PDA

View Full Version : 2014 start date earlier than in the past



lonehiker
12-20-2013, 19:48
I just took a quick peek at the 2014 spreadsheet and was wondering if the trend is to start a bit earlier than in the past. Seems like just a few years ago early April was the trend but see that now the vast majority are starting in March.

moldy
12-20-2013, 22:09
It is a trend. Not a good one. It contributes to a lower success rate. Not that the ATC wants to have a lower success rate but they do encourage starting early. This is what they say on their web page:
"
A typical northbounder, starting in March or April and finishing in September, can expect:


Starting among crowds of other thru-hikers—thirty or more a day.
Cold weather to start, with some snow or ice, but occasional warmer weather in Georgia.
Snow, sometimes deep, at high elevations throughout North Carolina and Tennessee.
Bare trees and winter conditions at high elevations for the first month or two. Cold-weather gear is usually advised until you have hiked beyond the Mt. Rogers high country in southwest Virginia.
Hot, humid weather though the mid-Atlantic states.
Favorable temperatures through most of southern New England.
Periods of cold weather in New Hampshire and Maine in September and October.
A dramatic ending: Katahdin.


To avoid crowds, the optimal time to start a northbound thru-hike is after April 15; however, since the average thru-hiker takes six months to finish, this can mean cutting it close: Baxter State Park in Maine is closed from October 15 to May 15, and the Appalachian Trail up Katahdin is closed on any day when the weather makes hiking there dangerous."

On one hand they say to avoid crowds to start after April 15 but by so doing you won't make it?
What is going on is that the ATC, Park Service, and Forrest Service all want to reduce the effect of the "bubble" and reduce the crowding. The existing trail facilities are overtaxed in the South during this period and rather than expanding, they would much rather spread the bubble out.
So the "word" on the street is, start early and get ahead of the bubble. and hope for an early Spring......

map man
12-21-2013, 10:59
A majority of NOBO thru-hikers start in March (around 60%) and that's been true at least since 2001 when I started tracking thru-hikes at trailjournals.com for my various studies. The pertinent distribution is right after Table 2 in this article:

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

As of 12/21/2013 AM I count 122 March starters to 55 April starters in Mountain Squid's WB 2014 database and that proportion is slightly lower than the proportion in the above table and close to the same proportion for Squid's 2013 and 2012 databases (it's actually slightly lower than it was in 2013).

Some of the veteran AT hikers here at WB do say that typical starting times used to be later back in the 20th century.

Slo-go'en
12-21-2013, 14:41
Back in the 80's when I started hanging out on the AT, conventual wisdom had tax day (April 14th) as the ideal start date. But then we started having a spell of mild winters and early springs, which made a much earlier start practical. Some of the things moldy mensions maybe a factor too, but I think it was mostly the earlier springs.

But lately it seems fall lasts longer with winters shorter, but more intense and hanging in there well into March again. Only time will tell if starting in March this coming season will be a good idea or a bad idea. Personally, I'd stick to the early to mid April start to avoid the worst of the early spring/late winter weather.

MuddyWaters
12-21-2013, 14:44
The average starting thru hiker would do better to spend March and half of April running to get in shape and getting their pack weight down, than to start in March.

4eyedbuzzard
12-21-2013, 14:58
ATC also promotes "alternative itineraries" part of which is to address "the bubble" and impact on the trail and services. http://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/thru-section-hiking/when-where-to-start
Some of these make a lot of common sense (I especially liked "Cool Breeze's both for weather and easing into the trail in it's less difficult section), but they require additional travel logistics and money, and many purists will reject the concept as they are not "terminus to terminus" hikes.

lonehiker
12-21-2013, 15:16
Changing the subject just a bit:

Mapman, I used your hiking rates data to plan my hike in 08. I put the data for a 5 month thru in a spreadsheet then added Mr Tarlin's resupply schedule (always using the lower number) next to each section. The 2 columns came to within 2 days of each other. Copied the schedule to a word document, deleted stuff I didn't need and printed it back-to-back on 6 pages. That plus buying a copy of Appalachian Pages was the extent of my planning. About an hours worth of work. If anyone wants a copy pm me.

map man
12-21-2013, 15:53
Lonehiker, since you started your hike with the assumption that it would take you about 5 months, I'm curious if your estimated pace then came close to duplicating your actual pace. If hikers had the knowledge and backpacking experience to accurately estimate their pace I think this could make a big difference in the start times that thru-hiker hopefuls choose. For instance, if I knew I was a five month hiker I would probably start mid-April and finish mid-September to minimize the amount of time I was out there in sub-freezing temperatures.

