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    Default Nobo Thru-Hike Start Date Graph - and a plea

    Class of 2015:

    I've created a graph from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's 2,000-miler database to show the starting dates of thru-hikers over a 5-year period.

    The data is compiled from northbounders who successfully completed their hikes and reported them to ATC from 2010-2014. It includes all of the finishers for the last 5 years (except for those who reported in the last few weeks). That number is almost exactly th[ATTACH]undefined[/ATTACH]e same as the number of estimate starters in 2014 (2500).

    In other words, the last five years of finishers about equals the number of starters in 2014.

    You'll see April 1 is the most popular date, with about 100 thru-hikers starting that day. March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) is the second most popular day. It's human nature to pick dates that are easy to remember, and it's good so many people have a sense of humor about their big adventure. That quality will serve you well on the Trail. But this is a little education so you can be more thoughtful about picking your start date. If you pick these or other popular days, that means the shelters and campsites will be overwhelmed with people The campsites expand at the edges, so more vegetation gets trampled and the compacted area increases. Needless to say, those camping spots are not very pleasant either. Instead of fellowship with the wilderness, you get tent city, and a noisy one at that. Think about what it will be like waiting in line for the privy. Think of what happens when someone can't wait or gets impatient and is not trained in Leave No Trace. Think of everyone brushing their teeth in the morning. Think of the conditions at the spring. Don't you agree it's better to have hikers more evenly spaces out?

    So please reconsider if you were thinking of starting March 1, March 17, April 1. Also, if you can start mid-week instead of the weekend, that will help even out the flow of hikers too.

    AT Nobo thru-hiker Start Date graph 2010-2014 feb-may-page-0.jpg

    Or think about an alternative itinerary. There are lots of ways to thru-hike. The A.T. can welcome even more thru-hikers than we've had in the past--but not all in the same place at the same time.

    Starting in Harpers Ferry in late April or the first half of May has lots of benefits. But there are a lot of options (almost infinate, really) with quite a few outlined at www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/thru-section-hiking/when-where-to-start (I've just revised this page, if you've been here before).


    If you really love the A.T. and want others to enjoy this amazing resource that allows anyone to spend time in immersed in nature, at almost no cost, with a minimum of regulation, please consider voluntarily following these suggestions.

    ATC is working on a voluntary registration, but it won't be ready for a little while, and we want you to have time to think about your start date before you have a chance to go online and pick a date.

    The Appalachian Trail is one of the truly great and unique things that America has to offer. Aside from providing a great experience, it is a symbol of what is great about America. Is there any place in the world where people have such freedom to go and just spend time in nature, roam the mountains and countryside, and and enjoy meeting people of all walks of life from around the globe? Is there any place more free and more welcoming?

    On your thru-hike you will meet trail angels who will give you food and drink and rides and maybe even open their homes to you. But perhaps even more amazing, on your hike, you will cross the borders of 14 states. There will be no passports required, no checkpoints, no visas. No men with guns to threaten you or protect you from people with bombs.

    As you walk through the woods and farmland and across balds and rivers and small towns, you will benefit from the work of more than 80 federal, state, and local agencies working together. You will benefit from the work of more than 6000 volunteers who work on the trail and on the corridor boundary maybe just out of sight. Other volunteers will be going to planning meetings and drafting budgets and trying to hash out a policy that a slew of different entities that will be protect the spirit of the A.T. You will also benefit from the work of ATC, the non-profit organization that oversees and coordinates the work of all those government agencies, the volunteers, runs the trail crews and the skills training for volunteers and the Kennebec Ferry and works to make those small towns you visit more hiker friendly. Many people are doing things behind the scenes that you will never see to make your hike possible.

    Cherish the freedom you enjoy on your hike, and enjoy your hike in a way that helps keep the A.T. experience available for others.

    Laurie Potteiger
    ATC

  2. #2
    Registered User semicolon's Avatar
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    Laurie, thank you for putting this information together!

  3. #3

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    Excellent information. The graph is a great visual tool for prospective thru hikers. Since this is based on those hikers that completed the trail, the number of starters could easily be triple this amount; I can't imagine starting April 1st with 3 or 400 others!!!
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    Everything in life is a normal curve. Really good data and as a statistician- I would love to play with that data
    Thanks

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    Thanks, Laurie. Really good information for all.

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    Laurie, good job! You convinced me that my 2015 thru will be a flip starting at Harpers Ferry. Thank you for the info.
    Simple is good.

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    Registered User swjohnsey's Avatar
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    It also shows that your odds of completing might be improved by choosing a later start date. A vote for mid-week.

  8. #8

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    The information Laurie provides in this thread is so valuable that I hope the moderators will make this a sticky that will appear permanently at the top of this forum, and perhaps at the top of the forum titled "Thru-Hiker Specific Topics" as well.

    The graph shows some things very clearly:

    1) Starts really spike on March 1, April 1 and May 1, compared to just before or after (people, stay away from the first of the month!).

    2) Heavy NOBO start season runs from March 1 through April 7.

    3) The absolute heart of NOBO start season, with the highest traffic, runs from March 12 through March 20.

