View Full Version : Transition From AT to Other Long Trails

Gambit McCrae
06-07-2018, 09:03
What are the differences in the AT VS other long trails?
To narrow this down, we could focus on the West...More westward then the AT at least...Say the PCT and CDT since they are the most popular IMO. Below are some conversation pieces that may show the greatest differences from what a hiker will notice once migrating from an AT completion to another long trail.

Disclaimer up front "Its all walkin'" has now been covered in this thread and duly noted.

Travel Logistics
Gear Choices
Experience Level on Average of Hikers

To those who have the knowledge, elaborate on the bullets above, and add to the list.

06-07-2018, 10:01
I haven't been on the CDT or PCT, but I'd add navigation skills and snowfield crossings and altitude issues to that list.

06-07-2018, 10:38
steeper climbs
availability of bailout points

06-07-2018, 12:46
I believe in general you can get by with lighter weight gear especially shelters out west. On my PCT hike I set up my tarp only three nights, once in each state.

Resupplies will generally be a bit longer and more likely to involve hitching. My mileage on the AT, PCT and the section of the CDT that I have done have been similiar. YMMV.

You have a bit more planning to do on the western trails, there is a more defined window. With current PCT permit limits more hikers are pushing those windows and there are more and more hitches on helicopters every year.

You have hiked a good bit, a SoBo PCT hike could be an option if you are looking for a few less people. If I were doing a standard PCT hike I would only do a SoBo at this point.

Guthook has an app for all three trails so map and navigation aren't needed. (Insert dripping with sarcasm emoji here.)

It used to be that PCT hikers had a lot more experience than say the AT thru attempters. Between Wild and Social media this gap has narrowed. It is amazing the lack of experience of many hitting these trails. Also, a factor in the helicopter hitches.

Water needs to be managed out west. That is probably the biggest difference. With various apps there aren't really surprises, just heavy carries at times.

With 50 people a day and the associated hiker groupies doing "trail magic" you can now have a trail angel deliver you pizza nearly anywhere on the trail. I'm not kidding, you should see the trivial requests and the groupies falling all over each other to make hikers vacation easier. So that gives you a feel of the "social" aspect of AT least the PCT.

having said all that, I love hiking in the west.

map man
06-07-2018, 18:58
Treadway. Although Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine are the places you hear the most about when it comes to muddy, swampy, rooty or foot-punishing-rocky treadway, places like this are sprinkled liberally throughout many parts of the AT. They are not nearly as common on western trails I have hiked. I am not saying they don't exist, but they are significantly less frequent in my experience.

The swampy/muddy part of the equation has to do mostly with the eastern states/AT getting more rain than most western state trails outside of parts of the Pacific Northwest.

06-07-2018, 20:22
I've hiked the entire Colorado Trail, most of the JMT, and shorter hikes on other western trails. To me, the most noticeable differences are (1) scenery and (2) weather, namely humidity in the east vs dryness in the west. This latter point results in sweaty nights in eastern summers (except the Whites) and dry but notably colder nights in the west.

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06-07-2018, 20:37
fewer, if any, shelters

06-07-2018, 20:45
I've done a few trips in the Rockies. Malto outlines it pretty well.

The lack of trees is striking, as are the long views. But this means no shade and it can get really hot. But then it gets real cold at night. Afternoon T storms are the big threat during July and August. If you can sit out the deluge for an hour or two, your good for the rest of the day. Having enough water can be an issue. Dry 20 mile stretches are common. Getting used to this is not easy when one is used to frequent AT water sources.

All in all the hiking is really easy, except high elevation can slow you way down. It's not often you need to think about your foot placement, it's like walking down a sidewalk. Not at all like the constant attention you need on the AT. Which actually makes hiking out west a little boring for me. There's also nothing to sit down on. Fallen trees or big rocks along the side of the trail are fairly rare. Just wide open spaces. The AT offers endless places to sit down and rest for a few minutes.

Depending on where and how long, mail drops might have to be set up.

06-07-2018, 22:18
While there are differences in weather and terrain and cell service and window-of-opportunity..

I wouldnt say theres any "transitioning" for experienced hikers. Its all still just hiking. If you can plan food and water, wear sun protection clothing, and avoid high exposed places in t-storms, you got 99% of it.

Biggest transition is needing airplane rides to get there.

