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View Full Version : Re: stats on the first 200 miles..why so many drop out?



DavidNH
06-15-2005, 22:34
Hi,

I have checked out the stats from the ATC of numbers of thru hikers at 1) springer, 2) kneels gap and 3) Fontana Dam. What struck me is that in each of the past 5 years or so..roughly (give or take some) half seem to have dropped out by Fontana Dam..a mere 160 miles up the trail!!!! OK less than half..but a very significant number!! Year 2000 reduced to 1200 from 2900, year 2004 numbers went down to 864 from 1535 to cite two examples.


This should represent two to at most 3 weeks of hiking. So my question to you all is..what happened? surely the hikers could not have gotten bored in just three weeks with ALL the company they have on the AT!!! Is it weather? They didnt think it would snow?

Now I don't want to imply I dont think it is tough and I will say I have never hiked in the southern Apps before...but I am surprised at how many drop out so early.

And just what does one do..having put life on hold for six months plus..possibly quit a job...and after just a few weeks he gives up???

what do ya think?

Mike
06-15-2005, 22:59
Maybe the introverts who were looking for solitude all bail by fontana because they cant abide the masses (and the mices) in the shelters and along the trail. While the extroverts thrive in this environment.

If that were true, all introverts who want to have a better shot at completing the trail should hike the BMT to the end of the Smokies and then join the AT after things settle down a bit...

Seriosly though....

I am not surprised at the number. Though I have never thru hiked, I have spent several nights in the smokies during March and April. Not the most pleasant of weather. Further, some are looking for solitude and they dont find it.
Some cant handle the idea of hiking nonstop for months on end after they have done it for only a couple of weeks. Some never knew what they were getting into in the first place. Some were carying 80 lb packs. Some thought they could depart from family for months, only to find that they would rather spend time with their family. Many have bodies that simply were not ready to handle the stress.

I think the most sobering reason I have heard for people getting off was something I saw posted here. Are you more in love with the idea of hiking the AT, than you are with actually hiking the AT. Do you truly love the journey, or are you more in love with the idea of saying that you made the journey.

Reading journals and comments from thru hikers, I constantly come across comments that thru hiking is just as much mental as physical.

I wonder where I stack up. I dream of thru hiking some day. But I have a dear wife and an amazing 2 yr old son. I will thru hike some day, but now is not that day. I couldnt imagine missing several months of their lives to fulfil this dream now. But when I do strap on the pack on Springer, I wonder how those first few weeks will go for me?

Scribe
06-15-2005, 23:01
One of the things that most impressed me (as a Section Hiker) was the number of folks who had NO hiking experience - some of them had not even taken day hikes - yet they were setting out from Springer Mountain and heading for Maine. I'm not surprised that most dropped out. On my hike, in March of this year, some left the trail at Neels Gap, others made it a bit further.

It was a tad cold (okay, damned cold), but that didn't seem to have much to do with it. Mostly, I would say it was a lack of preparation and experience.

jackiebolen
06-15-2005, 23:35
I'd have to agree with Scribe...some of the people I met at the start were very ill-prepared. Like they'd never really set foot in the forest before.

For example some people had 80 pound packs and mostly cotton clothes. When your clothes get wet, you're hypothermic and your knees are killing because of you big pack of course you'll drop out first change you get.

A-Train
06-16-2005, 00:06
As people mentioned, folks go out every yr without any hiking/backpacking experience. This isn't necessarily a problem for completing a thru hike, as many hikers each yr seem to buy all their gear, hit the trail and make it all the way.

The real reason I believe so many people quit early is because it "wasn't what they expected". Often people hear the romantic version of the AT, you know, the campsite with a great view of a sunset surrounded by good friends with smiles. Many times people are "aware" of the problems (bad weather, rocks, blisters, depression, homesickness etc,) but don't thoroughly think about what this will mean for 150-180 straight days. Often after 2-3 weeks the initial romantic fun has worn off and the AT becomes work. It doesn't have to be work, unless you make it feel that way, BUT there are days when you do have to put your head down and grind out some miles if you wish to make it.

I had a blast the first few weeks. Everyone is clumped together, you meet great people, every night at the shelter seems like a party on wheels with a fire and good stories, but then people disperse and split up, you hit bad weather, and foot pain starts kicking in and people start missing home and the thoughts of family are more visible then they were when they were masked by good times.

