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Chef
10-27-2003, 17:14
Hi,

I am planning on setting out to hike the AT nobo starting on Springer. I want to try to get a headstart before the big crowds get out there on the trails because I am not looking to share a lean-to with 40 other people. In the past, how early could I start without being subjected to crazy cold weather? What are some average start times and about how many people start during these times?

tlbj6142
10-27-2003, 17:39
I'll beat chris on this reponse...<g>

Consider starting later? Say, May 1st. Better weather, less crowds. Still have 6 months (more than enough time) to reach Katahdin.

My only real concern about starting later is the heat. Seems like a snow storm, or two, early on would be "better" than 4-5 full months in summer heat.

You could probably start Feb 15th and be done at the end of July (4 months) which would avoid the "heat" and most of the crowds (except for the first couple of days) as you'll need to do ~18-20 mile days (6 days a week) from the get go to avoid the heat.

Peaks
10-27-2003, 17:48
The question of start dates comes up constantly. To get a good handle on the crowd issue, we need to get a good count of thru-hikers who sign in daily at Walaisi-Yi.

Peak start times are March 20, the first day of spring, to April 15. Starting any earlier, and expect a snow storm a week. I suspect that starting on a weekend is more crowed than mid week.

The numbers seem to drop off dramatically after April 15. But, don't wait too long, or the summer heat in the mid Atlantic will plague you, and possibly closing of Katahdin.

It takes 5 1/2 to 6 months for the average thru-hike. So, I'd say that April 30 is about the latest to start a thru-hike.and still allow enough time to get to Baxter State Park before mid October.

Jack Tarlin
10-27-2003, 19:46
Can't say I agree with starting in mid-February and finishing in July. You'll almost certainly run into tough weather from the very outset; you'll ENTIRELY miss the beautiful southern spring; also, you'll finish in Maine during black-fly season which is never a barrel of laughs.

Personally, I'd push your start back several weeks, til early March at the earliest, and as for your fear of having to share shelters with 40 other folks, there's an easy remedy.....don't stay in them at all! There are untold thousands of places to camp along the Trail, and almost always, there are excellent sites just a minute or two North of shelters, so you could cook and eat with your fellow hikers, enjoy the occasional campfire, but still have your own "private" place.

Yes, the trail is crowded at certain points of the year, especially down south between 10 March and 10 April, but in terms of interactions with other hikers, it's as "crowded" and as social as you want it to be; if you don't wanna camp in a crowd, I don't blame you, but the solution is fairly simply: Don't stay at shelters or established campsites.

A-Train
10-27-2003, 21:13
I started the 1st of march this year and the crowds were big, but it was a saturday and the first of a month. It really didnt seem as if many people were ahead of us, but everyday after in march groups of people were starting particularly on weekends (march 8th, 15th, 22nd etc.). I'd say starting last week in february would be a good way to avoid crowds. Starting on say a wednsday could be a big help as you'd be in a bit of a pocket between hoards of folks early on. It was my experience that people were only really tangeled up in towns. 27 thru-hikers in a picture at the paddlers pub in hot springs in proof of that.
If you are planning a slow paced walk you may want to heed some of the above advice and just start in the thick of things (march-april) and stay in your tent, or start in may when less people will be on the trail. You may even want to consider going southbound if your so against company.
Point is, even starting early, if your not moving very fast, groups (not crowds) of hikers will catch up with you, inevitably leaving you scratching your head wondering where your empty shelters went by the second month or so.
I never had to worry about shelter space because my friends and i got ahead of the masses of march 1st starters and were able to stay in front. It was very nice with all the rain we recieved.
One last thing. I finished july 31st and spent the last 3 weeks in Maine. The blackflies were hardly an issue. And many people seem freaked out about early season weather. The two snowstorms we had this year were march 30-april 1st and april 9-11th. That proves that there was barely any difference between starting 1 march and say 15 march or later. You can't predict the weather and a little cold will only make you stronger. There are advantages to hiking early. Better views down south with less to cover them, services are fresh and not crowded. Coming thru before hostel and towns people are sick of hiker hoards was a plus.
Its just a different hike, thats all.

