View Full Version : Crowds at Springer

09-09-2003, 16:29
Is there someone who roughly calculates the number of thru-hikers leaving Springer week by week? It would be great to see when the crowding peaks and when it finally gets down to a more managable size.

I am guessing the last week of March & the first week of April is the highpoint. How many are starting in mid to late April?

It seems that thru hikers are starting earlier every year. Does that mean that there are fewer beginning their hike in April?

09-09-2003, 16:46
march 1 was very crowded in 2001. But there is something to be said about the crowds. I won't worry about it at all. Just go when it is convient. I plan on starting on or around march 1 next time.

It's one of those things that a lot of people fret about, but no one seems to really care on the trial. Sure, some places fill up, like the blueberry patch, but it always works out.

Gravity Man

09-09-2003, 17:12
Based on a survey of 1989 hikers done by Roland Mueser and pulbished in his book "Long Distance Hikers:"

5% of thru hikers start before 3/15
10% start before 3/19
20% start before 3/29
30% start before 4/01
40% start before 4/02
50% start before 4/06
60% start before 4/09
70% start before 4/13
90% start before 4/16
95% start before 4/27

So, based on that survey, 50% of thru hikers start between 4/01 and 4/15. 80% of thru hikers start between 3/20, the first day of spring, and 4/15.

Lone Wolf
09-09-2003, 17:16
Like you guessed Jeff, late March-early April is still the peak time for a thru-hike departure. Meuser's surveys are outdated.

09-10-2003, 00:43
As someone mentioned, crowds are not a big issue when your out there. Usually everyone finds a way to accomodate one another in shelters, hostels etc.. especially if they are trail buddies. I was told on the internet of how terrible the crowds would be for us march 1st starters. They were a bit crowded the first few days, but after that things thinned out. We also learned out to split the groups up, having 5-8 people a shelter ahead and behind.
The crowds for us really thinned out, and after damascus it was only a few of us out there (with me). I look at peoples pics and journals from late march/early april and there are 20 some odd hikers at one shelter or hostel which is very crowded. I'd say start early march or late april/may if your real concerned about the crowds, but you shouldnt be.

09-10-2003, 08:23
The fact that you have to actively plan for the other hikers indicates to me that it is too crowded in March. Start on May 1. Fewer hikers, better weather, and you still have 5.5 months to make Katahdin.

09-10-2003, 10:35
Yeah, the crowd issue is a lot more discussed on the internet than out in the real world. You don't have to "actively" plan for the other hikers. Half the fun, or more than half, of an AT hike is the people. You will enjoy it. I get grumpy because of crowds VERY fast. I really dislike camping on weekends and holidays because of this. However, I never remember being grumpy or annoyed at too many people in the beginning.

Gravity Man

09-10-2003, 16:12
Originally posted by L. Wolf
Like you guessed Jeff, late March-early April is still the peak time for a thru-hike departure. Meuser's surveys are outdated.

True, Roland Meuser's survey is dated. However, I do not know of anyone else who has done something more recent. So, until then, let's rely on the best data that we have.

Regarding start times, all the data is at Walasi-Yi in Neels Gap. If someone has analyized this data, please let us know.

And, by the way, his data does indicate that 80% of thru-hikers start between March 19 and April 16. That appears to be as true now as it was 14 years ago.

09-10-2003, 16:19
Originally posted by chris
The fact that you have to actively plan for the other hikers indicates to me that it is too crowded in March. Start on May 1. Fewer hikers, better weather, and you still have 5.5 months to make Katahdin.

I'd say that May 1 is about the latest you would want to start a thru-hike. According to the Roland Meuser survey, the average time for a thru-hike is 174 days, or about 5 1/2 months. So, while it is possible to do it in 5 1/2 months, about 50% of the people take more time.

With a late start, you may need to leap frog, or just hope that winter does not come early in Maine such that Katahdin is closed. In any event, Baxter State Park closes in mid October.

One way to reduce your overall duration is to minimize zero days. However, depending on your goals and objectives, this may be easier said than done.

09-10-2003, 17:50
Minimizing zero days is important. I estimate that I lost more than a month in zero days including about 2 weeks of sick or injured time. Most was just social time hanging out with friends. Eliminate the zero days and it becomes relatively easy to do a hike in 5 months.

Think of it this way. If you budget one zero day per week, over a 6 month hike, you give up 26 days, give or take.

That said, I'm not certain I wouldn't do it the same way again (minus the sick and injured time). It's nice to dawdle with friends from time to time, or see the local sights.

09-11-2003, 08:18
The survey done by Roland Mueser and published in his book Long Distance Hiking notes that the average number of zero's is 21. That's about 1 day per week as an average. But he notes that most thru hikers tend to take their days off sporatically rather than a firm one day per week. And that makes sense. Maybe a few days off at places like Damascus, or to go into DC or NYC, or maybe a day or two off to dry off after a week of rain.

