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  1. #1
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    Default So, how has the trail changed since the 1970's?

    By the summer of 1977 (I was sixteen) I'd hiked roughly a thousand miles of the AT split moslty between GA/NC/VA (long walk the summer of 77 with a chum) and the New England states where I lived at the time.

    I haven't hike on the AT since the 70's and am curious for those that were around then how it's changed? From lurking on this site I gather there's quite a "Trail Culture" that barely existed when I was around.

    Seems everyone has a nom de trail. Guess I'm completely out of it as I always signed registers with my actual name...

    What gives?

    What'd I miss?

  2. #2

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    Hey, i hiked in '77 also.
    What's different? Not a whole lot except:

    the gear got lighter, (biggest change)
    the trail a little easier, (more switchbacks)
    more places to spend your money on the trail and books to tell you where to spend it,
    less free hostels, places that put you up in town for free.
    the internet and sites like this one to tell you how to do everything and how to act.
    hikers don't have to suffer as much cause they are carrying lighter, better equip (tents, raingear, clothing)
    Most people hike in running shoes now (and many use telescoping trekking poles)
    People worry more about drinking the water now.
    Shelter designs have gotten more wild: some smarter, some dumber.

    walkins the same, less is still more, it still rains a lot, shelters still get crowded and abused (maybe more so now), people still leave garbage in the firepit at shelters.

    springer and katahdin haven't moved and neither has most of the trail. most reroutes have taken it further away from towns, no big deal.
    It still goes thru 14 states and you can't bushwhack in Maine.

    oh yeah, and there's a boat to take you across the Kennebec (but you don't have to take it, up to you!)


    Anyway, i didn't go by Fiddlehead back in '77 and only hiked from Springer to Del Water Gap with my girlfriend, we were simply: glenn and lou-ann.

  3. #3
    Just Hikin' Along
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    In 1955, beginning 53 years ago this week, I did my first real section hike of the AT. I'd done many overnights and long weekends, but I added over a week to Easter break (now called spring break) and had an adventure. I solo hiked, tarped it all the way, used a sort of external framed pack with no hipbelt, re-supplied once, and never saw another person on the trail. Turned 15 on the trail, but that was back in "Happy Days" when a young teen could do that. Between early 1961 until late 1977 I was out of the country with the military.


  4. #4
    Registered User Summit's Avatar
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    I started backpacking on the AT in 1973, did Dick's Creek Gap, GA to Betty's Creek Gap and out a side trail - 35 miles. What I've noticed different today than back then:

    Better shelters - most of them in GA-NC were simple lean-tos. Now almost all of them have a covered porch with table and seats around. Also helps keep the wind driven rain out from the sleeping area. I remember several times with the old style, hikers had to rig up tent flys, plastic, or whatever to try and keep the rain from getting everything wet in the shelter.

    More privys - the GA ones have ramps. Not sure if they were thinking wheelchair access or what . . . kinda strange!

    Trail is better maintained in most sections - thanks to larger and better organized trail clubs. I remember hiking through a lot of briars and nettles as the trail became overgrown in mid-late summer in some spots.

    More people - usage has increased so finding solitude can be a bit more challenging.

    No hammocks in the 70s! (just had to throw that in to stir up the hammock psychos)

    Heavy leather boots - all hikers (including myself) wore those 2+ lbs per foot heavy leather boots, and everyone dealt with and complained of the blisters they had.

    No trekking poles - only basic and fancy hiking sticks.

    External frame packs only - and the basic load was much heavier than today . . . I would say 50-60 lbs average vs. today's 20-35 lbs average.

    No cell phones! Thru-hikers had to do a lot more hitchhiking to reprovision. Couldn't "check-in" with your loved ones while hiking. Today cell phones are a blessing and a curse - a blessing when used considerately and a curse when the owner is inconsiderate of campers nearby. I like being able to phone home once a day, call for a shuttle, get weather updates with mine.

    Gear, as fiddlehead said, has drastically improved - more functional and lighter.