A-Train
10-27-2003, 21:35
sorry I'm a little scatter brained. I forgot to mention an important point.
The majority of the folks leaving springer late feb/early march and almost all i hiked with were people either in college or starting college/grad school. Everyone was in a similar time schedule to be done by august. Just thought you should know that as far as the people your likely to encounter. We had a few older folks but the majority were ages 18-25.
As far as the shelter situation goes, this is a generalization but I found younger folks more likely to be looking to stay in shelters compared to some older folks who like the privacy of their tents and generally got up earlier than the shelter people.

karensioux
10-27-2003, 21:42
so, when do the middle aged people tend to leave???
k

The Weasel
10-27-2003, 21:48
Chef ----

To be a little contrarian (shaddap, everyone! It's possible for me to be just a LITTLE that way!), I'd suggest not worrying about crowds and pick the date that's the best for you. A couple of reasons...

First, I'd rather have the right weather than empty shelters. Mid-spring (March-April) is nice, since there isn't a lot of snow, you get great vistas (no leaves on trees for a while as you "chase Springtime"), and you are comfy at night but not boiling from heat during the day. And, dammit, springtime in the Smokies (including either side of the park) is just about the most awesome time of your life...literally walking on trails of flower petals. OK?

As for the crowds, well, plan on tenting, and at Data-Book campsites, not shelters. You will have water, fewer people, and less hassle. AND you will start to make trail buddies that way, which is critical to lightening your load and getting your stride. This is NOT a "solo" trip, even if you start w/o a partner. Once you get to Fontana, the crowd will start to thin out significantly. Use shelters as lunch and watering stops, and you'll find few problems.

The Weasel

Footslogger
10-27-2003, 23:33
I plan to live until I'm 100 and I turned 54 during my thru-hike this year ...so does that make me "middle aged" ??

Anyway, I left Springer on 3/29 and summitted Katahdin on 10/9. There's a lot of things I might have done differently and one of them would have been to leave earlier in March. For starters, I'm not a fast hiker. This body just wasn't meant for speed. An earlier start allows you to take your time (provided you're not hiking against a deadline) and not feel pressured into a break neck pace. The other thing is that personally, I would rather deal with a little foul weather in the beginning and finish before the snow flies up north. This year we had snow in the Bigelows during mid/late September and if I had left a few weeks earlier I would have missed it.

Not planning another thru for a while but if I ever hiked the trail again (NOBO) I would leave between the 1st and the 15th of March. Just my opinion.

bunbun
10-27-2003, 23:45
Seems to me that "getting a headstart" is an oxymoron anymore. For the last few years, we've consistently run into hikers who left Springer on Jan 1. There are whole groups that leave on Feb 1. And gaggles of 'em that seem to think leaving on March 1 will get them ahead of the crowds. I've even run into a few that have left in October.

Hmm - our next AT thru will likely be southbound. And we won't be staying at shelters.

Skyline
10-28-2003, 00:37
It may not be absolutely "pure," but IMO "pure enough" so long as you stick to the white blazes, to start in mid-April at Harpers Ferry, hike north to Katahdin, then return to HF and hike south to Springer.

Do it this way and you SHOULD have a good chance at avoiding horrible winter weather, the worst of the mid-Atlantic heat, and overcrowded shelters.

Peaks
10-28-2003, 08:45
Well, starting at Harpers Ferry and going north is one idea. However, I would advocate starting not earlier than May 1. Any earlier probably gets you to Maine while the black flies are still out and the streams still high with spring run-off.

If you want to minimize crowds and maximize the weather, then start mid week after April 15. Assuming that you are an average hiker, there is adequate time to get to Katahdin. I started April 22, and shared the first shelter with just one other hiker. But, hiking faster than the average, I was catching up with the pack. No problems however. If a shelter was full, then I was prepared to tent nearby. And I didn't listen to the snorers.

chris
10-28-2003, 09:03
As indicated in an earlier post, I would start hiking in late April or early May. The Appalachian spring is one of the great times in this country. Truly a spectacular time to be out hiking. If you set off Feb 1, you'll miss it. That is, unless you spend 2 months hiking from Springer to Wesser. The weather is better the later you start, although you really need to get out of March and early April to have appreciably better weather. There are fewer people in the South on the trail and in towns, although enough to make life interesting. Leaving May 1 allows you 5.5 months to walk to Katahdin, which means averaging around 13 miles per day (not per hiking day). However, if this seems like too much, I would opt for starting earlier with the crowds, than even earlier with the ****e weather.