And to bring this back to the original topic, I think that a lot of hikers with little experience figure they should allow themselves six to seven months to finish, "just to be on the safe side," and that ends up moving their start times into March.

Slo-go'en
12-21-2013, 17:48
And to bring this back to the original topic, I think that a lot of hikers with little experience figure they should allow themselves six to seven months to finish, "just to be on the safe side," and that ends up moving their start times into March.

And that shoots them in the foot, as the weather in March is so rotten. It either slows them down so it does take the extra month to finish or puts them off the trail early on.

max patch
12-21-2013, 18:58
And to bring this back to the original topic, I think that a lot of hikers with little experience figure they should allow themselves six to seven months to finish, "just to be on the safe side," and that ends up moving their start times into March.

I agree with this observation 100%.

lonehiker
12-21-2013, 19:42
Lonehiker, since you started your hike with the assumption that it would take you about 5 months, I'm curious if your estimated pace then came close to duplicating your actual pace. If hikers had the knowledge and backpacking experience to accurately estimate their pace I think this could make a big difference in the start times that thru-hiker hopefuls choose. For instance, if I knew I was a five month hiker I would probably start mid-April and finish mid-September to minimize the amount of time I was out there in sub-freezing temperatures.

And to bring this back to the original topic, I think that a lot of hikers with little experience figure they should allow themselves six to seven months to finish, "just to be on the safe side," and that ends up moving their start times into March.
Map man, I dropped out in Rutland, VT. I started 9 Apr and stopped in Rutland 3 Aug. I was on pace to finish right at 5 months (appx 8 Sep). I made an educated guess that I was somewhat of a stronger hiker than average (mileage wise) as I had backpacked for years and had completed some mid-distance hikes. I actually would get ahead of myself periodically but would then use those days for zeros. If I ever make another attempt I will probably approach it the same way.

I agree that those who haven't hiked much would have a difficult time guestimating their time as they have nothing to go by except others accounts.

Another thought: Is the push for ultralight packing setting people up for failure with the much colder and unpredictable weather and being, maybe, not as prepared for it. Not that lightweight means less prepared, but it does take a certain set of skills that novice hikers may not have.

jj2044
12-21-2013, 20:40
Back in the 80's when I started hanging out on the AT, conventual wisdom had tax day (April 14th) as the ideal start date. .

Was tax day ideal start day because you finally had money to hike ? or because you didn't do your taxes and were on the run ? lol I have seen a lot of college kids starting earlier and earlier, trying to get back in time for the fall semester, roughly late aug- early sept is when they start. and while I have seen many young students make it, I have seen far more fail and leave early. I kind of hope this year(2013) will kind of slow down the March start dates, they had some real rough weather this year..... After "a walk in the Woods" comes out I think there is going to be an explosion of February and early March hikers that just don't know any better.

MuddyWaters
12-21-2013, 21:20
Some hikers are on a forced march, with a firm and short timeframe to hike.
Others are enjoying the trail, the towns, side trips, and their new friends.

Neither way right or wrong.

Many (most?) people will take as long as they are allowed to get something down.

bamboo bob
12-21-2013, 22:26
I chose April 4th because it was the date when the average temperature stays above 40. Seemed like a good idea. finished 9/7/2002 A did two other end to ends in sections. They both started as thruhikes but "chit happens"

Elder
12-21-2013, 22:37
IMHO "Springer Fever" is the biggest reason many start early. Frequently earlier than anticipated just to GO. The advent of ultralight is a curse, for the inexperienced, and a blessing to the knowledgable.

