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  1. #1
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    Question Viability of Harpers Ferry (1st June) --> Springer Mountain (30 August)

    Hey guys!

    I've wanted to do the AT all my life, and - as I am just out of university and this will probably be the last summer I will ever have fully free - I've decided to bite the bullet and finally try my hand at it.

    I don't have the funds or the time to commit to a thru-hike, but I'm thinking about a section-hike from Harpers Ferry to Springer Mountain. And basically, as much as I'm enjoying planning it, I think I need some advice:

    1) Time - I'm from Ireland, meaning that I can only visit the USA with a visa. Good news is that I qualify for a visa-waiver programme, which allows me entry for a nominal processing fee and for up to 90 days. Bad news, is that I'm not sure if 90 days will be sufficient for me to complete this section hike. I've scoured forums, including a thread on this site wherein someone collated averages of everybody's hiking times, and the average appears to be around 75-85 days (including rest days). Now, I'm 22 years old, frequent hiker, good shape, I'm optimistic that after a while hiking on the AT I'll be of a good enough standard of fitness that I can put away some decent milage per days. But I'm still a little worried about how close the average hiking time is to the duration of my visa - I don't really have any leeway in case I need to take an unforeseen rest day, or if I get injured or need to see a doctor or even if I'm just not as fit as I expect to be. The travel to and from airports on either ends will take around 2 days as well, so that's even less time. Would I be crazy to just do it anyway? I don't have time to apply for any longer visa so the 90 days ESTA is really the only way that I can do it. This leads me into the second question, which will also affect how many miles per day I'll be able to travel.

    2) Weather - If what I've read and scoured online is anything to go by, it seems that a hike from Harpers Ferry to Springer Mountain between June, July and August isn't a popular route. It'll be hot, it'll be humid. But I was prepared for that. Essentially, what I want to know is whether the heat will be unbearable throughout the hike. Will I be constantly sunburned, thirsty, assaulted by the sun such that I'll be uncomfortable every day and that I won't be able to put away as many miles a day as I will need in order to keep within my visa times? Or will the frequent high elevation and tree shade mitigate it. I'm sure this must sound silly, but I can't - either on this forum or elsewhere - find any working links to sites which document the mean/median temperature of parts of the trail per year and at average elevations. So will the heat be scorching, above average or just a little above average? And will it impinge upon my ability to hike the amount of miles per day that I will need to in order to make it back home before my visa runs out?

    3) Weather and Gear - conversely, if the heat will be so bad, or above average or whatever; does this mean that I could get away with order a predominantly summer sleeping bag and summer clothing (albeit with a three season tent)?

    I'd really appreciate any/all help and advice yous can offer, its pretty cool just how helpful this forum is to be people asking questions about their upcoming hikes.


    Thanks very much!

  2. #2

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    Time would be OK for most.

    Weather.....yup..hot...humid. ok at highest elevations, miserable at lowest.
    I dont mind sweating in day, as much as sweating at night..... Time of yr when you look forward to rain....

    Night temps could range 45-75. Sometimes even a sheet is too much. Days heat doesnt dissipate until after midnight...until then just too sticky and warm to sleep for me.
    Sunburned......no.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 05-21-2019 at 07:02.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by MuddyWaters View Post
    Time would be OK for most.

    Weather.....yup..hot...humid. ok at highest elevations, miserable at lowest.
    I dont mind sweating in day, as much as sweating at night..... Time of yr when you look forward to rain....

    Night temps could range 45-75. Sometimes even a sheet is too much. Days heat doesnt dissipate until after midnight...until then just too sticky and warm to sleep for me.
    Sunburned......no.
    I would add the mud, the mosquitoes, the black flies, the ticks, the chafing from being constantly wet. July in New England is tough, and there's no way around it.

  4. #4
    Registered User jungleland1972's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stephanD View Post
    I would add the mud, the mosquitoes, the black flies, the ticks, the chafing from being constantly wet. July in New England is tough, and there's no way around it.
    I think he is going the other direction (WV to GA).

  5. #5
    94.8% complete Berserker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ConallT View Post
    1) Time - I'm from Ireland, meaning that I can only visit the USA with a visa. Good news is that I qualify for a visa-waiver programme, which allows me entry for a nominal processing fee and for up to 90 days. Bad news, is that I'm not sure if 90 days will be sufficient for me to complete this section hike.
    Looking at the 2018 AWOL guide the mileage from Harpers Ferry to Springer is 1,024.8 miles. If we assume 80 days of hiking that's 12.8 miles per day. That's not a trivial amount of mileage per day, but once you get your trail legs you'll probably be able to average 20 a day based on you saying you are young and already in good shape. So you should be able to hike it with time to spare. You can use that spare time to take zeroes or finish early. If you don't make the mileage then just have an alternate plan to get off trail and back to an airport. You can figure this out as you are out on your trip.