Bunchberry
10-28-2003, 10:28
If you want to be in the Smokies for the peak of spring wildflowers, when would you start from Springer?

Blue Jay
10-28-2003, 11:57
Mid to late May. I know some locals and that's what they told me. After hiking through there at that time, I agree with them. You also get the peak in GA. At least two Azalias, including the Flame (so bright you cannot look directly at it in the sun), two types of Rhodendrons and the mountain laurel. If you get up early and the sun is pushing though the mist in the Rhodadendron tunnels you are in a very majic world. Color all around you as you are even walking on petals. In addition the different combination of scent is intoxicating. Thru hikers are not allowed to see this world (Ok you can flipflop).

chris
10-28-2003, 12:03
It depends on what kind of flowers you want. Mountain Laurel comes out earlier, although this year it wasn't out in mid April, but was out the previous year in spades in mid May. Flame Azalea comes out later, with mid May - early June the peak time, I believe. Rhododendron comes out later. I haven't seen much in the park, but haven't been hiking in it past mid May. When I finished up in Damascus on May 28, it was just starting to come out in that area. Smaller flowers like Trillium come out sooner. The timing for flowers is dependent on how wet and cold the winter was and how fast spring is coming in.

It is 160 or so miles from Fontana to Springer. How long it takes to cover the ground is up to the hiker; anywhere from 6 to 16 days, although I think 2 weeks is considered pretty standard timing.

A-Train
10-28-2003, 12:17
Sorry-I did not intend to bring up issues about "middle aged people"- i suppose my age and the invincibility factor is a little insentive to you "older than me folks" :)
Karen Sioux-middle aged folks start at all times. I was just saying that a large number of early yr starters are students. I hiked with middle aged folks who kept up with us, not because they had a deadline but mainly because they missed their spouses, children and wanted to get back home.
There were plenty of "older than me" folks who started 1 march and simply started early to have a lot of time. This isn't a bad idea in my opinion. Starting march 1st gives you 7 1/2 months to get to Katahdin, and roughly 6 1/2 before it gets nippy up north.
As I stated earlier-starting early has benefits too. One huge one for me was beating the heat. I was able to almost completely avoid heat and I'd say the number of days I hiked over 85 degrees I could count on one hand. I was able to hike thru the mid-atlantic states that are generally dry and humid while it was still relatively cool (may and june) and hit Maine in july-a beautiful time to be there-its neither very hot or cold, bugs are not bad and the rivers were not bad at all. Most of the fords were rock hops-however after 4 straight days of rain, the rivers become somewhat difficult to cross. This has little to do with time of year but more when you cross them (as far as recent rain). July was a pretty dry month besides a few days of downpour.

bunbun
10-28-2003, 14:21
Originally posted by A-Train
Sorry-I did not intend to bring up issues about "middle aged people"- i suppose my age and the invincibility factor is a little insentive to you "older than me folks" :)
Karen Sioux-middle aged folks start at all times. I was just saying that a large number of early yr starters are students. I hiked with middle aged folks who kept up with us, not because they had a deadline but mainly because they missed their spouses, children and wanted to get back home.


You've never tried to catch Batch on the trail, have you? As I recall, he turned 70 on the PCT. I've chased him on two different trails and never caught him. You've never tried to keep up with Billy the Kid and Popcorn either, huh?

There was a group on the AT with me who were inordinately proud of their 20 mile days in the South - some of them never finished, some of them finished a week or more behind me. Only one finished ahead of me. Say again about those "middle aged folks who kept up with us"? Well, hell - I was only 53 when I finished the AT - maybe I didn't qualify as middle-aged, huh? :)

Fact is that the older hikers tend to put down more consistent mileages and many times outpace the jackrabbits who spend a lot of time in town.

bunbun
10-28-2003, 14:31
Originally posted by A-Train
Sorry-I did not intend to bring up issues about "middle aged people"- i suppose my age and the invincibility factor is a little insentive to you "older than me folks" :)
Karen Sioux-middle aged folks start at all times. I was just saying that a large number of early yr starters are students. I hiked with middle aged folks who kept up with us, not because they had a deadline but mainly because they missed their spouses, children and wanted to get back home.


