View Full Version : Northbound or Southbound

Former Admin
09-03-2002, 19:06
Discuss the advantages and dis-advantages of hiking northbound or southbound, which way is better for you and why?

Hammock Hanger
09-04-2002, 18:20
There is no right or wrong way, even if the ATC did print all of it's book wrong! :rolleyes:

For me, there is no other way then north. It is the draw of the Big K that keeps me inspired. (I have already climbed it on a b-day hike but it is what will make my thru hike complete.)

I did do a few miles sobo on slackpack days, but for me north is the way.

Hammock Hanger

09-05-2002, 07:03
I have backpacked for decades, mostly 3 to 5 days at a time, doing sections here and there. Until I did a long section hike last summer, I never made the tremendous people connection with my fellow thru-hikers. The whole people experience was the best part of my adventure. Anyone who goes southbound or way out of season just wouldn't get it, and that's a shame.

09-05-2002, 14:33
I'd probably go northbound, assuming a continuous thru-hike. Having Katahdin as an inspirational goal would be attractive, whereas Springer would be somewhat anti-climactic I would think.

09-05-2002, 16:06
Katahdin is much more than an inspiration. It's a goal that every one works together on all the way through Maine. The closer you get, the more the entusiasm grows.

09-05-2002, 17:52
im not sure wheather i would hike north or south, but i think id do my first thru-hike northbound just for the goal of Katahdin. but i would certainly be back again to go south too (despite black flys). ofcourse the people are a big part of the trail, but the trail is a wonderful experiance by itself so just because your going against the flow southwards, dosnt mean its still not a great experiance, and this way eventualy youll pass at one point or another, ever single NOBO anyway, though you wont hike for any distance with them.

09-06-2002, 07:15
The connection with other thru-hikers doesn't come from spending one night at a shelter with them. It comes more from spending a few nights with them. Then, a town comes along, and people split up because say some take a day off, and others do not. But, maybe a few hundred miles down the trail, and a few weeks later, you catch up with these same hikers, or they catch up with you. Then there's a reunion.
By then, you feel like old friends, and share your trail experiences. This process continues all the way to Katahdin.

Trust me on this.

12-08-2002, 01:29
Just bringing this topic out of the 30 days in the hole

12-08-2002, 09:12
Obviously northbound is the way you're "supposed" to hike the AT, and I do agree that there is something special about being in that cluster of people all trying to attain that goal. But I admire southbound thru-hikers very much. I have never done a southbound hike so I wouldn't know very much about their experiences first hand. But I believe there was this guy named Thoreau...who said something about taking the path less traveled...Just something to think about.

12-08-2002, 14:37
When I've done sections in one direction and then gone back and hiked them in the other, I've always discovered things I've missed. Viewpoints or signs or interesting sights that you miss while hiking in one direction but which stare you in the face while hiking in the other. Maybe we should all hike it in both directions.

12-08-2002, 15:58
My initial Thru attept was southbound. I wasn't able to start until July so had no laternative. There were alot less hikers going my direction, but many of the folks I hiked with I'm still in contact with now.
One of my hiking companions had coined the phrase 'southbounders get no love' because everyone seemed to look at us like the bastard children of the Thru-hikers, doing things backwards and all.
I do however think that SOBO's play and important part on the northern end of the trail, in helping allay some of the fears and legends that NOBO's have been dreading since they set foot on springer on day one. Obviously if a beginning Thru-hiker could make it through such monsters as the 100 mile wilderness and Mahoosuc Notch then folks who have made it all the way from Georgia will find them a walk in the park.

12-15-2002, 18:06
First of all, where one ends up, Springer or Katahdin, is not what the hike should be about. It's everyday on the journey that truly matters. For my wife and myself there's only one direction for OUR thru-hike, SOUTHBOUND. There are many reasons why; the way less traveled by those who know "whats what", no crowds, starting off in pristine Maine, more appealing weather overall, we love bugs, and mostly because it makes reading the DATA book so much easier.
Any way is the right way, but we like this way.