06-07-2018, 22:34
IMO most start out with the AT and it teaches you a few important things:
Number 1/ Less is more (lighter packs are the way to go and it takes a thru-hike to really learn what you need)
2/ It is tough (trail builder philosphy has made the AT the toughest physical trail (as far as ups and downs anyway)
3/ You learn to hike in rain (or at least wet most of the time) as the other 2 are in much drier climates

Then most go to the PCT next. Where you learn:
1/ How to deal with longer waterless stretches and (before all the caches anyway) how to find water in the desert)
2/ Fords: The AT doesn't have much at all in the ford department but, you will have some serious ones in the Sierras if you are thru-hiking NOBO)
3/ Snow: Ice ax experience is important
4/ longer between resupplies (longer but trail miles come much easier as it is graded gently for horses in most cases)

Now you have the added problem of navigation.
I realize with the apps and phones these days, this is not so much of a problem anymore. And keeping your phone charged is more the important task.
But when I did it, you could go anyway you wanted basically and had some great (and not so great) choices.
We learned how to read a map like an expert.
and GPS's were just coming out so we learned how to place ourselves on a map too.
This of course, is becoming a lost art.
Also: on the CDT you have desert, snow, long distances between resupply, and high altitude.

Once you have completed the 3, you are ready to head into mountaineering if you want to keep learning extreme hiking.
Which includes: rock climbing, sleeping in snow (might have learned this on the CDT), snow anchors, crampons, ropes, knots, etc.

Also, for me, I have added the language barrier to the mix as I hiked in the former Yugoslavia last year (3 or 4 different languages) and am headed to Vietnam and Taiwan this year. (of course google translate helps a lot, but didn't always work)
So yes, every trail has it's blowdowns it throws at you and if you want to be successful, you have fun getting over them.

And successful phone battery optimization becomes more and more important doesn't it?

Oh, one more thing: different continents have different animal encounters as I learned on my Tasmanian hike two months ago: (was attacked by a bush tailed possum!)

06-07-2018, 22:53
So many threads and articles already exist comparing the TC Trails. No easy terse answer exists. Lots of long trails in N. America.

06-07-2018, 23:39
One big difference is you'll actually have to camp in your own carried shelter. AT like Shelters are few and far in-between. Which can he liberating as nothing to artificially set limits on your day except the sun and your body's desire to call the day done at a certain point and maybe a mileage goal.

Resupplys are farther apart. Water is an issue in places along the CDT and PCT so bigger carries. You will have to do bigger miles as a result to make up for the greater distances. As a result the gear choices push more towards UL then you see on the AT. But at least the trails aren't a staircase often like the AT and they even have switch backs.

Navigation is more challenging as no blazes everywhere, especially the CDT which is more of a route in places. Depending on when you hike, you may actually find yourself hiking alone for a few days. Though That's becoming a little less common on the PCT unless you start early or late.

Tennessee Viking
06-08-2018, 10:26
The Mountains to Sea Trail is quite different than other long trails. Its a combination of backcountry, greenways/parks, road walks with a different social aspect than the AT - one being with trail communities. Yet with some more unique challenges. Requires some support efforts and logistics.

The Mountain section is truly a next level up from the AT. The trail is scenic along the Blue Ridge and more remote in places than the AT (Wilson Creek/Linville Gorge. Peaking Clingmans, Mt Mitchell, and some of the other 6000+ peaks. B
Benefits - No heavy crowds. Just weekend traffic. Connects to a number of other trails.
Challenges - More removed from towns/resources. Parallels BRP in spots w/ camping restrictions.

The Piedmont section has made great stride in building trail and camping.. Elkin Valley, Sauratown, Greensboro area, and Eno River-Falls Lake-Neuse River sections.
Benefits - Increased community awareness. Increasing trail tread.
Challenges - Some road walks. Camping restrictions.

The Coastal section is a bit of a challenge. Road walks, black water, bugs, and sand. But yet in some of the most unique coastal environments along a route of historic towns and battlefields

06-08-2018, 23:15
TCer here. 2X AT 2X PCT 1x CDT, working on a second CDT by section hiking. When it comes to thru-hiking the CDT is the toughest of the TC trails. And, it's not just because of avg elevation.

For most AT thrus it is their first 2000+ mile hike so it seems harder because the biggest factor is they're in the beginning stages of evolving as a LD hiker.

