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  1. #1
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    Default AT November/December Thru-Hike

    Has anyone ever done or have opinions on starting an Appalachian Trail thru-hike in Nov./Dec.? I believe Katahdin opens up in May. That would avoid the crowds and the heat. Of course more stuff to carry, shorter days and colder, but maybe that would get one through the Smokies before really bad weather?

  2. #2
    Registered User HeartFire's Avatar
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    Many southbounders finish in November/December, but what will the conditions be in January/February in Virginia

  3. #3
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    Those are lower elevations, so, maybe not as bad?

  4. #4
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    People explore this idea from time to time. A few of them try it from time to time. Most of them learn very quickly that it's awful and no fun. The exception are the real "mountain men" (and women) who enjoy living on the margins - sorta like Army Ranger types.

  5. #5
    Leonidas
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    People have done this and they either end up waiting for Katahdin to open or they make such slow progress that the bubble catches up to them anyway. The other issue is getting to the Kennebec before the shuttle starts running for the season.
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    itd be more cumbersome for sure but if i wanted to hike the trail during that time period i'd start in front royal and head north until i hit too much snow to continue (might make it to VT if things arent too bad in the south taconics) then go down south and hike to front royal, then finish up with wherever i stopped the first leg to katahdin.

    i'd also be prepared to take a few weeks off before the last leg.

    i have a sort of related problem ive begun to mentally wrestle with for a likely hike in 2 or 3 years- when can one hike monson to katahdin and not be around a whole bunch of thrus? seems like there is no good answer.

  7. #7

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    "Viking" hiked the AT SOBO in the winter a few years ago. But it was a warm winter with exceptionally little snow. If he had tried it the following year, he would have been up to his armpits in snow.

    Depending on conditions, Baxter State Park may not open until very late in June. May 15th is the earliest they will let people in. But between the short hours of daylight and weather, it is unlikely you would get anywhere close to Baxter before they open. Plus the mountains of NH and Maine typically still have significant amounts of snow well into April. Then it gets insanely muddy.
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  8. #8

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    I should have said Baxter may not open until late in May.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Roper View Post
    People explore this idea from time to time. A few of them try it from time to time. Most of them learn very quickly that it's awful and no fun. The exception are the real "mountain men" (and women) who enjoy living on the margins - sorta like Army Ranger types.
    This <old> Ranger type disagrees. I’m well past the travel light and freeze at night phase of my life. An April start was right for me.
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  10. #10
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    Why not start in November and go few months till too miserable take few months off then resume early spring well ahead of the bubble. Nov and December are some of my favorite times to hike in SE.


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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by saltysack View Post
    Why not start in November and go few months till too miserable take few months off then resume early spring well ahead of the bubble. Nov and December are some of my favorite times to hike in SE.
    Sounds like a great idea, especially if you live in the southeast. Might as well make some of those training and shakedown hikes be part of the thru hike.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by ncwild View Post
    Has anyone ever done or have opinions on starting an Appalachian Trail thru-hike in Nov./Dec.? I believe Katahdin opens up in May. That would avoid the crowds and the heat. Of course more stuff to carry, shorter days and colder, but maybe that would get one through the Smokies before really bad weather?
    That scenario opens up a different can of worms, a larger one in my opinion, that respectfully you're not detailing and addressing because I'm 95% sure you're not aware of them. There are other very worthy to explore AT thru hiking scenarios that avoid the crowds and heat more in line with a greater number of people's abilities.

  13. #13
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    My C. R. S. is acting up again.
    A couple started January 1 2 or 3 years ago and I think they finished. There experience might be helpful. If someone knows who they were.
    Seasonal trail oriented businesses wonít be available.
    Extra time and money will be spent bailing out after storms and getting a motel and town meals.
    Snowshoes and winterish boots would not be out of the question.
    A Zero sleeping bag would be handy. No, not a quilt. A WM Antelope or warmer. And an R-5+ pad.
    Maybe a new pack to handle the load.
    Itís always something Hey?
    Wayne

  14. #14

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    It has been done, but not by a lot of people. There are some considerations.

    It has been a very wet year along most of the AT corridor, which according to a lot of meteorologists is not likely to change anytime soon. A lot of regions are predicting a heavy snow season, so its likely you will need to have two different types of snowshoes with you, the broader "powder" snowshoes that provide better float in loose snow (before melt/freeze cycles cause it to harden enough to support a few hundred pounds), and the more narrow trail type snowshoes so you don't posthole your way north on broken in trail and really anger people. Crampons may be required for some ascents/descents, micro spikes would be advisable for most of the trek as long as there is ice on the trail.

    Expect to be pinned down for a few days at a time when nor'easters set up and drop many feet of snow over a few days. These storms are not uncommon from mid January into late March from VA north, and can be an issue much further south depending on circumstances. These storms can cause real problems when they start as ice and change to snow. Its nearly impossible to keep your footing, even with crampons or snowshoes with a snow pack of several feet above inch thick ice coating everything under it.

    As Venchka points out, a Zero sleeping bag will probably be what you want, along with a heavy duty tent that can shed snow and ice. With the cold weather gear, and a few days of food in case you are weathered in, it won't be a light pack to haul around. If you don't already use them, rekking poles will be a must as well to maintain balance and probe for footholds.

    Business services that many thru hikers rely on for resupply, rides, and lodging will be limited in the winter months, access to those that are open will probably be challenging along the way.

    Mud season will probably impact a December start, which some State trail organizations close trails and/or ask people not to hike them from early April to mid May, depending on conditions each year in VT and NH. Katahdin does not always open at the advertised date the Park itself opens depending on snowpack and other circumstances.

    But, over the miles and miles of unbroken snow covered trail, you are not likely to see anyone, will have most shelters to yourself, not see a single snake, no bears, and the work you do to get to the next stopping point will make that much more of a reward.

  15. #15

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    if someone is up for a lot of winter and variable weather hiking, solitude, short days, lots of things closed, then it certainly would be a good adventure

    Getting passed the smokies is only one issue. You can face very difficult conditions in new england in march/april

  16. #16
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    There is a reason why this is hardly ever done. It's too hard. If your goal is to complete a thru hike you need a better plan. If you want to be a failed thru hiker then start in November.

  17. #17

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    I thought back a few years ago, several hikers had to recused by the local S&R unit . A heavy Snow/Ice storm hit the area and they hiking through several inches of the stuff. (Or tried to that is.) It wasn't a good thing. Many of them spent some time in the hospital for Frostbite.

  18. #18

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    This spring, I hiked SOBO from Harpers Ferry starting April 21th. The first NOBO I met a few days south of HF started early January. Then I started meeting some who started in at various times in February. Not many of those either. It wasn't until I got past the SNP that I started meeting those who started in March. That shows me that those who started in Jan-Feb and managed to stay on the trail didn't get all that much farther ahead of those who started in March.
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  19. #19
    Peakbagger Extraordinaire The Solemates's Avatar
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    We started 1 feb. it took us 150 days to do the trail. We had at least 50 of those days with snow. Up to 3 feet of it at one point. We had 8-10 nights below 0, and 80 or so below freezing. We were experienced (southern) winter backpackers before starting. Be prepared and know what you’re doing. We’re out in the south every winter still. Some years are mild; others can be miserable.
    The only thing better than mountains, is mountains where you haven't been.

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  20. #20
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    It's not Baxter opening in May that I'd be concerned about. Assuming you keep something close to 10 mpd with a Nov 15 start, you're in the Whites in March, which is still pretty deep winter. And hiking faster doesn't help at all in this case.
    Ken B
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