You've never tried to catch Batch on the trail, have you? As I recall, he turned 70 on the PCT. I've chased him on two different trails and never caught him. You've never tried to keep up with Billy the Kid and Popcorn either, huh?

There was a group on the AT with me who were inordinately proud of their 20 mile days in the South - some of them never finished, some of them finished a week or more behind me. Only one finished ahead of me. Say again about those "middle aged folks who kept up with us"? Well, hell - I was only 53 when I finished the AT - maybe I didn't qualify as middle-aged, huh? :)

Fact is that the older hikers tend to put down more consistent mileages and many times outpace the jackrabbits who spend a lot of time in town.

chris
10-28-2003, 14:38
Isn't Brian Robinson middle aged?

A-Train
10-28-2003, 14:43
Bunbun,
you're correct that older hikers tend to generally be more consistent than the younger hikers. In fact I hiked with a 65 year old who finished before i did and started on the same day, and then there was a fellow named Fixy who was around 60 or so who had already hiked the PCT. He started 2 weeks later than me, caught me, leap frogged a bit and ended up finishing 3 weeks before me. He hiked not fast, but all day.
But I think its more safe to say that older hikers spend more hours of day hiking than those of the younger "jackrabbits".

I neither fell into the categorie of people irordinately proud of their 20 mile days in the south, nor did I spend much time at all in towns. Neither did any of the jackrabiits i hiked with either. We didn't even really start hiking over 20 miles a day until virginia.
And 95 percent of the folks I hiked with finished this year, mostly slow and steady picking up speed as they progressed

karensioux
10-28-2003, 15:44
So what actually IS middle aged??? I'm 42.....does that qualify??? Steady and slow...that is my plan. I was just wondering about when middle agers mostly started cause I wanted to be around a variety of people and not just youngsters that would just pass me and never see them again.
K

A-Train
10-28-2003, 16:18
middle aged is anything over 21. No but really I don't know. Age isn't important on the trail, neither is occupation, sex, race, or anything else for that matter. Everyone just wants to hike the Trail.
There is no best time to start. I just was saying that people needing to return to school generally start earlier in the year around early march. Anytime you leave springer, whether it be march, april, may or february, you'll have a well balanced mix of freindly faces of all ages, shapes and sizes. I found that people of all ages got along well (for the most part).
The people BY FAR are what makes it so special to walk from georgia to maine.

bunbun
10-28-2003, 16:18
Originally posted by A-Train
Bunbun,
you're correct that older hikers tend to generally be more consistent than the younger hikers. In fact I hiked with a 65 year old who finished before i did and started on the same day, and then there was a fellow named Fixy who was around 60 or so who had already hiked the PCT. He started 2 weeks later than me, caught me, leap frogged a bit and ended up finishing 3 weeks before me. He hiked not fast, but all day.
But I think its more safe to say that older hikers spend more hours of day hiking than those of the younger "jackrabbits".

I neither fell into the categorie of people irordinately proud of their 20 mile days in the south, nor did I spend much time at all in towns. Neither did any of the jackrabiits i hiked with either. We didn't even really start hiking over 20 miles a day until virginia.
And 95 percent of the folks I hiked with finished this year, mostly slow and steady picking up speed as they progressed

Well, most (but not all) of us older folk are slower cause we know that old story about the 2 bulls that ends with - "let's walk down and get'em all". :)

On the other hand, some of us have also done the PCT and don't think it's too great a strain to do consistent 20's (or more) -- when necessary. Doing it all the time, though, doesn't fit my personal hiking philosophy, which is to spend maximum time "on-trail."

Many of those who hike the PCT also hike from "can see" to can't see" and spend minimum time in camp or town. That's how some of them do consistent 30's and 40's. Or more.

Jackrabbits, by the way, are those who spend two days on trail - and then 3 days in town. It's hard to be consistent like that. Expensive, too.

Ummm - I wasn't meaning to put you down. How someone (anyone) else hikes isn't my business, but some of the styles get to be amusing. And the "inordinately proud " group (we called them the Thundering Herd) definitely provided amusement at times. And pissed people off at other times - like getting up at 0dark4hundred to see a sunrise - when they were staying in a full shelter. Some of us don't appreciate being woken up at that hour. They'd have done better to camp at the overlook - or at least away from the shelter.