Planning for a CDT NOBO, then having to delay the start so had to go SOBO involved my greatest thru hike prep challenges. For a CDT thru there are so many alternates and so many still being created. Researching all those alternates to fit my CDT thru-hike goals was the most complex planning I've ever been involved. Since all these alternate choices can vastly change mileage between resupply it puts knowing personal logistics and being more adaptable to them paramount. A CDT thru is not a hike by the blazes, where's the next AT lean to, here's the trail and it's only "the" trail LD hike.

06-08-2018, 23:54
Of the TC trails the AT generally overall has the most water sources and the most analyzed and overly documented sources. Basically at nearly every conveniently spaced apart AT lean to there is water. The water issues of the PCT are not the be all end all in SoCal made out to be through the Mojave and up high in OR. For most PCTers this isnt their first LD rodeo so have some experience with personal water logistics.

Travel logistics for the PCT and CDT can involve leaving and entering the U.S. Depending on where one starts or ends travel logistics can be easier or require more planning on both the CDT and PCT compared to the wealth of well documented ins/outs opps of the set in stone termini of the AT.

MPD avgs are IMO generally highest for PCT thrus going NOBO. For those experienced LD hikers opting to go SOBO starting in thru hiking condition their MPD avgs for over the entire length of their thru hikes can crank up too.

More exposure at elevation overall on the CDT increasing when opting for open above treeline alternates. BTW, alternates being OK is embraced for the CDT....but more and more are electing to follow some other CDTers hike. This is very different than the for AT thrus. There are potentially more scree scrambles on the CDT than either the AT or PCT. More snow crossings on both the CDT and PCT than the AT during typically thru hike windows. One sure can follow what another CDT thru-hiker has done, and I'd say IMHO more are doing just that, sheep CDT thru-hikes, but if creative and innovative their may be no trail one elects to hike on some CDT alternates. This requires navigational skills more than following someone's GPS pts or a red line on a map or a guidebook description. That means unfamiliarity. That means being personally responsible for the side of HYOH that isn;t discussed often. There's the most room for designing one's hike for added adventure on the CDT compared to the other TC trails.

The "comraderie" - usage - is highest on the AT but one can design an AT hike to change this. The PCT is not extremely far behind the comraderie factor. The PCT usage is way up just like it it is on the AT. In 2010 on a CDT SOBO solo there were several times I saw no human for 3-4 days. There were only a dozen or so going SOBO in 2010. About 6 of us made it. I had the privilege to enjoy the plane ride from the east coast(where I met Liz) and spend a day in Glacier with Snorkel and her hiking partner.

06-09-2018, 02:38
To answer the OP's original question:

Water-further apart but you will find caches every now and then or after rain fall you can try to catch some in you rain jacket or pack cover if you have one. Fill up fully when you find water, but don't take all of the cached water, leave some for others to have.

I flew into San Diego and a friend of mine fiance drove us to Campo. We saw others arrive by cab. When finishing you will cross into Canada at Manning Park British Columbia so have your passport handy. We took a bus to Vancouver after spending the night in a motel. The next day we day we got a flight out of Vancouver International Airport back to San Diego with Steve's fiance picking us up.

You can expect to hike 15-20 miles per day

There are about 100 places to resupply along the trail, but some are only gas stations or small markets. Sometimes you may have to carry food for 100 miles between supply places. Since most of the national parks you will pass through I found easier to just carry a bear canister. I also had my Ursack with me in case all of my food would not fit in the canister. Your planning should include how you are going to resupply. We used a mixture of buying along the trail and having boxes shipped to us. We could also ship equipment we no longer needed at the time instead of carrying for miles unused.

Gear choices other than what you normally would carry should be as light as possible. Snowfields are a different character. We both had crampons and ice axes available. If you have a signal you can get weather updates on weather apps. When we set out, we both carried cuben fiber tarps and set them up when rain was expected. Otherwise we cowboy camped. In the desert with total darkness the night sky was unbelievable. Make sure you carry the highest SPF sun lotion there is out. Also understand that a daytime temperature of 100* may get to around 40-50* at night. Also you may want to carry a small survival kit separate from your pack because you can loose your pack while fording river.

Camaraderie - I had a friend with me that I new wouldn't quit on me so that was nice to have him with me. You will meet others on the trail, but not like you would on the AT.

Experience Level- You should hone your skills on other trails before attempting the PCT. Both of us had about 2500 miles under our packs and felt safe and secure in our attempt.

