View Full Version : AT '04 start date '?' - March / April

05-03-2003, 13:58

I plan to hike the AT NOBO beginning April 6 2004. I have read many others will be starting in March. What advantages are there to starting in March / April? What disadvantages are there to starting in March / April?

05-03-2003, 19:32
The pitfall with starting in March is real possiblity of cold weather especially for the first month. Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee are all very high. I'd plan on getting hit with some severe storms during that time. The advantage is probably that you are north of the Mason Dixon line before summer arrives.

The pitfall with starting in early April is that's the most poplar time to start.

The pitfall with starting in late April is that you may hit winter weather at the end of your thru-hike. It takes the average thru-hiker 5 1/2 months.

Accoding to a survey by Roland Muesser and published in his book, Long Distance Hiking, 50% of the people who thru-hike start between April 1 and April 15. Only 10% start before March 19. And only 10% start after April 16.

05-04-2003, 05:59
i thought march 1st was the big push date?

i keep changing my date. start of march.. mid march.. end of march.. mid april... hell even considered mid feb..

basically your gonna get winter at either end depending, so you cant escape it... its just a case of winter at the start or end...

05-04-2003, 08:47
I suspect that postings here only represent the vocal portion of thru-hiker wanta-bees.

Roland Meuser's survey was done on 1989 hikers. How much has changed? I don't have a clue. But, in that survey, only 5% started before March 15.

If you want to pick a start date, get out your calendar and do some counting. 80% of thru-hikes take between 21 and 27 weeks. 50% of thru-hikes take between 23 and 26 weeks. So, allow 5 1/2 months for the average thru-hike. Except nights below freezing until Memorial Day, and after mid September.

If you have a time constrant like the Labor Day, then you should start in early March. If you don't, then you can enjoy hiking in the beautiful month of September, and start your thru-hike in early April. And, plenty of people have successfully thru-hiked and started in late April. Choices are yours.

05-04-2003, 17:54
If I was going to do a thru hike and had my choice of starting times, it would definitely be late April or early May. I did a section hike from Springr to Damascus from May 1 to May 28 last year. Here is my reasonning:

1) You dodge most of the bad weather. Things haven't heated up yet and spring in Appalachia is to die for. The mountain laurel is great. I did get a cold snap for a few days and was hailed on twice. But, the weather was, for the most part, highly agreeable. If you startt in March, the weather is less so. Weather varies from year to year, but read the first month or so of a variety of journals at www.trailjournals.com to get an idea of what you might hit.

2) You dodge most of the crowds early on. There was a small group of thruhikers moving north. I stayed in shelters every night that I was on trail (i.e, not in town) and faced only two full shelters. Most were empty or almost empty. There were enough people to give the days a familial feel, but not enough to become an annoyance.

3) You still have plenty of time to finish. If you leave May 1 and plan to hike until October 15, you have to average a little less than 13 miles a day. This is very doable, even if the idea of walking 13 miles in the beginning is a daunting one. You get stronger as you go. Or, you don't take care of you body and you crash and burn before you're out of the North Carolina.

Downsides? If age or physical condition prevents you from averaging 13 miles a day, then you would need to set out sooner. If you need to take a long break in the trail (i.e, someone's marriage, graduation, etc), then you might want to set out sooner.

05-05-2003, 07:41
According to Roland Muesser, the overall average for the average thru-hiker is 12.5 miles per day. Now, that is based on a 7 day week. Considering that the typical hiker takes one day off a week, then he needs to hike an average of 14.5 miles per day for the remaining 6 days of the week.

But, that being said, May 1 is about the latest you would want to start and still have 5 1/2 months to complete the thru-hike. Starting much after May 1, and you risk Katahdin being closed when you get there.

I'ds suggest that everyone set goals if they want to complete a thru-hike, such as Damascus by Memorial Day, Harpers Ferry by July 4, Hanover by Labor Day.

Blue Jay
05-05-2003, 07:54
I read Mr Muesser's book. I don't believe he hiked as much of the trail as Bill Bryson. He never stated that his book should be used as a reference book as to how to hike the Appalachian Trail. I have never met an "average thruhiker", in fact I think you are more likely to meet Sasquach.

max patch
05-05-2003, 09:14
To answer the original question, if forced to choose a "best" date to start a NOBO thru, I would recommend 4/15. This allows the hiker to miss most the coldest weather endured by those who start in Feb and Mar; including the possibilty of deep snowfall in the elevations of the Smokies. A mid-April start allows the hiker to more closely follow the seasons as they progress northward. Additionally, a later start allows the hiker to finish in Maine in the Fall...which is the absolute best hiking on the Trail.

Mueser's book is interesting reading, however, I believe there have been significant changes in hiking, particularly thru hiking, that make it less useful as a planning tool every year. For example, 58% used an external frame pack. 3 times as many people reported using the SVEA 123 stove (as did I) as those who used an alcohol stove.

I agree with Peaks comment that the latest date one should start a NOBO thru with the expectation of completion without flipping would be 5/1.

Finally, despite the comment made about Mr. Muesers lack of hiking by Blue Jay, it should be noted that Mr. Mueser was a thru-hiker himself; his 1999 hike was reported in the Sept/Oct 1990 ATN.

05-05-2003, 10:22
I would suggest early to mid march, with the expectation that you will take a few days off to wait for the snow storm to pass.

This will give you more time to get to maine. Less pressure.

But you will have some very cold days. You will have some very warm days too.

From what we saw, March 1 was a VERY popular day!