To prevent early drop out, I would suggest learning what it's like to walk day-in day out. Going on a backpacking trip for a couple weeks or a month is the BEST way to learn what daily trail life is like. The other much easier lazy way is to read a couple hikers' journals all the way through, not just skipping around to the fun trail magic filled day or the zero day parties.

Lastly, making a commitment to yourself doesn't hurt either. I noticed a lot of thru-hikers left Springer saying they were "gonna hike as long as they could" or were gonna "hike till they weren't having fun". While there is nothing wrong with these approaches, I think making a personal pact with yourself is an effective way to get through the hard days, so you aren't easily comforted by the back-up plan of bailing out. Obviously if you're not having fun, you shouldn't be on the trail, so I'm not suggesting you turn it into a death march. Only that this type of prior commitment and determination will help you when the days get tough.

digger51
06-16-2005, 02:10
This year I heard comments like, I cant hike if i dont have my bible with me so i am going home to get a new one, this isnt like walking a few miles on the golf course carrying my clubs every day, and i have a blister. All good reasons to cancel a thru-hike. But I believe one of the big problems early on is the availability of crossroads and towns. Too often I saw people stay in town to avoid the bad weather and then decide to go home after a night or two in a motel. I am one of those who starts at Springer each year since 1999 and hikes till I need to be somewhere else or I stop having fun. Sometimes that is a couple hundred miles and once it was to New York. But I do agree that the financial and lifestyle commitment many make to hike the trail is a terrible waste to only go a few miles when your plan was a thru hike. But if it was something everyone could do easily it wouldnt be so special for those who are able to make it all the way. My hat is off to all who try and succeed and to those who decide section hiking is more their cup of tea.

The Hog
06-16-2005, 06:28
One of the problems is that many people, through no fault of their own, optimistically envision hiking the A.T. as "a walk in the woods" or a "walk in the mountains," no doubt with sun dappled path and new wonders at every turn (indeed, part of it is). And pre-thru hike folks can be forgiven for hoping that the weather will be fine for their hike. I too, was lulled into complacency on the drive to GA by fine Spring weather, warm sun shining and birds singing.

The reality that I found was a great trail in Georgia/NC, but surprisingly steep mountains. This was much less a walk in the woods and more of struggling up and down steep mountainsides. There's no use peering ahead hoping for stretches of level trail, because you're going to find very, very little of it. The trail is nicely graded, but there's no denying the verticality of the path. It's up and down in a big way. Those that haven't prepared physically are immediately going to be pushed to their limits.

Another reality was precipitation. Look at the trees in northern GA. They're covered with moss and lichen. It rains a lot (12 of the first 14 days I was on the Trail). It can also get unbelieveably cold. Add those two together and you've got cold rain. If you're not mentally prepared for being outside for days on end in cold rain, you could easily start thinking about quitting.

And those leaving early in the season have to be prepared for winter camping. That takes a special kind of mental preparation and experience that many people simply don't have and can't muster.

Me and my hiking partners also got a kicker: lightning hitting all around us on a ridgetop, with nowhere to hide. The trail was full of water, effectively one long conductor of electricity. The lightning strikes were so close that I was gnashing my teeth, and I was careful to retract my tongue for obvious reasons. Is this what soldiers experience in wartime? Probably not even close, but my hiking partners (who had trained for the trip for over a year) left the trail two days later. Only the obsessed continued on...

justusryans
06-16-2005, 06:42
I am one of those guys who doesn't have lots of long distance hiking experience. i would love to take a month or so and get experience in long distance hiking however the constraints of making a living and supporting my family preclude doing that at this time. my wife and i are planning on through hiking from springer in april 06. we do have lots of weekend and day hiking experience so we won't be totally unprepared. {we usually carry 40 pound packs or at least i do} we are both in the 40 year old range so our partying days are well behind us. we are planning on avoiding shelters as we are both introverts and have mental health issues {hey, at least we admit it!} controlled by medication. we promise not to flip out on you! my question is is this a doable option? we are not antisocial, just uncomfortable in crouds. is it doable to tent camp most of the way? once it thins out a bit we may use the shelters in inclement weather and i know about having to use the shelters in parks so we accept a certain amount of discomfort. i would appreciate the advice. thank you.

Jeff
06-16-2005, 07:11
The best prep possible for a successful thru is to section hike the AT for 1 or 2 weeks the year prior. You learn so much about yourself, your gear and the reactions of those you have left behind at home.