12-15-2002, 20:04
I can't speak with any authority about what it is like to hike southbound these days, but I do think there is more of a pack going south than some might think. Enough to establish good relationships, anyway. I am basing that primarily on seeing many SOBOs in Gorham on summer weekends over the past few years. I also just checked the www.riversandtrails.com web 2002 site and saw that there were reports of 79 Me=>GA SOBO hikers crossing the Kennebeck in June and 68 crossing in July (and 22 in August).

When I hiked the AT SOBO in 1983, I got a late (7/13) start and felt a rather desperate need to catch up to someone going my way. I finally did just north of Perisburg, VA. We shared shelters for about a week. In truth, I would have enjoyed my trip more had I the chance to share it with others going the same way, but even in 1983 I could have had much of that by starting earlier. If one wants to maximize thier interaction with other sobos, picking your start date is probabaly more important.

The main reason for this post is suggest that the draw of Springer can be every bit as powerful as Katahdin. As a southbounder you get to feel a series of accomplishments right off the bat that can help give you the confidence to make it all the way. First you get to climb the badest mountain on the whole AT and report on your triumph to the hardened northbounders you meet up with. Then, you get to do the 100 mile wilderness. After that you will know that the Trail is something that you REALLY can do. (SOBOs might consider blowing off the Whitehouse Landing).

Wow. You get to follow this up with moose and spruce grouse and the Bigalows. When you get to Gorham, you will KNOW what you are capable of and that the AT is amazing in so many dimensions. But you also have the Whites to look forward to in a matter of days. Its really cool not only to hike them, but put them behind you knowing you have met yet another challenge.

But it gets better. Walking through pastures and up fire towers and wonderful places that just keep on coming. By this time you have probably been asked about bears 20 times and have been forced to say, no I haven't seen one. You can't wait, but are confident that your day will come in NJ or VA. You wonder if you really want to see a rattlesnake, and if the Smokies are everything that the NOBOs said they were (they are). As you move on, you walk along ridges that commond a view not of an endless sea of trees but of farms that are every bit as beautiful. Perhaps more so. The better-known hostels and AYCE places become something to look forward to in a way that is hard to understand, and are a motivation in themselves.

Along the way you wonder about how beautiful the trees must have been in the spring, expecially the rhodadendron, but console yourself with the knowledge that only a SOBO can stop and check out Hawk Mountain during fall raptor migration, and are pleased that you started a conversation with the quiet birders because they were able to point out a couple bald eagles among scores and scores of hawks. You get to enjoy a mid-week Fall quiet along the trail that is magic, and realize how crowded the Whites and Maine really were.

And Springer calls as to you as loudly as Katahdin ever could. When you reach your first 4000 footer down south (is it the Priest?) you laugh at how easy hiking it was. In fact, you can't help but wonder if the Northbounders hiked a different trail than you find yourself walking every day. Tough mountains down south? Yea, right ;-). The only thing that takes you by surprise is the fact that days are becoming so dang short, at a time your body has never been stronger.

When you get to Springer you may be alone and the sky may be gray. Its hardly a spectacular place, but you walk over to the plaque and know how special it was getting there. No champagne and hoots, but a quiet satisfaction that will stay with you for a long time.

A fine place to end a hike.

Rick Boudrie
ME=>GA 19AT3

Max Patch
12-15-2002, 20:47
The quibble I have about your post is the comment "more appealing weather overall" which I would have to disagree with. An early to mid-April start NOBO will allow you to hike north with Spring AND allow you to finish in New England in the Fall.


12-16-2002, 18:51
Thank you for your quibble and disagreement. We are totally aware of the weather dynamics for both directions. But for us, the weather is more appealing going Southbound.

12-16-2002, 19:32
Somewhere there was a thread asking what was the "coolest" thing about a thru-hike. Most of the replies were the people met along the way. Now, unless you do a northbound hike and start in early spring, you will miss out on much of the comradery with you fellow thru-hikers. There just isn't enough of a critical mass going southbound, or northbound out of season to have this critical mass.