Incidentally - some "older" hikers also get into 3M (Macho Male Mileage) mode too. And get "inordinately proud " of it. It's not entirely confined to "The Young and Restless" crowd. :)

But I'm rambling --- I do that sometimes.

Bunchberry
10-28-2003, 16:25
When do the little understory wildflowers (trilliums, trout lilies, etc.) usually appear in the Smokies?

It's funny realizing that I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the flora in the Southern mountains!

Ankle Bone
10-28-2003, 16:28
the young wildflowers or the middle-aged ones?

karensioux
10-28-2003, 16:37
Well, April 1st it is! Ready to meet the young and the middle aged and old and restless gang.
K

chris
10-28-2003, 16:40
It depends on where you are in the park and what the season is like. In mid April of last year, there was nothing on the AT in the eastern part of the park. South of the AT (still in the east) on lower elevation trails, there was a nice (although subdued) display of the smaller stuff, along with a ton of ramps (illegal to harvest in the park). To be honest, the best displays of flowers in the Smokys are not on the AT.

Matt Pincham
10-29-2003, 09:47
Middle aged as soon as you're over 21!! :D hehe that'll be me next year then.

I'm planning on an early start in 2004. Not because I'm a student but because I hope to be starting my Metropolitan Police training when I get back (hopefully September time).

Had a date in mind of 20 Feb but I've just booked my driving test today for 23rd February (long wait) so may start around March 5th. I really hope that when I start with my girlfriend, we'll get to meet some of the people on here...you guys seem lovely.

Had some seriously good news yesterday. My girlfriend works in a UK hiking store and gets 30% discount. We found out yesterday that with MOST gear (tent, sleeping bag, pack etc) we can get it for trade price. So an Osprey Aether 60 for 50 ($80 approx). Very helpful :)

Chef
10-29-2003, 13:16
Does anyone know of a good website to check out for previos years weather patterns? I wanted to see what the weather has been like around springer during the month of march for the past couple of years. I guess Im looking for some kind of weather archive to get an idea what to expect for this year. Thanks

A-Train
10-29-2003, 13:21
Chef,
not sure about the past, but the farmers almanac is really good at giving weather for the upcoming yr. It predicted very accurately that february was gonna be lots of snow, march would be suprisingly nice and warm and that we were gonna have a ridiculously wet spring and summer (we did!). I'd recommend giving this a look, its pretty neat.

chris
10-29-2003, 14:24
One possible thing to do is to read the first few weeks of various trail journals over the past few years. Take a look at

www.trailjournals.com

Some journals are better than others and the better ones give you a good idea of what to expect. Of course, you must realize, that one hiker's easy 20 mile day or another's hard 10 mile day (or cold, etc) are colored by their persepective.

bunbun
10-29-2003, 14:27
Originally posted by Chef
Does anyone know of a good website to check out for previos years weather patterns? I wanted to see what the weather has been like around springer during the month of march for the past couple of years. I guess Im looking for some kind of weather archive to get an idea what to expect for this year. Thanks

Try these:
http://www.dnr.state.sc.us/climate/sercc/

http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/ga/ga.html

Alternatively - ask the Weathercarrot.

Keep in mind that weather reports (and records) are nearly always for the cities, not the mountains. In the mountains, it's always colder and generally wetter. If it's spring in Atlanta, it's still winter at Springer.

mustang
11-05-2003, 11:48
I don't know if this topic has gone in a different direction but I started Feb. 23 this year and finished July 15th, and was able to beat the crowds for the most part and not have horrible weather. We were lucky with the weather (well, unless you count the 3 months of rain but everyone got that), we didn't get much snow and we had beautiful weather for the smokies, whites and a clear day on Katahdin. I met a wonderful group of people (some young and some "middle aged") and definately experienced the trail community, but only once or twice had a crowded shelter (and that was when sobos were starting up). We moved a little bit faster and were more consistent in the beginning than most, which is how we stayed ahead of the massive pack.
If I were to do it again, I would start at the same time!

A-Train
11-05-2003, 13:14
Mustang what was your trailname? I must have been a week behind you the whole way.

mustang
11-06-2003, 14:28
My trail name was Not Yet (Mustang was my trail name when I hiked the long trail)