12.9 miles.........The Entire AT

    The mountains in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee clearly don't give Southbounders as much trouble as they do Northbounders! The only sections SOBOs cover more slowly than NOBOs are the first three sections in the north (Katahdin to Glencliff) when SOBOs are still getting their "trail legs." Next, here is a table eliminating zero days from the hikes, showing just miles per hiking day (SOBOs had 135.8 hiking days and NOBOs had 148.1):

    TABLE 3 -- Miles Per Hiking Day

    MPHD SOBO~~MPHD NOBO~~~SECTION
    12.1 miles...........14.7 miles...........Katahdin to Stratton
    11.3 miles...........12.5 miles...........Stratton to Gorham
    11.1 miles...........11.4 miles...........Gorham to Glencliff
    15.9 miles...........15.5 miles...........Glencliff to Kent
    17.1 miles...........16.1 miles...........Kent to Delaware Water Gap
    18.7 miles...........16.8 miles...........Delaware Water Gap to Harpers Ferry
    18.4 miles...........16.8 miles...........Harpers Ferry to Waynesboro
    18.4 miles...........15.9 miles...........Waynesboro to Damascus
    17.5 miles...........14.0 miles...........Damascus to Fontana
    16.8 miles...........11.0 miles...........Fontana to Springer
    16.0 miles...........14.7 miles...........The Entire AT

    Southbounders took a mean 16.0 zero days (median was 17) and Northbounders took 20.7 zero days. Just as in the NOBO study I also broke zero days into short term breaks (2 straight zeros or less) and long term breaks (3 straight zeros or more) for SOBOs. There was almost no difference in the frequency of zero days taken in short term breaks for SOBOs and NOBOs -- 7.3% of days on the trail were taken in short-term zero days for SOBOs and 7.5% for NOBOs. Where the difference came was in long term breaks. NOBO's percentage of days devoted to long term breaks was 50% greater than for SOBOs -- 4.8% of days versus 3.2%.

    Here is a list of the most popular locations for SOBOs to take zero days. I mention just the places where at least 15% of SOBOs zeroed and list the towns in north to south order (with the percentages for NOBOs listed in parentheses).

    Monson ME -- 67% (32%)
    Stratton ME -- 28% (15%)
    Andover ME -- 36% (15%)
    Gorham NH -- 46% (44%)
    Franconia Notch NH -- 26% (15%)
    Hanover NH -- 41% (28%)
    Rutland VT -- 15% (19%)
    Manchester Center VT -- 23% (23%)
    Dalton MA -- 21% (20%)
    Salisbury CT -- 15% (6%)
    Delaware Water Gap PA -- 23% (35%)
    Duncannon PA -- 28% (27%)
    Harpers Ferry WV -- 33% (50%)
    Waynesboro VA -- 26% (50%)
    Daleville VA -- 31% (38%)
    Pearisburg VA -- 26% (51%)
    Damascus VA -- 51% (84%)
    Erwin TN -- 15% (40%)
    Hot Springs NC -- 33% (61%)
    Gatlinburg TN -- 26% (22%)
    Fontana NC -- 21% (38%)

    While Damascus may be the favorite place for a zero day for a Nourthbounder, for Southbounders the clear favorite is Monson -- a treat for having gotten through the hundred mile wilderness. SOBOs are definitely less likely to take zero days in southern towns than NOBOs, with the exception of Gatlinburg, where more than a few SOBOs in the study had to wait out snowstorms in the Smoky Mountains.

    Here is a table showing "typical" progress for SOBO hikers taking three different hypothetical hikes -- taking four months, five months and six months to complete their hikes:

    TABLE 4 -- Three Hypothetical Hikes

    4#HIKE~~5#HIKE~~6#HIKE~~LANDMARK
    13 days......17 days......20 days......Stratton
    22 days......27 days......33 days......Gorham
    30 days......38 days......45 days......Glencliff
    48 days......60 days......72 days......Kent
    58 days......72 days......87 days......Delaware Water Gap
    71 days......89 days......106 days....Harpers Ferry
    79 days......99 days......118 days....Waynesboro
    97 days.....122 days.....146 days.....Damascus
    114 days...143 days.....171 days.....Fontana
    122 days...153 days.....183 days.....Springer

    Clearly the sample size for this Southbound study is smaller than I would like (I hope to keep adding more hikers to it in coming years) -- just 39. What I think is most reliable about this smaller group is the proportionality between sections, as reflected in the table above, and also reflected in the ratios between one section and another in the miles per day and the miles per hiking day tables.

    I do, though, want to mention some characteristics of the Southbound group in my study. Here is the distribution of hikers, classified by the month they left Katahdin and arrived at Springer:

    4 started in May
    21 in June (54%)
    13 in July
    1 in August

    1 finished in September
    7 in October
    15 in November
    13 in December
    3 in January

    31% of hikers were female (versus 27% of NOBOs)
    69% were male (versus 73% of NOBOs)

    One interesting characteristic of the female SOBO hikers was that compared to NOBOs they were much more likely to hike as part of a couple and less likely to start off alone. Indeed, there was a much higher percentage of couples among the journal keepers in the SOBO study compared to the NOBO study. One surmise I have for why this might be true is that a significant obstacle for many hikers contemplating a SOBO thru-hike is fear of loneliness. But this might be less of a barrier for couples since they would still have each other for company even if other hikers turned out to be scarce.

    51% of hikers were under 30 years old (versus 45% of NOBOs)
    31% were in the 30 to 49 age group (versus 26% of NOBOs)
    18% were 50 or older (versus 29% of NOBOs)

    I'm less confident in these numbers, given my small sample size, than I am for NOBOs, so I am not, for now, going to list total days or zero days by groups based on gender, age or start date, though I have calculated them.

    I used the same methodologies for this study as I did for my study of NOBOs, and that original study can be found at this link:

    http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php?44

    Once again I want to thank Whiteblaze and its members for providing a forum for my numbers mania, and I'm really grateful to the web site trailjournals.com for giving me access to so much information I can compile to create those numbers!
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. COPrHead's Avatar
      COPrHead -
      That is awesome material. I was concerned I would have to convert n/b data. Thank you!
    1. coach lou's Avatar
      coach lou -
      Excellent data, thanks for taking the time to put it together for us.
    1. Moosky's Avatar
      Moosky -
      Fantastic post. Thanks!
    1. xMagnolia's Avatar
      xMagnolia -
      Thanks for your data fetish! I'm considering a 2015 thru, and am examining the data and variables concerning NOBO & SOBO. I know that in the end, deciding which direction to go wont be made by a simple formula, but I like to have as much info as possible to assist in that decision.