Lone Wolf
12-16-2002, 19:45
What's a "thru-hike" about? Enjoying the woods and solitude or being in a mob and having "comraderie" all the way to Maine? Cuz NOBO hikes starting from mid March to mid April are mob scenes. SOBO hikes and the hikers that do them are different than NOBO hikers. For the most part. More laid back, less in a rush to get to a "Big K", not so type A. I much prefer SOBO.

12-16-2002, 22:05
After my section hike in 01 through the mid-atlantic and dealing with the mass of hikers along the trail, I don't know if I would leave Springer anytime after March 1st. It just gets too over-crowded for me.

12-17-2002, 06:47
Hey Peaks...why was your southbound hike such a let down, did you ever do a southbound thru-hike? Then please leave comments up to the people who actually hike south...not Northbounders opinions!

12-17-2002, 08:49
Ok Stranger,

While it's totally true that I haven't done a southbound thru-hike, I think that I can have something to say here.

First, as previously stated, I have been doing section hikes for decades. Some of them were south, and some were north. But that's not the point. The point is that until I did a 1000 mile section hike, I never made the tremendous people connection that exists along the trail when you go with the flow. And certainly, everytime I think back on my experience, the people were the best part. The bond to my fellow hikers is hard to describe.

This thread isn't just for the southbounders. It opened with discuss both directions, and why. So, I'm voicing my opinion.

12-17-2002, 10:43
I think Peaks is certainly qualified to discuss the differences and similarities between northbound and southbound hikes. Being intelligent creatures people can make insightful comments regarding things that they do not have a full experience in. Not completing a southbound thruhike does not disqualify ones opinions about a SOBO hike anymore than not completing a NOBO hike disqualifies one from commenting about a NOBO hike.

12-17-2002, 16:44
Two paths run through the same woods, and I, I took the one that was best for me. And that has made all the difference.

12-17-2002, 23:04
I wasn't trying to say your opinion isn't worthy, I just feel that a northbound thru-hiker simply does not have the information or experience to understand a southbound hike. It's a different experience and probably in alot of ways a different trail for the southbounder. Maybe we all should hike it both ways haha.

12-18-2002, 06:46
Stranger !!!!!

Done that and you are absolutely correct.... on your comments...

Ed :)

12-19-2002, 10:04

I have to admit your post put tears in my eyes. My wife and I hiked SOBO in 2001 and felt exactly the same things that you so eloquently described.

We started mid June and were able to hike with other southbounders the whole way. The relationships I made along the way will be long lasting. It was a truly amazing experience that I would never trade for the world. I think everyone posting here will say the same thing, so stop arguing with each other.

My vote still goes with SOBO. Look at a map, it is down the whole way! (Well except for that part where you have to hike due North in NJ) :)

12-19-2002, 21:44
I had assumed and still believe so, that true hikers are enlightened individuals. There is a reason we all go out there and do what we do. That being said, I find it difficult to read all the rebutals that people post about other peoples postings. Respect the opinions of others and get on with spreading the love. Nuff said.

steve hiker
01-13-2003, 14:23
I'm thinking of starting southbound, and am wondering about the black fly season. I'd like to start early enough to avoid most of the black flies if possible. What would be the best time to do this, and what are the temps like at that time in New England (excluding the mt. peaks)?

01-13-2003, 14:39
Steve - you can't really avoid the black flies. You can't really start Southbound until Kathadin opens which I beleive is mid-June. Depends on the snow. If you start in May or June, you're right in the middle of black fly season. Black flies own the mountains at least through VT, maybe further. So you would have to be out of VT before it started hitting mild weather (50+ degrees). If you tried to do that, you'd be fighting snow. Kind of damned if you and damned if you don't.