At face value, it sounds like a good way to reduce you overall time on the trail if you eliminate zero days. But, as one who has been there, like all work, you need to have a break and change of venue. So, days off are important, and will certainly contribute to the burn out factor if you miss them.

Mr. Clean
09-11-2003, 08:22
In a moment of semi-boredom this summer, I went to trail journals and put a mark on each week this spring that the hikers there left for Springer. The third week of March had the most people followed by the fourth week of March. Next was the second week of March, and so on.
March was the biggest month by far with April coming in second, but pretty far behind March. Third busiest month was May, early May, but all far behind March.
Yea, maybe the hikers on trail journals decided to start sooner, maybe they tend to be more seasoned, I don't know, but this is what I found for data.

Moon Monster
09-12-2003, 00:19
Here's some 2003 stats:

I hiked north this year beginning on March 9. I was around the 175th hiker to be counted at Neels Gap (Walasi Yi). ATC now lists 1400 NOBOs through Neels Gap this year. That means about 12% of hikers making it to Neels this year were ahead of me with my March 9th start.

I kept an eye on the ATC's website statistics as I went north. They extrapolate an estimated Springer count based on the Walasi-Yi's count.

As of April 15, they had estimated 1120 hikers had left Springer. Now ATC lists 1750. That means 64% of prospective NOBOs had started by mid-April.

When I hit Harper's Ferry on May 20, fewer than 1400 Springer starts were listed. That means more than 20% of this year's prospective NOBOs started after May 20. That actually would be more than started between April 15 and May 20. This may mean ATC wasn't consistent in getting reports from Walasi Yi towards the end of the season.

But it may mean that lots of hikers indeed waited until late in the season to start. The endless rains may have pushed many to wait. I met several Southbounders in Maine who told me they had originally planned to go North but waited so long for the rainy Spring to break, that they decided to just wait a bit more and go South. So, this year may not be the best model year.

Anecdotally, many hostels, motels, and other hiker services in the deep South told me that the early numbers were higher than normal this year, but by Virginia, they were telling me that they were down. But then, lots of services have 1999 and 2000 on fresh their minds and it may never be like that consistently again.

Btw, did you notice that Meuser's numbers have 20% starting within a day or two of April 15th alone? WOW! If that had happened in 2000, it would have meant 575 thru-hikers (not to mention all the spring breakers, boy scouts, and sectioners) at the first few shelters.

09-12-2003, 17:19
It really would be a good idea if someone took the time to tally the numbers signing in each day at Walasi-Yi.

Anyone live in the area and so inclined?

09-16-2003, 17:21
I found the crowds at the beginning to be enjoyable and the mass enthusiam was infectious. The people are half the fun and the crowd thins out very quickly anyway. After Georgia the thing that I wondered about the most is "What happened to X hiker?"

By the time I stopped 600+ miles later I wished more people had stuck around. It was getting lonely out there!

Miss Janet
09-17-2003, 08:29
This is a few thoughts I posted on "numbers" over ao trailforums.com a while ago...

Hi A-Train and good luck with your project. I have been very interested in the "numbers" for a long time. I used to call Jeff and Dorthy at Neels Gap and bug them about numbers... I could always figure to see a similar number of hikers 1 month later... 50 hikers on March the 4th at Neals meant almost 50 hikers in Erwin on March 4th... this year I spent a few days there with Winton and Margie and Heald. My thought was to count hikers for a couple of days. It was impossible! These are some of the observations I have made:
Not even half the hikers I have talked to over the past several years did the approach trail... Many of those that did start at Amicalola did not sign the official signin/ pack weighin book...(they didn't know about it, they started when the center was closed, or they got excited about starting and forgot) The thruhikers that sign the register in the rock at Springer are not officially counted. Many don't know it is even there and for a good part of the early season this year, the register was frozen solid in a block of ice! So the "starting a thruhike" numbers are completely wrong every year.

They try very hard at Mountian Crossings to take pics and get people to sign in... but it is often way too busy to catch everyone that walks through. Many hikers don't even know that there is a signin book there or they assume it is just if you are staying at the Hostel. Or they just don't sign in for whatever reason.

When you get a permit as a thruhiker for the Smokey's you are saying that you started outside of the park and intend to hike past the park (50 miles beyond each end I think?) They do not keep a count of GA to Me versus Spring breakers and other long distance hikers. The attendant at the Fontana Dam used to keep count of as many hikers as he could...during his shift. He had no way of knowing about those that crossed at other times.

So, when you hear numbers thrown around like "50% drop off before Neels Gap..." "1756 hikers started a thruhike this year..." Just realize they are just guesses and opinions.

09-17-2003, 08:44
Last year I ran into a volunteer type in the Smokys who was counting the various users of the trail. He broke hikers into categories like short term, long distance, all the way, etc. Someone in the NPS is collecting data, but where is it?