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  1. #1
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    Default SOBO Weather vs. NOBO Weather

    This is my first post on here, so before I start, hello to everyone!

    I am 20yo and have decided that I am going to attempt a thru hike in 2016 after I graduate from college. One of the many questions that I have about it is what the weather will be like both ways. The plan would be to start in late May after graduation and I would be fine going either way, but I am not as certain on how long it will take me and I don't want the time crunch to end my trip going NOBO.

    Are there any weather concerns to be watchful for going NOBO or SOBO with that kind of start date that I need to plan for? What are the temperatures like both ways?

    Thank you so much, I look forward to picking y'all's brains for the next few years

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    Sobos can't start much before June or July, so they're likely to finish at Springer late autumn or early winter. Nobos get to deal with the end of winter and early spring in the south, and the beginning of autumn up in NH and ME. Sobos do all their cold-weather dealings at the end of the hike, and overall they deal with more cold (and snow and ice) than most nobos.

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    Would an early June, late May start be easily doable time wise for a nobo trek? I don't really care about the whole bubble thing, so I am fine if I miss it. What concerns would I have with such a late start?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyno214 View Post
    Would an early June, late May start be easily doable time wise for a nobo trek? I don't really care about the whole bubble thing, so I am fine if I miss it. What concerns would I have with such a late start?
    Much beyond May 1, it might be a challenge to get to Katahdin before the season ends. I believe that happens in mid-October. It really is a hard closure, as far as Katahdin's summit is concerned.

    The common workaround for that is to flip-flop. Walk north until (say) sometime in September, then get yourself to Katahdin and walk south to wherever you left off.

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    I hadn't thought of that is there a place that most flip-floppers get off?

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyno214 View Post
    Would an early June, late May start be easily doable time wise for a nobo trek? I don't really care about the whole bubble thing, so I am fine if I miss it. What concerns would I have with such a late start?

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    Snow and ice on Katahdin is enough of a concern in the fall that there are usually some days in early October (and sometimes days in September) when park officials prohibit hiking to the top of Katahdin. It's unusual to be able to summit Katahdin after Oct. 15, though it does happen sometimes. Until this year overnight camping in Baxter State Park ended Oct. 15, but they are now experimenting for a couple years with keeping a few camping spots open for a few days after this date -- that still doesn't mean that you will be able to summit Katahdin. It depends on the weather.

    So a NOBO start in the first week of June means you have about 130 days or less to complete your hike. Only around 20 to 25% of NOBO thru-hike attempters finish, and only about 10% of THOSE finishers do it in around 130 days or less. Long odds, but as some members here will tell you, it's not impossible. If you start the last week of May that gives you a few more days. If you get to northern Virginia and it's obvious you are not on pace to complete by early October you can travel to Katahdin and hike south (a "flip-flop") until you get to the point where you left off -- some hikers do this every year. In any event, starting NOBO in late May/early June means lots of heat down south.

    If you choose to go SOBO in most years it would be wise to put off your start until at least mid-June. The problems with a typical late May or early June start is plentiful biting black flies and mosquitoes and having to ford swollen streams in Maine from snow melt and rains. This varies from year to year, but to cut down on these problems you could time your start to be one month after officials in Baxter State Park first open the Hunt Trail to the top of Katahdin -- this varies from as early as May 15 to as late as the first week of June (the "typical" opening date would be sometime in the last dozen days of May).

    Down south winter weather in the high elevations like the Smoky Mountains is "usually" not bad in October (with exceptions) but getting more pronounced (episodes of snow or freezing rain) as November and December go along. If you knew you could complete your hike in five months (which is the median completion time for SOBOs who do succeed in finishing), a mid to late June start and mid to late November finish is often a good way to thread the needle when it comes to avoiding weather related trouble at either end.

    Good luck whatever you decide.
    Last edited by map man; 04-26-2014 at 18:49.

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    I am pretty confident that I would be able to complete the hike in 5 months and would love to finish in 4.5 months if possible. I live in TN, so I am moderately aware of the temperatures down south, but the higher elevations are what worry me. Most of the backpacking experience that I have is either lower elevations or in some of the mountains of New Mexico. Is there still a lot of snow (on average) on Katahdin and that surrounding area? I have never been that far north so I do not know what the conditions would be like. For me, going SOBO seems like a better idea just because I will be hiking back to closer to my home town and I would prefer to get the tougher hikes out o the way while I am still fresh. How would my equipment differ starting out on a SOBO hike from a NOBO hike?

    I apologize for all of the newbie questions, I am not extremely experienced (longest trip was only 2 weeks and that was 4 years ago) and I like to be well prepared.

  8. #8

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    I think your starting date constraints make for an ideal way to hike during the best possible weather, as long as you are willing to flip.

    If I ever do a NOBO, my plan is to start about the middle of May, and then sometime in mid July make a decision whether to flip up to Kathadin. I like the heat and hate cold and rain, so that seems like a good plan.

    Another move for you might be to start whenever you can at Springer, and then flip up to Kathadin in early July to join the SOBOs.

    So, I guess I think your move is to start when you can, but be open to the idea of flipping if you want to beat the heat or if you think you might not be on pace to make it to K in time. Good luck ... 2016 is the first possible year I might be able to do this, so I might see you out there!