  5. #5
    Registered User Frolicking Dinosaurs's Avatar
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    I've been around for a while, but apart from the trail culture for the most part.
    • My take is that the trail has become more crowded. Hiking the AT has become more about the party and socializing than about views, vistas and challenging oneself. The trail is way overused in places - something that was rare in the 1970s.
    • Things like hiker hostels and large organized trail magic feeds, parties, festivals exist now - mostly to the detriment of the experience IMO - YMMV.
    • Drinking and illegal substance use are now part of the experience - whether you want to be around them or not, you will see them on the trail.
    • A class of thru-hiker called the shelter rat has appeared - hikers who claim to be ultra-ultralighters and carry a minimal or sometimes no shelter of their own and believe everyone should move over or out so they can sleep in the shelters.
    • Hitchhiking alone is no longer as safe as it was in the 1970s - Paid shuttlers are now available.
    • It cost a lot more to thru-hike now because town stays and paid hostels are the rule instead of the exception they were in 1970.

  6. #6

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    I've been hiking a shorter period of time (about 12 yr.) and even then I've noticed changes. The hikers are younger -maybe 'cause I'm older ;-) -- but even more recently within the last couple of years, the shuttler list has greatly diminished. Folks who used to shuttle, are getting out of the business because of a couple reasons. Hiker attitudes (entitled and rude) and higher gas prices are the two reasons they are leaving that I keep hearing from shuttlers. Anybody else notice this?

    Before anyone jumps on me, I don't mean to imply that the young are those with attitude; attitude crosses generational lines.
    Mama Llama

  7. #7

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    I echo what everyone else has said. My only addition is that in VT (my first AT backpacking in 1977) and I'm sure other wet places, there are more and better puncheons and other aids to crossing watery & mucky places than in the mid-70s.

  8. #8
    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    One big difference ifs that people tend to resupply much more now than they used to.

    Carrying 10 days worth of food didn't used to be a sign of insanity, but rather a simply matter of choice so as to avoid a hitch off the Trail.

    Hikers now carry heavy hiking poles, heavy cameras, heavy phones, heavy inflatable sleeping pads, heavy water purification systems, heavy guidebooks, heavy Ipods, and heavy packs of vitamins, ibuprofen and condoms. Never used to be that way.

    But they carry way less food.

  9. #9

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    When I was out as a kid in 1958 thru 1963, I was INVISIBLE. Good thing, too. When I picked it up again in 1977 and started sleeping anywhere and everywhere, stealth camping under bushes by a church, in cemetaries, anywhere I could find a treeline, people were friendlier and not so dang uptight.

    Nowadays there's Community Watch Fever and too many lawyers, "He's-got-a-backpack!!" becomes "He's-got-a-gun!!" dementia and the kids don't even go out anymore. The 1970s might as well be the 1830s compared to what is happening now.

    The endless gear choices are comical and the inflated prices are mind numbing. The Ultralight fanatics now have their own brand of community watch-political correctness which compels newbs to obsess over the Holy Gram, something that was absent in the 70s. Plus, and who can forget this one, the Tent Police are more organized and want a bigger piece of the cashflow pie(shelter fees, camping permits, ad vomitus). In 1970 there might have been 180 million Americans, by 2040 we'll be up to 400-450 million.

    Roads, sprawl and mindless development is more advanced now than in the 70s, plus today on the AT the pitiful backpacker is subjected to the near endless whining of motorcycle racket and traffic noise, and the near continuous jet airplane noise pollution from overhead. End O' Rant.

  10. #10

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    The trail was carpeted in the late 1990's,

  11. #11
    Registered User Frolicking Dinosaurs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tin Man View Post
    The trail was carpeted in the late 1990's,
    ::: Dino peeks over trifocals, cuts a bit of the carpet from the trail, rolls Tin Man in carpet and tosses him in the Kennebec :::

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frolicking Dinosaurs View Post
    ::: Dino peeks over trifocals, cuts a bit of the carpet from the trail, rolls Tin Man in carpet and tosses him in the Kennebec :::
    The canoe is being replaced by a bridge. It will be carpeted too.