One good section hike and the following season you will leave Springer with a hugh advantage over the other wannabee.

Lone Wolf
06-16-2005, 07:36
Simple. Folks drop out cuz it ain't what they thought it would be. The novelty wears off quick. Fantasy and reality ain't the same.

Peaks
06-16-2005, 07:37
Well, as successful thru-hikers, most of us can only speculate why so many drop out by Fontana Dam.

Like A-train says, probably most find that thru-hiking isn't what they expected.

Myself, I found the Southern Appalachians harder than I expected. (and I had previously done the entire northern half of the AT.) Now, couple that with the fact that many start in March, you need to be prepared for cold wet weather. (I started in late April). While it may be spring elsewhere in the South, it sure is slow coming to the mountains. Not the preception that most have of the AT at all. Finally, there is a lot of inexperience out there.

So, what are the keys to success? First, be prepared. Do some multi-day backpacking trips before making a five to six month committment. Second, consider delaying your start until after mid-April.

Youngblood
06-16-2005, 08:04
Simple. Folks drop out cuz it ain't what they thought it would be. The novelty wears off quick. Fantasy and reality ain't the same.Right and there isn't anything wrong with that. After all, it is a recreational activity for most folks and if you feel it is best to get off the trail then that is your decision to make... it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Youngblood

Gonzo!
06-16-2005, 08:59
we are planning on avoiding shelters as we are both introverts and have mental health issues {hey, at least we admit it!} controlled by medication. we promise not to flip out on you! my question is is this a doable option? we are not antisocial, just uncomfortable in crouds. is it doable to tent camp most of the way? once it thins out a bit we may use the shelters in inclement weather and i know about having to use the shelters in parks so we accept a certain amount of discomfort. i would appreciate the advice. thank you. I think you will find that you will enjoy many of the times that you end up at shelters. Tent camping will work too. I am going to try more of that on my next hike as well. Good luck!

Gonzo!

Footslogger
06-16-2005, 09:02
The real reason I believe so many people quit early is because it "wasn't what they expected". ==========================================
Added to this is the fact that it lasts longer than a weekend hike or a vacation outing. The first couple days on the trail, regardless how hard or how bad the weather is, are tolerable. But then comes the realization that this is gonna last for several monthes. Without a strong sense of resolve this is more than some people can handle. A handfull of these hikers actually get off the trail thinking that all they need is a week or so back in their own beds and familiar surroundings, but once they get there it beyond the point of return.

So ...added to the list already identified reasons:

Not prepared
Not what they expected
Not a weekend outing or vacation experience

'Slogger
AT 2003

Spirit Walker
06-16-2005, 09:24
Michael - it is very possible to tent all the way. While you will probably enjoy the people more than you imagine right now, especially after they (and you) have been on the trail a while and have mellowed out, it is quite possible to camp and avoid the shelters. If you take the western concept that says you don't have to camp by water, you increase your range considerably. One option is to cook at a shelter, socialize a while, then move on to a site of your choosing. Alternately, pick up water in an REI waterbag (they hold 2 gallons) and walk until you find a spot at a shelter, or, third, have dinner at lunch, by water, and lunch for dinner, so less water is necessary. Then in the morning, pack up, walk to the next water source, and fix breakfast.

The Hog
06-16-2005, 10:16
Late winter/early Spring can be pretty drab/brown looking in the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachians, while the valleys below are enjoying greenery, flowers blooming, etc. A thru hiker has to be patient when it comes to yearning for Spring to arrive.

In Georgia, you're hiking at 3-4,000 ft, then you jump up at the NC border to 4-5,000 ft, in the Smokies to 5-6,000 ft. Because of the elevation changes, you're going backwards in seasons, so northbound thru hikers may not see much advance in the season until somewhere north of the Smokies.

Jaybird
06-16-2005, 10:16
Hi,

I have checked out the stats from the ATC of numbers of thru hikers at 1) springer, 2) kneels gap and 3) Fontana Dam. What struck me is that in each of the past 5 years or so..roughly (give or take some) half seem to have dropped out by Fontana Dam..a mere 160 miles up the trail!!!! OK less than half..but a very significant number!! Year 2000 reduced to 1200 from 2900, year 2004 numbers went down to 864 from 1535 to cite two examples.etcetcetcetcetc..........