01-13-2003, 19:42
Having climbed Katadhin and hiked near Springer for years I must say that there is a big difference in the "draw" of opposite ends of the trail for me. Somehow I just can't imagine starting off at Katahdin, hiking 6 months and then hitting 3 Forks, realizing that I am about to finish. For me anway ...Katahdin is the prize and it's what makes it all worth the effort. Another reason for my northbound preference is the social aspect. Not having ever done a southbound thru, I am only repeating what I've read and been told, but it seems like it would be a very solitary experience and not something I would enjoy. Hey ...but I always keep an open mind for new things. Who knows after this year's thru I might just be ready for that type of hike.

01-13-2003, 23:52
If you think SOBO is the way to go, you're right. And the opposite is also true.

Here's why I hiked NOBO:
I wanted to make sure I finished my hike with plenty of time to spare. By going north I could start earlier.

Although I'm an introvert at heart (I've read that a highly disproportianate group of thru-hikers are) I wanted to meet more people.

And, as some previous posters have pointed out Katahdin for me was a much more meaningful ending point. From the south I was heading towards the wilderness, towards Katahdin. It just meant more that way to me.

steve hiker
01-25-2003, 16:05
I read the journal of a couple who started southbound in mid-May, and the black flies were pretty bad until they got to Vermont. But what about starting later, like in late June or in July? How long is the black fly season, usually?

01-25-2003, 16:34
Originally posted by steve hiker
I read the journal of a couple who started southbound in mid-May, and the black flies were pretty bad until they got to Vermont. But what about starting later, like in late June or in July? How long is the black fly season, usually?

The worst of it ends around the end of June or middle of July. But there will be some black flies around all summer. It's the swarms in June that really drive you crazy. You can tell when they're out - everyone is doing the "black fly wave".

01-25-2003, 17:58
Conventional wisdom for south bounders is don't start before July 1. There are 2 reasons. First, black fly season. Second, wait for the rivers and streams to go down. In all, there are MATC maintains only 3 bridges in the whole state. Most rivers are forded or waded.

01-25-2003, 19:33
Peaks - What is the logic to MATC only maintaining 3 bridges? That is quite a contrast to the ATC in the south.

01-25-2003, 21:33

It is entirely different up in Maine and when I hiked in 99, I don't even remember 3 bridges, it could have been that there were so many streams to wade that is what stuck in my head. At any rate, the trail in Maine is very difficult compared to the south, mostly because you have more rocks to climb, and more roots to trip over, and many more wet places to walk (bogs). After saying all that, I will say it is the most beautiful of the entire trail, or at least I thought so. It is more remote, and that may be one reason for the lack of bridges up there. Also I think they try to leave it more in the natural state.

Just my 2 cents....

Happy Trails..


PS. I live not far from you if you still live in Richfield, I also hiked with another guy a little, that was from Richfield while I was in Maine. He went by the Trail name of Yahoo.... and was a retired Fireman.

01-26-2003, 10:06
Originally posted by Jeff
Peaks - What is the logic to MATC only maintaining 3 bridges? That is quite a contrast to the ATC in the south.

The main reason is that bridges are often washed away during ice-out in the spring. When rivers in Maine melt, they can do so catastrophically, sending huge chunks of ice careening down the banks. Supposed to be an awesome sight if you can witness an ice-out from a safe distance.

01-26-2003, 10:12
Originally posted by Jeff
Peaks - What is the logic to MATC only maintaining 3 bridges? That is quite a contrast to the ATC in the south.

Very simple. With ice-out in the spring, it wipes out everything in its path. It's like a flash flood. So it's very expensive to build a bridge high enough and sturdy enough to withstand the forces of nature.

Forrest Phil
01-26-2003, 11:53
Wow! there are some great posts here. Rick, I really enjoyed your descriptions of your southbound experience. I believe that the two directions are just different. Some folks love crowds and others like to walk with few folks. I have walked north, but feel that I would enjoy a southbound hike the most. I used to think a thru-hike had to culminate at Kahtadin. After spending alot of time on and around the trail I now think differently. If one's goal is to complete the entire trail whether all at once or in sections I think completion is completion no matter where the trail ends. Hopefully the sum of all the experiences along the way, and they will be different for each person regardless of which direction that they travel, will determine how fullfilling the hike was. Maybe we should hike in both directions.