View Full Version : Start Date for 2003 Northbound Hike

10-28-2002, 13:51
I have a question for anyone who has completed a thru-hike. Even though I've been planning my hike for about a year now, I have yet to decide on a definite start date for my hike. Most of the people I have met that are doing a northbound thru-hike next year plan on starting in March, and several of these are starting in early March. For months, I was settled on starting in mid-April, but am now beginning to second-guess myself. I was able to attend a Q&A session at the Gathering, and several people that finished a northbound hike in 2002 advised me that starting in mid-April is definitely not too late. So, please let me know what your thoughts are. Please provide pros and cons for a mid-March start and a early to mid-April start. If you were at the Q&A session at the Gathering, please feel free to step in on this thread. I'm afraid I can't remember what everyone said during that conversation. Thanks so much for everyone's help!


Hammock Hanger
10-28-2002, 14:00
I started out April 1st (only because I couldn't hold myself to the 4/15/01 date I had planned.) I was right in the middle of the hiking crowd. Great place to be. This year just picking up pieces I started out early April in VA. I was hiking with the Feb/March starters. It was lonelier and I heard they really had to deal with some cold. A number of early starters per Trail Journal entries. Got off the trail who started in Feb/Mar due to cold or lonliness.

My friend BlueBearee started 4/18 and made it no problem. When you start later you get to see more of Spring and most of the black flies will be gone by the time you get north.

Just my opinion. Hammock Hanger

10-28-2002, 14:04
I have not completed a thru hike of the AT. However, I had a lot of friends who started this year in early May/late April and finished with no problems at all.

10-28-2002, 18:16
Well, do the math. Baxter State Park is closed for camping on October 15. After that, no overnighting in the state park. The other caution is that the later you are in the year, the more apt you are to get held up, or shut out from climbing Katahdin due to "Class IV days" that close the summits.

Practically speaking, it's prudent to plan to reach Katahdin before mid October. Now, according to a survey done by Roland Meuser, and printed in "Long Disance Hiking," the "average" thru-hike takes 5 1/2 to 6 months. So, in order to thru-hike without doing a leap frog or a flip flop, you should start by mid April.

The majority of thru-hikers start between mid March and mid April. The biggest crunch is between March 20, the first day of spring, and April 1.

The mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennassee are very high. It gets cold up there. The earlier you start, the longer it's going to be cold. I heard plenty of stories from hikers who started in Feburary and March, 2001, and ran into a snow storm every week for the first several weeks. They plodded along by post-holeing.

Another observation. I think that the later you start, the more "slackers" you are going to catch up with. This is the crowd that isn't going to make it, and runs contrary of the goal of completing a thru-hike.

Really, if you are an "average" thru-hiker, starting anytime between mid March and mid April will get you to Katahdin in adequate time.

I kind of set up some progress benchmarks for myself. In order to finish in time, I set a goal of being in Damascus not later than Memorial Day, be in Harpers Ferry not later than July 4. etc.

Trail Yeti
10-28-2002, 22:23
I started March 10th. I finished w/people that started 2 weeks ahead of me and w/some that started 1 month behind me.
I took my time and enjoyed the hike. When I wanted to hike, I hiked, when I didn't I didn't. Starting earlier gives you more time to fool around and take your time. But there were people that passed me that started in may..but they were speed demons.

10-29-2002, 12:50
I'm planning on starting in early March, so I thought I'd give my opinion. I haven't completed a thru, so take it with a grain of salt. First of all, there certainly isn't anything magical about early March, so I may end up changing it to late March when the time comes.

I have a couple of reasons to favor early March. First, I want to avoid the peak crowds at the very beginning. Second, I'm under no time constraints, so I plan to take as much time as possible. That way, I'll be less prone to injury and be able to enjoy it more. I'm hoping most of the peak crowds will be weeded out by the time they catch up to my head start.

I think my biggest fear for starting ealier is the cold. I have read many accounts of people injuring themselves because they were hiking up icy hills.

So, the bottomline for me is: I'm still not sure, but I'd like to avoid the big crowds.

The Weasel
10-29-2002, 13:02

In '00, I was planning on starting March 5, but due to a health problem, didn't start until April 6. By then most snow/ice problems were gone. But damn, I heard a few really hairy stories from journals on Trailplace about Feb/March hikers in Georgia, where the trails are often straight up and straight down some really badass "hills". Stay on top of conditions...don't buy crampons until you get close to that date, but consider ordering a pair from REI from Suches to have waiting for you at Walasi-Yi or even ordering by phone from Amicolala to have waiting for you at Suches (about 2-3 days away).

The Weasel

10-30-2002, 12:15
Thanx for the advice. I think I may have read a few of the horror stories at TrailJournals as well. It sounded pretty scary. I'd hate to get sent off the trail because I started too early and slipped on ice.