Tinker
12-22-2013, 01:27
Start early, lots of cold weather gear, shorter distance/day due to extra weight, more zero days due to weather extremes, and you'll get caught by those who started earlier, carried lighter, took fewer zero days, and hiked more miles/day due to less carry weight. Strictly theory. :-? Oh, and you'll spend more money, too.

Tinker
12-22-2013, 01:28
Meant to say you'll get caught by those who started LATER - BIG oops :o

ChinMusic
12-22-2013, 01:45
If you can hike the trail in 4-5 months (or less) then start in April.
If it takes you 6 months then start in March.

Pretty simple.

Siarl
12-22-2013, 03:30
Well. I've been reading this post and now I'm wondering if I'm too optimistic. I'm still going to do it and I'm excited as all git out but, Lordy, I really hate the cold. There. I said it. But I need to be able to finish by the end of Aug. Sooooooo...I guess I'll either be doing some really good mileage per day...eventually, or I'll have to start in Mid March. In the cold. Brrrr. I hope the beauty outweighs the cold sensation of sliding down a cool green leaf in that Peppermint Patty commercial.

fehchet
12-22-2013, 06:54
Important though is to make sure you are prepared to keep yourself warm. Shivering at night and bemoaning the cold snowy days is not a success formula. There are many articles to read on the staying warm subject. My formula is layers of wool and silk. Add a down jacket and proper temp down sleeping bag and shelter. I was born in northern Quebec and have hiked through northern Canada in good weather and stormy weather all the while keeping safe and warm. So, if you are new to this staying warm, then a little read will be helpful.
PS: speaking with an experienced hiker helps too.

BrianLe
12-22-2013, 14:17
"Start early, lots of cold weather gear, shorter distance/day due to extra weight, more zero days due to weather extremes, and you'll get caught by those who started earlier, carried lighter, took fewer zero days, and hiked more miles/day due to less carry weight. Strictly theory."

With truly no offense intended, might be better to talk to those who can go beyond strictly theory on this. I started in late Feb in 2010 and had a great time, albeit indeed some challenging at times until Virginia. Very very few caught me that I recall; maybe a handful. A friend is thru-hiking this year and I hope to start with him in the first half of March and do about the first month together (have other things scheduled so I'm not hiking it all again ...). I was happy to start as early as he wanted to, i.e., I didn't have any major trauma from an early start before.

In terms of folks catching up to you, I have a rough theory on that. For most folks, you start a long trail far from tip-top trail condition and sort of walk yourself fitter. This takes some weeks. If I spend those initial weeks in snow and shorter days and so forth, I'm still getting stronger and will still be doing 20+ days once I break out of snow and blow-downs and the days get longer. So maybe if you hit just the right cusp of changing weather and melting snow, the average later-starter will catch up a little during those first "getting stronger" weeks, but not all that much I expect. Even quite a lot of the earlier bits are snow free or low enough snow as to not slow you down much or at all, and the days are long enough for the number of miles most starting out hikers are inclined to do.
I took a few days off in Pennsylvania to go back for Trail Days, and then I was out just over two weeks in New York with giardia, and when I got back on trail there still weren't that many around me.

"Zero days due to weather extremes". I'm sure this can happen, but I don't recall it happening to me or anyone hiking around me, and 2010 was a relatively high snow year in the south. It was a little dicey getting back from Gatlinburg as the road was so icy no cars were going so we took a few more hours to get back to trail but that was about it insofar as I can remember. So while it can happen, it's certainly not a certainty that you'll lose much or even any time this way.

Heavier gear: true sort of, but I'm not sure I would have carried much less even starting a month later, as relatively severe cold nights can occur in late March too. Maybe I would have mailed gear home sooner, dunno (I swapped for lighter gear in Pearisburg).

The caveat of some snow experience and intelligent gear choices is certainly valid, as is just keeping your expectations tuned to reality. If you don't care to live in a world that's constantly as cold as your refrigerator or colder, then indeed start later. I was happy to have less crowd, less heat later on, few bugs to deal with.

Really not meaning to be argumentative. Perhaps it's one of those cases where if you're sure you want to start on the early side, you're right, whereas if you're sure that starting on the early side is a bad idea, then you're right too!