The ATC reports success rate for thru hikers at 25-30%. That is amazing considering all of the factors involved. The last time I looked that rate was like 10% with 25-50 percent bailing after the first 100 miles.
What is behind the huge rise in success rate?
Are there less people attempting a thru-hiker?
And are the new thru-hikers fitter and more prepared than there predecessors?
One of the factors noted behind the success rate was the internet because of the great info that is out there. This is a huge pat on the back for whiteblaze.net and the other sites.
With all of the info out there, I think would-be thru-hikers have a better idea of what they are getting into. This may scare off some people while motivating others to be more prepared.
The folks here on this site have hooked me up with great info for my section hike from pearisburg to harpers ferry this year. (thanks)
The other factor that I can attest to is the lightweight backpacking revolution. It is much easier to hike with 20-30 pounds then 45-60 plan and simple. The equipment on my first section hike was all wrong...metal frame pack, heavy tent, canned food and a lot of extra stuff. In fact my pack was so heavy that when I put it on for the first time, I feel over and turtled in my living room.
I watched the film lightweight backpack secrets revealed by Lynne Whelden and forever did it change my hiking.
My current pack with everything including a 3 Lbs tent which I usually left at home (to be a shelter hog) weighs in at 30 LBs with 6 days of food, water, and fuel.
Another factor I have noticed is a building up of hostels/outposts along the way. Mom and Pop hostels and way station are sprouting up all of the time, most in the last 5-10 years. These increased opportunities for a bed, shower, laundry, a mail drop and possible shuttle into town take the edge off and helps make the miles go a little easier.
On my last section hike, I called myself "townzilla" because I was on a town kick. I went in for any stop over opportunities for a sandwich, ice cream and a cola that I could find. The result was a super light pack with 1-2 day supply.
My current trip will have more time in the woods and less at a quicky mart.
With all of this said, the trail itself has not gotten any easier. Even for a hiker on a day hike, the trail is still the trail. The miles are still the miles and up is always up.
Whether you are going for a thru hiker, section hike, or day hike, congrats to you for getting off the couch and experiencing the woods. And congrats for the class of 2009 who finish and congrats for those who don't for trying.