I wasn't planning on buying crampons until I'm sure I'm starting that early. I was looking at the Camp 6 Point crampons because they'll fit any boot and they only weigh 1/2 lb. Do you think they'll work? Also, I was just planning on carrying them from the start. Do you think it's worth the hassle of arranging for them to be waiting for me at Suches?

Thanks again!

The Weasel
10-30-2002, 13:28
I'm replying to Blaz' question about crampons, but I don't think I'm going off-topic too much here...

He asks if it's worth the hassle having crampons maildropped to Suches. I hate crampons, and I'd rather wait for better weather than use them, but that's just my personal style. If however, you get to Amicolala and find really crappy weather, you've got two choices: Start walking in really crappy weather, or wait a few days/months/years for it to improve. The middle ground would be to call REI's 800 number from Ami, order the cramps, and have them waiting in Suches and do the approach trail and the first couple of days. Hitching to Suches isn't hard, there's a decent small store and a friendly campground (at least it was in '00...if it's a hellhole now, start another thread, folks!), both listed in the Guide/Companion, and I think the campground will take maildrops, esp if you stay there. So you'd only have a couple of days of rotten weather w/o the cramps.

That's better though, than waiting for Walasi-Yi, another few days up the trail. Georgia mountains are, as I've said, elsewhere, just plain damn nasty. I love my memories of them, and they're gorgeous, but the trail just goes damn straight up and damn straight down nearly all the time, PUD after meaningless PUD. So, on the one hand, if you need the cramps, based on what weather is like at Ami, get them soon; on the other hand, don't have a blasted ounce in your pack you won't die for, 'cause you'll feel it all the way through Georgia.

The Weasel

12-08-2002, 00:59
leaving sometime in February

12-13-2002, 01:05
If you want to avoid the big crowds on a thru-hike don't hike the AT.

12-13-2002, 10:04
Having previously lived in N. GA and western NC for several years, I have to say that I think the idea of crampons is a little bit much. I have never ever had the occassion on the trail in the south where I thought to myself, "Man! What I need are a pair of crampons!" The thing about the south is you can have 3 days of freezing rain and misery and then it can be sunny and in the 60's the next day. I have hiked a ton all through the winter in the south and having completed two previous thru hikes and leaving in early March there is no way I would personally carry crampons. We don't get that much snow, though the high summits can be very cold and windswept. While I wouldn't personally want to leave in February, March has the hope of April soon arriving. The humidity in our area can make 40 degrees feel colder than it is and February is just too early for me. I've had my share of frigid camping thanks! :D I think if you brought crampons you would be more likely to be injured by them cutting you as they sit in your pack than you would need them on your feet.

As far as your original question Alison, I think that your start date should be determined for you not only by the date you know you have to get to Kahtadin to climb before the summit closes, but also how your body responds to weather. If you leave mid-April you will be dealing with heat a lot more than if you leave in March. So do you like hot or cold? I'd rather handle a few weeks of cold in March and skip the oppressive heat of PA in July. It is hot enough early in the summer there! If the heat doesn't bother you then April will be just find.

12-13-2002, 10:56
Just a note. You certainly don't need the full crampons with 12 points and 1" spikes. We sure could have used a pair of in-steps through the smokeys though!

Here's a link to the crampons that we bought for day hikes around the foothills of Colorado. We might ship them to ourselves before the smokies on the next attempt just in case...


we LOVE them! Makes hiking packed trails easy!

Gravity Man

12-13-2002, 12:28
Very early starters might want to consider instep crampons in the Smokys. There is a lot of water up on the main ridge. The water often flows down the trail. During a cold spell, this can form into a sheet of ice thick enough to make walking a bit dodgy. Over Thanksgiving, there travel around the Rockytop-Thunderhead area was a little difficult. I got through in running shoes, but I had to be careful in spots. In some places, I could not go around the ice and a fall could have been bad. I probably would not take instep crampons, unless I started very early or the long range forecast was wet and cold in the South.

Trail Yeti
12-13-2002, 13:32
You could also look into some Yak Trax...they are kind of crampons. Except they weigh a LOT less...should be perfect for the south. But I started in March 10th and didn't see lots of ice until the Smokies.
However, unless you want to leave in Febuary don't me fooled into thinking you will be missing the crowds in early March. There are still plenty of people out there...just not as many as in April.

SGT Rock
12-13-2002, 13:39
Sweeper had a cool set he made from stuff at Lowes for his instep. To get even easier, Flyin Brian just screwed some metal screws through his soles when needed.

12-13-2002, 14:22
One old time trick that people should probably know about: If you get caught on some ice and can't go around and don't have crampons, you can tie rope (thicker the better) around your shoes. This gives a bit more traction/friction and on relatively level surfaces might make the difference between a bad fall and getting across safely. This is what a fair number of porters use in Nepal; at least porters for unthinking tourists.