If you look CLOSELY @ the numbers...you'll see 30% of the hikers that start @ Springer go home after only 30 miles of trail (@ NEELS GAP)...

They didnt do the homework...it was harder than they thought...(usually because they read some lofty book about how easy it is, etc.etc.)

OR...(this is the BIG one IMHO)..they arent in any kind of decent physical shape or mental shape to take on this major challenge.

Alligator
06-16-2005, 10:27
If you look CLOSELY @ the numbers...you'll see 30% of the hikers that start @ Springer go home after only 30 miles of trail (@ NEELS GAP)...

They didnt do the homework...it was harder than they thought...(usually because they read some lofty book about how easy it is, etc.etc.)

OR...(this is the BIG one IMHO)..they arent in any kind of decent physical shape or mental shape to take on this major challenge. Actually, the numbers from Springer are derived from the Neels Gap numbers. Up to 2003, a 20% dropout rate was estimated. From 2004 on, this has been lowered to 15%. The numbers at Springer are not actual counts of anything. The numbers at Neels Gap prior to 2004 will be about 80% of the Springer starts, and after 2004, 85%.

http://www.appalachiantrail.org/hike/thru_hike/source.html

weary
06-16-2005, 10:37
Simple. Folks drop out cuz it ain't what they thought it would be. The novelty wears off quick. Fantasy and reality ain't the same.
L. Wolf has it right. Dreams rarely reflect reality. And the trail cooperates by always providing the dreamer with a plausible excuse -- blisters, sore knees, bad backs, headaches ....

Weary

superman
06-16-2005, 12:40
In 2000 the bunch that I sorted of hiked around got into saying "hey, this wasn't in the brochure" and laughed about what ever the unpleasantness might be.

http://groups.msn.com/OldGUYthenandnow

SloHiker
06-16-2005, 13:41
Simple. Folks drop out cuz it ain't what they thought it would be. The novelty wears off quick. Fantasy and reality ain't the same.While I absolutely agree with all of the other comments, I can relate to your statement of "fantasy vs reality" the most. I'm no super-hiker with loads of experience, but I can "feel the pain" of those that quit their long journey rather unexpectedly. My first backpacking adventure some years ago was like "A Walk in the Woods." I hustled off to Roan Mountain with a couple of guys....my brand new Dana E-frame loaded down with 60+ lbs of essential gear. Well, we did about 3,000' of elevation gain the first day and I developed a case of plantar fasciitis in both feet so severe, that it permanently hampered my ability to carry substantial weight. By the end of the second day, reality and fantasy were involved in a head-on collision and everyone was killed! The funny stuff was over! My only saving grace on that mission was good weather. Had it been cold and wet, I'd have probably come off Hump Mountain with nothing but a couple of Nalgenes (my buds could have fought over my gear.) Anyway, I relate my little story to make the point that inexperience coupled with unrealistic expectations generally leads to failure....the first time anyway.

Mags
06-16-2005, 13:50
One option is to cook at a shelter, socialize a while, then move on to a site of your choosing.


I used this strategy quite a bit on the AT. Suspect if I do the AT again, will make even more use of it. Works well as a nice compromise between enjoying the AT community and getting some solitude.

Mogollon
06-16-2005, 15:07
I am an active member of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club so I see many thru-hikers leaving Springer every single year. I agree with the other replies on this thread. Most people are inexperienced and are carrying excessive weight. Plus, many people don't think it gets cold in the Georgia mountains but it gets very cold. Mix that with the humidity and you can have some very miserable days if you get stuck in the rain. In the South, if something gets wet...it stays wet until you have time to dry it out either in the sun or a laundromat.

justusryans
06-16-2005, 19:18
thanks for all the great advice! i especially liked the advice from spirit walker and mags. we don't want to come off as elitest or antisocial. we do like to socialize. however we can't handle being around crouds for prolonged periods of time. we have been planning this for a long time. i have been planning this since the first time i met a through hiker in 1976 in vermont. i was amazed that such a thing was possible. he patiently put up with our whole groups questions with amazing good cheer, yogied a meal off from us and proceeded to set up a tarp a looooong way away from us! as for quitting... well, i won't say it won't happen but am not planning on it except for an emergency. we are not trying to set the world on fire, break speed records or do 20 mile days. we are just planning to keep putting one foot in front of the other until it is no longer phyisically possible or we hit katadyn... whichever comes first. see you on the trail in 06. thanks

Bolivershagnasty
06-16-2005, 19:52
I think they fall out because of those dang Ga straight up and down summits every other hour without their hiking legs yet.