    Thru-hiker hopefuls, please take ATC's suggestions to heart about avoiding high traffic times before this upcoming voluntary registration system becomes more than voluntary some time in the future. We have this in our power.

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    1 April is always a very busy day on Springer. Last year, at Forest Service Rd 42, I counted 65 long distance hikers, but since it was on a Tuesday, there were only 11 section hikers. The weekends are usually busier overall because they include more section hikers. In my section hiker total, I include church groups, college groups, scout groups and everyone else who is not planning to do the entire trail. Some of the groups are very large and they tend to start on the weekends. In 2011, on 2 Apr (Sat) I counted 55 long distance hikers and 94 sectioners (the day before, 1 Apr 2011, there were 50 and 35). . . That is alot of hikers on the trail and the vast majority of them will camp between Stover Creek Shelter and Hawk Mountain Shelter.

    (read my 'observations' thread for more stats from the last several years)

    This years WhiteBlaze spreadsheet appears to have lower overall numbers than the past several. The key dates that Laurie mentioned so far:

    1 Mar (Sunday) - 9 hikers scheduled to start
    17 Mar (Tue) - 5
    1 Apr (Wed) - 8

    So far the busiest day is 15 Mar (Sun) with 16 hikers scheduled to start.

    I agree with Laurie to start during the week (Tue, Wed or Thu). I would also suggest to start the second week of Apr. There is usually a sharp drop off of starters after the first weekend in Apr. Also, the weather is likely to be a little better (don't forget some sunscreen, regardless of when you start!)

    Good Luck and Have Fun!

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  10. #10

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    Squid,

    Thanks for your excellent information too. Your registration has been helpful to me--I have been in communication with land managers in Maryland to let them know we are promoting flip-flops starting in Harpers Ferry. They were concerned that there would be hordes of thru-hikers descending on Maryland in May. I was able to tell them, "No worries. Only 3 out of 209 have that plan so far." When ATC roles out it's voluntary registration for nobos, I hope we can all work together, and folks won't mind "registering" twice, for the good of the trail.

    I do remember the last time I made similar charts maybe 10 or 15 years ago, March 15 and the first day of spring were higher than St. Patrick's Day. They may have been based on one year, though, when those dates fell on weekend days. The day of the week upon which a calendar event falls definitely has an impact on how many choose it.

    Carbo,

    Great to hear that are considering a flip from Harpers Ferry!

    Map Man,

    Thanks for your comments. It was so great to have your help with the 2,000-miler database and the 2014 hiker data. This reminds me I want to go back and look at the additional follow up you suggested--although I won't get to that anytime soon. Send me a reminder in a month or two.


    Thanks to others who commented and helped raise the visibility of this thread. And thanks to the person on another thread who said a graph like this would be helpful (I've been meaning to get to it for a while but squeaky wheels can sometimes be very helpful).

  11. #11

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    Excellent Laurie. Thanks so much for the ATC's, and specifically your, input on WB. Yeah.

  12. #12

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    Like Map Man's great Sticky idea for this info and your entire comment Laurie.

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    Thanks Laurie, well stated.


    Quote Originally Posted by swjohnsey View Post
    It also shows that your odds of completing might be improved by choosing a later start date. A vote for mid-week.
    I don't see how you can get that from this graph as it does not show how many start but don't complete.

    But with that info you should be able to pick a date with the highest %age of completions.

  14. #14

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    Looks like no one who starts in January finishes and only a few who start in early February finish, but of course, we don't know how many actually started in those months.

    Mid March to mid April is definitely the idea time to start a NOBO so I don't see anyway to change that. It might be possible to flatten out the curve some by encouraging more non April 1 and weekend starts, but those days are popular for logistical reasons. I'm guessing a May, H.F. flip flop has a poor completion rate, but maybe that would improve if more did it.
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  15. #15

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    One of the reasons a northbound voluntary registration (and a high rate of participation) would be valuable is we would have good data on starters. The best we've had in the past is piecemeal data--what's collected and what's available to ATC varies with the individuals in certain roles as well as the leadership in various organizations, ranging from Amicalola Falls State Park, GATC, ATC, and the USFS.

    Jim Burson, a 1959 thru-hiker who started out as a volunteer ranger at Amicalola Falls state park after he retired, was incredibly helpful by getting the Amicalola Falls thru-hike rosters faxed to ATC while he was there. But he passed away a few years ago. Ron Brown at AFSP continued the practice for a few years while he was working there, but with all the changes at the park and budget cuts, that stopped. Many Sleeps used to collect data on thru-hikers at Fontana Dam as a full-time volunteer for three years after his 1998 sobo thru-hike, during thru-hiker season. Then he moved to Springer and became the paid caretaker there, and collected numbers (but not names) for me. Then, reasonably enough, the GATC wanted the caretaker to focus more on Leave No Trace education than counting, and the numbers no long came to me consistently. For the record, the good folks at Neels Gap/Mountain Crossings really made a effort to get us numbers, especially when we had none coming from Amicalola and/or Neels Gap. That was Jeff and Dorothy Hansen first, then Winton Porter and his staff. I'm sure Georgianna would help now if we asked.