  9. #9

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    Starting a SOBO before June 1st is not advisable as has already been noted. June is one of the worse months to hike in Maine and any earlier it's possible to run into lingering snow in places, swollen streams and many days of misurable cold rain and fog. When it finally does warm up the Black Fies swarm.

    Late May is not too bad a time to start a NOBO. You've missed all the bad spring weather, so you can start out with a light pack and start doing big miles a lot sooner then most normally do. NOBO hikers who start in March and April have a high drop out rate due to the weather. Same with SOBO hikers who start in early June, who have the added challenge of doing the hardest sections of the AT right at the start.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyno214 View Post
    How would my equipment differ starting out on a SOBO hike from a NOBO hike?
    For the SOBO hike starting with a supply of DEET and possibly a head net would be suggested. For the NOBO hike you would want to switch to a warmer bag and add some warmer clothes (long sleeve hiking shirt, insulated jacket for camp) for the last 500 miles of the hike (starting at the White Mountains), while SOBO you would want that warmer bag and clothes for the first 500 miles (through the White Mountains) and again in the south starting in October.

    Some thru-hikers don't bother with rain gear during the warm months, but you would definitely want to have rain gear with you during those times I mentioned above when you need your warmer sleeping bag.
    Last edited by map man; 04-26-2014 at 18:59.

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    Interesting, thank you all for your opinions!

    If I started around May 20th (earliest I could possible start), that would leave me with 4 months and 3 weeks. I think that is a very reasonable goal if I can hit big miles at the beginning. This brings me to another question I had. Why does everyone seem to start with such low mileage in the beginning? Is that psychological or physical? Physically, I would be willing to train earlier so I had the ability to go further starting from the beginning, but if that is not the problem how does one confront that?

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyno214 View Post
    Interesting, thank you all for your opinions!

    If I started around May 20th (earliest I could possible start), that would leave me with 4 months and 3 weeks. I think that is a very reasonable goal if I can hit big miles at the beginning. This brings me to another question I had. Why does everyone seem to start with such low mileage in the beginning? Is that psychological or physical? Physically, I would be willing to train earlier so I had the ability to go further starting from the beginning, but if that is not the problem how does one confront that?
    You can show up at Springer with great cardio/pulmonary fitness, and with your big muscles like quads and calves being in great shape too, but it is still a good idea to keep the miles per day down in the early going. The joints in your feet, ankles, knees, hips need time to toughen up gradually and the only way to get them in hiking shape is to hike. Starting too fast sidelines lots of hikers each year.

    If you have 140-145 days to hike the trail let's say that 130 of those are hiking days -- virtually everybody needs some zero days. That's 17 miles per hiking day. Try starting at 12 to 14 miles per day and let your body tell you when it's ready to go for those 20+ mile days.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by map man View Post
    You can show up at Springer with great cardio/pulmonary fitness, and with your big muscles like quads and calves being in great shape too, but it is still a good idea to keep the miles per day down in the early going. The joints in your feet, ankles, knees, hips need time to toughen up gradually and the only way to get them in hiking shape is to hike. Starting too fast sidelines lots of hikers each year.

    If you have 140-145 days to hike the trail let's say that 130 of those are hiking days -- virtually everybody needs some zero days. That's 17 miles per hiking day. Try starting at 12 to 14 miles per day and let your body tell you when it's ready to go for those 20+ mile days.
    That makes a lot of sense. What is a good mileage goal per day towards the later middle/end? I have heard that you won't really be able to hike the same as the PCT or CDT in terms of distance per day, but what is a good prediction of mileage?

  14. #14

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    Slowly increase your miles per hiking day from 12-14 at the beginning to 18 miles by the time you get to Damascus VA.
    20 miles per day from Damascus to Glencliff NH.
    Back down to 13 to 14 miles per day for the 220 miles from Glencliff NH to East Flagstaff Road in Maine -- it's rugged here.
    Back up to 20 miles per day until the end.

    That's somewhere between 120 and 130 hiking days total for the hike.

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    Gotcha, thank you so much! I was kind of sad that I might not be able to go nobo, but this has helped see that I can any tips on training for the unrelenting miles day after day?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyno214 View Post
    Gotcha, thank you so much! I was kind of sad that I might not be able to go nobo, but this has helped see that I can any tips on training for the unrelenting miles day after day?
    Every long distance hiker gets to figure that out for himself or herself. Questions like that are beyond my pay grade.

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    Hahahaha that's perfect

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  18. #18
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    Another option would be to start in Harper's Ferry in late May heading north to Katahdin, getting there in early August, then flip back to HF and hike south to Springer, finishing in late October (for a 4.5-5 month hike.)

    You'll get good weather in almost the entire hike, and you get to "finish" twice, once at each end.
    Ken B
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigcranky View Post
    Another option would be to start in Harper's Ferry in late May heading north to Katahdin, getting there in early August, then flip back to HF and hike south to Springer, finishing in late October (for a 4.5-5 month hike.)

    You'll get good weather in almost the entire hike, and you get to "finish" twice, once at each end.
    That is a very interesting idea... That would actually be pretty much perfect for my plans and would let me experience it both ways... Thank you, I will have to think about that...

  20. #20
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    Thanks, it's not an original idea (see here for many others - scroll down to "Alternative Thru Hikes.") But it's my basic plan for a someday-when-I-retire thru-hike since I would finish work around the end of May.
    Ken B
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