Gravity Man

Blue Jay
05-05-2003, 10:30
I stand corrected. Actually I enjoyed Mr. Muesers book, it was a good snapshot of a subgroup of thrus.

05-05-2003, 12:09
April 1st 2004!!!

Less than a year now!!!


I'll be one of 35,000 at the approach trail :D

05-05-2003, 15:20

How is your poncho holding up? Has it done well in the wind?

I been thinking about using one (http://www.equinoxltd.com/Cart/description.php?II=2004) as the "shell" of my HH's taco (http://www.mindspring.com/~rgarling/Insulator.htm) as well as a pack cover/light rain garb. I still plan to bring along a RainShield top if the wind blows.

05-05-2003, 16:10
Back on topic...

If you leave in April, you are still going to need to carry winter gear. If you leave on May 1st you might still want to carry winter gear as seen in this (http://www.whiteblaze.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=27&papass=&sort=1) picture.

So, why not leave in March? Carry winter gear untill somewhere in mid-VA. Expect a day, or two, of down time during storms. Spend less time in the summer heat. Gives you plenty of time to go slow the first few weeks. And take breaks if you need them, without feeling rushed.

I personally would be more concerned about avoiding summer heat (and bugs) than a winter storm, or two, in the south.

05-05-2003, 16:19
If you leave in May, you might get a day or two of cold weather. If you leave in March, you'll get a lot more of the cold stuff.. The summer heat is going to smack you no matter what.

05-06-2003, 08:39
Yeah, I was under the impression that mid-late march was the whip-lash of winter leaving. Thats why I plan to leave April 1st. There also seems to be less ice around by this time. I currently using Teva Wraptors & Seal Skinz, so Ice-traction sucks (not that it doesnt with any other boot, I just cant use instep crampons with these).

I use a 35* Synthetic Bag, so I always have a Polartec 300 series fleece jacket/hat/mittens. I can also use my hooded poncho as a vapor barrier if absolutely neccessary. I'm comfortable with this system into the upper range of the single digits, and it seems to be the lightest/adaptable system for me that has great water-resistance.

Anyways, I've been tweaking my gear-list all winter for a trip I have coming up in 10 days (Metacomet-Monadnock Thru, 120mi), and I'll get to do some good long-distance testing. After that I'll be attempting a thru of the Long-Trail (S>N) September 1st. Between the two I'll be hiking in the greens/berkshires/central mass range.

I plan to do some extensive snowshoeing next winter to revv me up for April 1st!

05-06-2003, 10:07
Oh on the poncho question, yes, my poncho has been performing great (Ozark Trails' Emergency Poncho, $1 at WalMart). I've used it 15 or 20 times, and have no tears, leakage, etc. I also have a few extras in my glove-compartment just in case. Protection from rain, and upper body vapor barrier for 2oz has got to be one of my best weight reductions. My old Gore-Tex XCR and Gore-Tex PacLite Jackets are rolled up on a dusty shelf now :D

05-06-2003, 11:12
How have they been in the wind? What sort of pants to you wear? Do you have a separate pack cover?

05-06-2003, 12:22
It's plastic, so it's great in the wind. Sometimes you get a draft up the "sleeves", but this is perfect, because it circulates air. You can't get a better wind-breaker material than plastic.

It's a "one size fits all", so you can easily fit a puffy jacket underneath. If your thin enough, you can stretch it over your pack. I could with my Go-Lite Breeze Pack, but probably not my LL Bean Pack. For that I'll use the Garbage Bag Pack-Cover method. Everything important is in sil-nylon bags anyways.

The Poncho extends to just above my knees, and has enough circumference so I have no problems with it inhibiting steep climbs. You could always trim it to the height you want with 1 pass of a utility knife (or your pack-knife for field modifications. I like it stock length, and wear no rain pants. My pants dry fast anyhow, and I'm wearing sandals, so I'm not worried about drainage into my boots (I wear Seal Skinz when it's cold, or when in snow). If I zip the bottoms off my pants, the "shorts" don't get wet.

This system isn't for scaling Annapurna obviously, and I intend on carrying a spare when I hit the Whites.

Since I'm taking a vacation to hike the M&M trail late next week (which means the earths weather patterns alter themselves to rain where I am), I should have plenty of opportunities to beat on it further. I forgot to mention it patches perfectly with superglue/duct tape, and I carry both :D

05-06-2003, 13:20
why type of sandals, what are is the weight

05-06-2003, 15:13
Teva Guide Wraptor.

Weight is relative to footsize, but these are much lighter than trail-runners...

05-06-2003, 15:18
Do you have an exact number? I was suprised to find out how much my sandals weighed. In fact, they weigh as much as the running shoes that I am starting the PCT in, but less (by a little bit) than the NB904s that I used this year.

05-08-2003, 10:49
Of course weight is also determined by footwear size, so my size 13's may be a little porkier than the average persons...

All weights are for pairs not singles of size 13 Mens.

Teva Guide Wraptor 1lb 14.25oz.
Vasque Clarion GTX 4lb 6.25oz

Both have a negligible amount of dirt in/on them and are dry.

As you can see, I feel like I'm walking on air with the Tevas. I sometimes get a little bit of friction when going downhill, but putting on a pair of Smartwools negates this entirely. I have yet to see how they hold up after 100+ miles, and how my feet hold up after these distances. I will be testing them under these conditions on a 120mile hike starting late next week.

I can tell you that walking down a trail, coming to a knee deep stream and just goingh through, and then continuing on is great. I did test them in winter conditions, and with SealSkinz I postholed a mile+ no problem, and with dry feet. You do need to layer with a pair of smartwools though when going through snow.