Weather- I was a certified weather spotter for the area I lived in. I got mine through the Ohio State University Extension Office. The course cost a modest fee of $25.00 and lasted 4 hours in one night. You can also learn how to read weather conditions on the internet or books at your local library.

Navigational Skills- Many people carry electronic maps and GPS apps on their smartphone, while other have separate GPS units. We were both old school hikers and liked maps and a compass, no batteries required. REI offers classes on orienteering and I would suggest getting into one. Steve and I got pretty good that we would come within 75 yards of our actual position on the trail vs. a GPS app.

Snowfield Crossing - Depending on when you start you could find snowfields in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is where you will use crampons and your Ice Ax. You need to know how to arrest yourself using your ice ax without hesitation to avoid sliding into a crevasse or injury from sliding into boulders. Check with REI and see if they hold a class or know where you can some type of training.

Altitude issues - Some things to look at is the higher you get the lower the temperatures you will need to boil your water. you may be effected by the change until you get use to the higher altitudes but nothing serious.

06-09-2018, 02:47
Another thing you need to do is constantly check on trail conditions and closures. With the raging forest fires last year heed all closures and don't take them lightly.

06-09-2018, 10:37
I wonder?
How many folks would attempt the PCT without all of the extraneous assistance?
How many could, or would, try the PCT Mr. Fletcher’s Way? Caching food and water in 5 gallon cans. Navigating without benefit of electronics. Writing the guide book as you went. Making up the route as you go.

06-09-2018, 15:01
Another thing you need to do is constantly check on trail conditions and closures. With the raging forest fires last year heed all closures and don't take them lightly.

75 miles of the CT currently closed due to fires, Segments 22-23.

06-09-2018, 15:09
75 miles of the CT currently closed due to fires, Segments 22-23.

This seriously messed with hiking plans. Rrrr

06-09-2018, 15:14
75 miles of the CT currently closed due to fires, Segments 22-23.Damn!! That's some of best parts.

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06-09-2018, 15:21
Add the entire Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. Forced Anish, Heather Anderson, to go to the PCT on her TC attempt.

06-09-2018, 15:30
Add the entire Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. Forced Anish, Heather Anderson, to go to the PCT on her TC attempt.
WayneI'm temporarily living in Santa Fe until late July. Right now, we can't even day-hike and the locals tell me the summer "monsoons" won't begin for another month. Having a virtually snowless winter exacerbated the conditions.

I don't blame the Forest Service. They did what they had to.

Next week we're heading to Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona's White Mountains where conditions are better (at least as of now).

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06-09-2018, 15:34
75 miles of the CT currently closed due to fires, Segments 22-23.It's actually Segments 25-28.

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06-09-2018, 15:54
We were in Santa Fe mid-May. Always a pleasure. On our way to the Tetons and Yellowstone. No lack of snow in NW Wyoming. Yellowstone was soggy.

06-09-2018, 19:04
Fire is probably the biggest difference between the AT and the CDT & PCT. Closures, both brief and long term, change both trails frequently.
A clever hiker could still finish in Durango and stay on the east side of the Animas river.

06-09-2018, 22:52
Fire is probably the biggest difference between the AT and the CDT & PCT. Closures, both brief and long term, change both trails frequently.
A clever hiker could still finish in Durango and stay on the east side of the Animas river.

Yeah, but depending on which way the wind is blowing you might not do your lungs any favors.

06-10-2018, 00:42
Yeah, but depending on which way the wind is blowing you might not do your lungs any favors.
In that case, stop in Lake City or Creede.

06-10-2018, 01:14
Fire is probably the biggest difference between the AT and the CDT & PCT. Closures, both brief and long term, change both trails frequently.
A clever hiker could still finish in Durango and stay on the east side of the Animas river.

If one truly enjoys hiking and not hung up on bagging a complete XYZ trail by doing a thru hike of said XYZ at the signed CDT/CT junction at the top of Elk Creek Valley take the CDT to Wolf Creek Pass rather than the CT to Molas Pass OR Vallecito on the Vallecito Creek Tr. Easy enough to get a hitch out of Vallecito to Bayfield. From Bayfield hitch and get a bus to Alamosa. At Wolf Creek Ski Resort there're are 2X/ day shuttles to Pagosa Springs. If one can get to Alamosa there's bus and train connection to Denver. One can stay on the CDT to Chama NM(nera Dulce) too where there are trail angels.