    Quote Originally Posted by ConallT View Post
    2) Weather - If what I've read and scoured online is anything to go by, it seems that a hike from Harpers Ferry to Springer Mountain between June, July and August isn't a popular route. It'll be hot, it'll be humid. But I was prepared for that. Essentially, what I want to know is whether the heat will be unbearable throughout the hike. Will I be constantly sunburned, thirsty, assaulted by the sun such that I'll be uncomfortable every day and that I won't be able to put away as many miles a day as I will need in order to keep within my visa times? Or will the frequent high elevation and tree shade mitigate it.
    You are right that it will be hot and humid. That's going to be your biggest issue. If you have good heat tolerance you'll be ok, and if not then you are gonna need to take it easy and build up the tolerance. As for your other concerns, almost this entire section is forested and there is no high elevation unless you consider 6,643 (elevation at Clingman's Dome...the highest point in that section) high. The Appalachians do not go above tree line until you reach New Hampshire. So basically for almost that entire section you'll be under trees and will not have much sun exposure. The only exceptions are a few spots such as Roan Mountain and Mt. Rogers where the trail traverses some treeless sections (again, these areas are not above tree line, they have no trees for other reasons).


    Quote Originally Posted by ConallT View Post
    3) Weather and Gear - conversely, if the heat will be so bad, or above average or whatever; does this mean that I could get away with order a predominantly summer sleeping bag and summer clothing (albeit with a three season tent)?
    You should be able to do this section with minimal clothing and a summer bag. That said, I personally would always be prepared for that freak cold night just in case, but in that section during that time of year a freak cold night is gonna probably be in the 40s or 50s.
    JMT - 2013

  6. #6

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    Just do it! Hot or cold, wet or dry. Just go for it!

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by ConallT View Post
    Hey guys!

    I've wanted to do the AT all my life, and - as I am just out of university and this will probably be the last summer I will ever have fully free - I've decided to bite the bullet and finally try my hand at it.

    I don't have the funds or the time to commit to a thru-hike, but I'm thinking about a section-hike from Harpers Ferry to Springer Mountain. And basically, as much as I'm enjoying planning it, I think I need some advice:

    1) Time - I'm from Ireland, meaning that I can only visit the USA with a visa. Good news is that I qualify for a visa-waiver programme, which allows me entry for a nominal processing fee and for up to 90 days. Bad news, is that I'm not sure if 90 days will be sufficient for me to complete this section hike. I've scoured forums, including a thread on this site wherein someone collated averages of everybody's hiking times, and the average appears to be around 75-85 days (including rest days). Now, I'm 22 years old, frequent hiker, good shape, I'm optimistic that after a while hiking on the AT I'll be of a good enough standard of fitness that I can put away some decent milage per days. But I'm still a little worried about how close the average hiking time is to the duration of my visa - I don't really have any leeway in case I need to take an unforeseen rest day, or if I get injured or need to see a doctor or even if I'm just not as fit as I expect to be. The travel to and from airports on either ends will take around 2 days as well, so that's even less time. Would I be crazy to just do it anyway? I don't have time to apply for any longer visa so the 90 days ESTA is really the only way that I can do it. This leads me into the second question, which will also affect how many miles per day I'll be able to travel.

    2) Weather - If what I've read and scoured online is anything to go by, it seems that a hike from Harpers Ferry to Springer Mountain between June, July and August isn't a popular route. It'll be hot, it'll be humid. But I was prepared for that. Essentially, what I want to know is whether the heat will be unbearable throughout the hike. Will I be constantly sunburned, thirsty, assaulted by the sun such that I'll be uncomfortable every day and that I won't be able to put away as many miles a day as I will need in order to keep within my visa times? Or will the frequent high elevation and tree shade mitigate it. I'm sure this must sound silly, but I can't - either on this forum or elsewhere - find any working links to sites which document the mean/median temperature of parts of the trail per year and at average elevations. So will the heat be scorching, above average or just a little above average? And will it impinge upon my ability to hike the amount of miles per day that I will need to in order to make it back home before my visa runs out?

    3) Weather and Gear - conversely, if the heat will be so bad, or above average or whatever; does this mean that I could get away with order a predominantly summer sleeping bag and summer clothing (albeit with a three season tent)?

    I'd really appreciate any/all help and advice yous can offer, its pretty cool just how helpful this forum is to be people asking questions about their upcoming hikes.


    Thanks very much!
    1. TIME - Good news! Harpers Ferry is not the half way point, but in order to stay within 90 days and give a bit of cushion, you should trek 12 miles or more a day. If you don't take any zeros, that would give you about 85-86 days. Every additional mile above 12 miles a day will give you approximately 5 more days. If you are planning to see the sites, then trek faster and/or longer. The good news about summer is the days are longer, BUT listen to your body.