    Giving ATC, the body who has consistently tracked thru-hiker numbers over decades, the ability to collect data on starters would help us tremendously. But we would probably need help from the brainy guys on this thread who have time to really work with these numbers to make the most use of such numbers.

    My own personal theory is that April 1 starters have no higher success rate than other dates, and in fact, may have a lower rate because the crowds right at the start could be so discouraging. And while some may choose April 1 because they have a good sense of humor, I think some choose April 1 because they view the whole endeavor as something of a lark. Now, there certainly are those who've had success with that approach and have turned into really great hikers. After all, most thru-hikers have no backpacking experience when they start. But overall, I think those hikers who view the endeavor as something just to give a try without being really committed are of the "I'll keep walking until it stops being fun" mindset. If "fun" equates with "lack of pain," then you're not going to get far if you're inexperienced and out of shape.

  16. #16
    Registered User semicolon's Avatar
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    Well, this is another fabulous example of the great work that the ATC and its members do for the benefit of all ATC hikers. If you are reading this and are not a member of ATC, then please consider joining ATC today. If you hike the AT and are not a member of the ATC, then please make an ATC membership your next piece of gear.
    (I hope I'm preaching the the choir here on WB)

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lauriep View Post
    My own personal theory is that April 1 starters have no higher success rate than other dates, and in fact, may have a lower rate because the crowds right at the start could be so discouraging. And while some may choose April 1 because they have a good sense of humor, I think some choose April 1 because they view the whole endeavor as something of a lark.
    Or maybe the crowds are encouraging, especially to hikers with little experience. There can be conform knowing others are around if you need help. And maybe April 1st is chosen because psychologically April is a 'spring' month while March is the end of winter.

    Without the denominator of how many people start on each day its impossible to determine success rate. Also, although X number of people start on a particular day that doesn't mean that group stays together through the entire hike.

    Data is good. More data is better.

    I think a possible method to data collection is to ask hikers to email/tweet the ATC along the way with actual numbers at each shelter. Then the ATC could monitor the 'flow' in real time. You can do all sort of interesting stuff with this type of data. Best part? It would be free to collect.
    --

    Hike Safe.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by sympathetic joy View Post
    Or maybe the crowds are encouraging, especially to hikers with little experience. There can be conform knowing others are around if you need help. And maybe April 1st is chosen because psychologically April is a 'spring' month while March is the end of winter.

    Without the denominator of how many people start on each day its impossible to determine success rate. Also, although X number of people start on a particular day that doesn't mean that group stays together through the entire hike.
    Sympathetic Joy,

    Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right in that most hikers seem to find the companionship of other hikers encouraging, and we recognize that. You'll note on our "where and when to start a thru-hike page" we talk a lot about companionship. However, it's one thing to have companionship and moral support, and another to have overcrowded conditions. A survey of 2014 northbound thru-hikers revealed many thought that Georgia (or the first 30 miles or 100 miles or 500 miles) was crowded. The group we know very little about are the 75% who quit.

    And, of course, ATC has to manage the Appalachian Trail for many concerns other than what beginning thu-hikers would like. While that is an important consideration, we must also consider day-hikers, overnight hikers, volunteers, land-managers, the protection of flora, fauna and water quality, among other things.

    Also, there are many factors that influence a thru-hiker's success rate. I suspect the actual starting date isn't a big factor day to day or week to week. If that start date is very crowded, or there are so few people that it is lonely, that could be a factor. Starting early in the season when it's really cold, snowy, or icy, could be a factor; I'm almost certain that the drop-out rate in January is higher than in other months, as there are years when we say a dozen people on WhiteBlaze or TrailPlace.com planning to start the first week of January, and we didn't see any in Harpers Ferry. Starting late can have a number of negatives. I do have another version of the chart above that shows January 1 through June, but I need to make some modifications I can only do in the office before I can post that.

    One of the reasons we are having a Flip-Flop Kick-Off in Harpers Ferry on May 2 is to enable/encourage a small group of flip-floppers to start together so they have each other as well as nobos for support, and to forge a stronger connection with them so we learn more about their experience.

    Having a voluntary registration system with high participation rate would allow us to collect more data and survey hikers at the beginning to have a better understanding of what factors influence success.

    Great idea having hikers report on hikers numbers at shelters. Right now we are in discussions with someone who hopes to develop an app that will allow hikers to do that very thing. It may not be ready this hiker season though.

  19. #19

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    Thanks for the post, great information.

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    Default Nobo Thru-Hike Start Date Graph - and a plea

    How about little chips like they use in 5K races. The hiker puts up $20 and gets $10 back when they mail it back from Big K along with their 2000 mile cert. this way you would have a pure count of the hikers on trail. You could place resources where needed. Places where registration is needed could monitor very easy. The tag is super light weight. Instead Of the passport places along the way could scan the tag. The hiker could log in and check their progress and be advised of their ETA to the next location based on current rate of travel. It is a little big brotherish but if sold with the proper spin you might get some buy in.

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