Jester2000
06-16-2005, 21:47
I blame Partnership Shelter. I was there before I hiked the trail and I said to myself, "wow. Shower, use the payphone to order pizza, nice privy, upstairs or downstairs for sleeping. How could anyone mind staying at a place like this every night?"

And then you know what happened? None of the other shelters were like that. Crap.

But I made it.

I think a long distance hike is way too much of an investment in time, money and emotion to not have at least a bit of experience going in. And yet I know some who started with none and made it to Maine.

Georgia was a festival of pain and wet in 2000, and I'm sure that's typical. But perhaps it's best that those who will quit anyway do so early. It saves them from putting in more time, money and pain, and then quitting in Catawba.

fiddlehead
06-16-2005, 22:20
Not everyone is cut out to be a successful thru-hiker. We should probably be grateful for that!

Jester2000
06-16-2005, 23:17
Absolutely, Fiddlehead. "If it were easy, everyone would do it." Notable exception -- voting. By the by, during the course of me "making it" in 2000, I stayed at Fiddlehead's "shelter" while in PA. While he was in Thailand, getting, I believe, some dental work done. I know that makes no sense.

But many thanks to him and Blister, who set the whole thing up.

It even had a shower.

lobster
06-17-2005, 10:51
Apple Jack, Florida Guy, and myself were the first hikers to use the Partnership shower back in 1998. The worker turned it on just after we arrived.

Grampie
06-19-2005, 10:00
Well, my friends. I think the only answer is; It's a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Often said. "Doing a thru-hike, is the hardest job I ever had."

Ridge
06-19-2005, 11:54
My husband wanted to hike SOBO when he finished. Some of the finishers with him said he had to be crazy. I guess it takes some of this kind of attitude (or this kind or crazy) to do a thru hike. He loved every second out in nature. The thrill of seeing who or whatís next kept him moving. He even enjoyed weekenders for the food and drink they brought, usually left him with a bunch. He could choose to be alone or with others. As for the drop out rates, he will tell you that the majority of beginners in thru hiking will carry twice as much stuff as they need and 3 times more than they are able to carry. In other words a lot of folks are just not conditioned physically much less mentally for a journey of this scope. This is like going straight to the pros without any high school or college training. He told lots of folks not to give up hiking but to go back and do a lot of weekend trips in all kinds of weather at all times of the year. Also he'd recommend if they had some spare time, join a trail maintenance club, these people really love the trail and it will rub off on you, you will also learn a lot from these folks. Never surrender.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

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Moxie00
06-19-2005, 12:19
I remember alot of early drop outs from 2000. The first was an older man with a large wooden cross around his neck. He passed me just north of the Springer shelter and he was going to thru hike for Jesus, He had a average pack and was walking fast. Two hours later I met hin southbound. He said it just wasn't what he expected, he was exausted, and sweating and going home. At the first road crossing I met a fellow who developed a kidney stone and was waiting for a ride home. A 300 pound man from New York who looked like Budda made it to Justis Creek, said he "should have gotten in shape". Cold weather, pain, and rain took care of a few as did injury and blisters. One married woman was hiking with a friend. Her husband planned to meet her at a road crossing 5 or 6 days out and they went to a motel. She never came back. My wife and I agreed we would not meet until I got to New York. I was prepared for the rain, snow and cold so even though I sometimes was miserable the situation wasn't unexpected. The beautiful days far outnumbered the bad ones, Nine of my first 10 days were either rain, snow, mist ar fog but I knew better days lay ahead. It is all in the mind of the hiker. You can never fault those who quit because of illness or injury but I feel over half the people who start just don't have the commitment to continue when the going gets rough. A wonderful piece of advice was given to me at Fontana Dam by "Many Sleeps" who thru hiked souuthbound when he was almost 70. "Never make a decision on your hike in bad weather or at night. Make every major decision when the sun is out and the weather is clear." Best advice I got on my entire hike.

Jester2000
06-24-2005, 21:38
I also tell people never to quit in town. Sometimes it's too snap a decision, and it's easy to go home. Quit in the woods, if that's your decision, and hike to the next town to go home. Sometimes something good will happen between the two points, and it keeps you on. . .