    2. FOOD/HYDRATION - You did not mention this, BUT you should intake a combo of carbs+protein+fats. Water is good, but you also should take electrolytes...can be Gatorade or tabs or powder water mix. If you sweat a lot, then you will be losing salt and sodium is VERY IMPORTANT to regulate your internal "engine" in addition to other nutrients such as potassium. You can use a small tube of olive oil to add to your meals too. If you are not used to eating "trail foods," then try some before you hit the trail. You should dial in what will work for you BEFORE you get on the trail.

    3. WEATHER/GEAR - yes, hot, but you are also ascending mountains and temperature can be colder up on top, above tree line. Have a good layering system. A three season tent should work. The trails above tree line will be exposed, so bring sunscreen, especially if you are fair skinned. There are "tech" clothing that helps cool and block the sun's harmful rays too. The trail is experiencing a full bloom and so you will also experience some nice shade too, but also check humidity levels. Temperature is unpredictable since the mountains are unpredictable. You should consistently be checking the weather reports.

    Have fun and Happy trails!

  8. #8
    Registered User jungleland1972's Avatar
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    You said you would be "prepared" for the heat and humidity. Not sure how prepared you can be coming from Ireland (I visited there in a July and it was on the chilly side). The sun really should not be an issue but heat + humidity really suck it out of you in a bad way. It should not stop you from doing it, but just be prepared to go slower than you think you will to acclimate.

  9. #9
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    I second all the previous comments. Coming from Ireland where it averages 18 C in the summer, you'll be in for a shock hiking in 27 - 38 C daytime temps with humidity. Nights will be cooler, but potentially warm enough to only need the sleeping back covering your lower half. Rainy days will be like in Ireland...chilly with a chance of hypothermia. Unless you're passed over by a quick and heavy thunderstorm...then it's hot, drenching humid air. Not trying to dissuade you, but I think the temp change will be one of your biggest obstacles. During May - September, I transition to kayaking here instead of backpacking. And, yes, make sure you do not exceed the deadline for the visa. If you do, it may be difficult to get back into the States to complete your AT hike. Zipper

  10. #10

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    http://trailquest.net/weather.html

    this will give you the actual average weather. Some years warmer . Some cooler.

  11. #11

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    http://trailquest.net/weather.html

    this will give you the actual average weather. Some years warmer . Some cooler.

  12. #12

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    This is entirely doable. It’ll be hot but plenty of other people will be out there. We don’t stay inside in the south just because it is hot. Your gear will be lighter because you won’t have winter conditions. And you are 22 years old. You got this.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by FreeGoldRush View Post
    This is entirely doable. It’ll be hot but plenty of other people will be out there. We don’t stay inside in the south just because it is hot. Your gear will be lighter because you won’t have winter conditions. And you are 22 years old. You got this.
    I don't know. A record breaking heat wave which is being called a "death ridge" is now poised over the southeast and is predicted to last into June. If this is the way the summer season starts, with a blistering and long lasting heat wave, that does not bode well for the rest of the summer.

    The only way to deal with this kind of heat is to only hike at night. Or get up before dawn and only hike until noon.

    The other potential problem is water. Finding water in Virginia and parts of NC/TN is always a problem during the summer months.

    You'd be better off heading north. Maybe we can hold onto the cool and rainy weather we've been having for a while longer before the oppressive heat finally makes it's way north. Which it will eventually do if last summer was any indication of things to come.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by chknfngrs View Post
    Just do it! Hot or cold, wet or dry. Just go for it!
    This is great advice! Get prepared and take in what folks are suggesting here....then go for it!

    Regarding the heat: Sometimes, reaction to heat (like lots of other things) can be a mental thing. I'm pretty comfortable hiking in the heat. I had to learn through experience what I needed in terms of water, electrolytes, rest, etc... But, I was alright even when I was figuring all that out.

    I've hiked during oppressive heat waves. I remember feeling pretty good one day until I passed a local guy at a road crossing and he made a well-meaning joke. He said something like he know there would be some crazy hiker out there in this heat. And, that the weather reports were saying to stay inside b/c of the extreme heat wave.

    That got in my head. The next day, I found myself focusing on the heat and starting to struggle and fixate on it.

    At some point, I realized what was going on and dropped all that fear and worry.
    I was doing everything I needed to do to keep myself healthy and safe, and really enjoying that section hike. I laughed it off and continued on the trail...

  15. #15
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    Keep 1 or 2 2.5L platypus rolled up in the bottom of your pack. That way if you know or think you are coming up on a long, dry stretch you can load up on water. They only weigh like 1.2oz apiece. Watch your electrolyte intake as mentioned above.
    nous défions

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