  13. #13

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    I found that my 2002 thru hike had about 250 different miles of trail than my 1990 thru hike had....relo's, missing road walks, etc.
    Alot more hiker oriented services.
    Switchbacks added however it did seem that more difficult terrain was chosen for the relo's.
    Fun factor didn't lessen one bit!

    geek

  14. #14
    Registered User Summit's Avatar
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    Forgot one item:

    In the '70s most of us (including myself) were hippies - you don't see very many hippies now-a-days! They've been replaced by young-urban-techno-geeks!

    For that reason, I would differ with FD on the drug/alcohol "scene." It's there today . . . it was there in the '70s. The only reason there is more of it today is there is more traffic on the AT.

  15. #15
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    Gee if you listen to FD, it's all been downhill since the good old days....

    Anyway, why complain about the "thru hiker scene" if you despise it so much? Somebody call a waaaaa-mbulance. Last I heard, participation was voluntary. I've hiked the last ten years and 1200 miles of the AT without observing any of that nastiness that FD decries...

    From my own perspective -- I started hiking on or near the AT, mostly weekend hikes, in the Whites in the mid-1970s. At the time, "long distance" hiking wasn't part of my consciousness.

    What's changed for me is the shift from fun weekend hikes with my pals, to (mostly) solo long-distance treks, anywhere from 35-600 miles. In many ways, those weekend treks with my pals were more fun, even though the gear was awful, and we made short distances, carrying huge loads, etc.

    I enjoyed the laughing, shouting, drinking, smoking, sniveling, farting around, (and farting) with my pals in the woods. I miss that.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rickb View Post
    Hikers now carry heavy hiking poles, heavy cameras, heavy phones, heavy inflatable sleeping pads, heavy water purification systems, heavy guidebooks, heavy Ipods, and heavy packs of vitamins, ibuprofen and condoms. Never used to be that way.
    The sum total of that heaviness is still less than the typical loads carried by AT thru-hikers of, say, 20 years ago.

    Earl Shaffer's Kodak Retina camera was no lightweight. I have a copy of that same camera, and (from memory) it weighs at least 24 oz. (It's not close at hand, otherwise I'd weigh it and give you an accurate figure.)

  17. #17
    The internet is calling and I must go. buff_jeff's Avatar
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    I think you should take what people are saying here with a grain of salt. Retrospect induces romance. The "good ol' days" probably weren't that perfect at the time. It's like the military. The WWI guys called the WWII guys pussies, the WWII guys called the Vietnam guys' training weak, and so forth. One day, my generation will be saying how much better the trail was in our time to our kids' generation. The AT is what it is. It was never pure wilderness. When Shaffer thru-hiked there were farms and other human activity encroaching on the trail to a massive extent. While he came in contact with less hikers, much of the areas he went through were heavily logged, or being farmed. Many areas of the trail have more trees today than they did when he hiked.

    That's just my .02 cents. I wasn't even alive in the 70's, so take it for what you want.

  18. #18
    Registered User Summit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rickb View Post
    Hikers now carry heavy hiking poles, heavy cameras, heavy phones, heavy inflatable sleeping pads, heavy water purification systems, heavy guidebooks, heavy Ipods, and heavy packs of vitamins, ibuprofen and condoms. Never used to be that way.
    Gotta disagree with some of these.

    My Komperdell trekking poles weigh less than any old-fashioned hiking stick by far.

    My Windows Mobile cell phone includes a 2 Mpix camera, stores books, and gets valuable weather updates. At 6.6 oz that is far less than even today's digital camera, let alone the 35mm cameras of yesteryear. In eliminating camera and book weight (if you like to relax by reading, like I do), the net is a significant reduction in weight, and you get the cell phone functionality for free!

    My Steripen water treatment system weighs less than the 30 year old pump solutions.

    My Big Agnes Dual Core inflatable mattress weighs less and is smaller (packed) than my 30 year old ThermaRest groundpad, and far more comfortable.

    Don't know what your point was with the "vitamins, ibuprofen, and condoms," they weigh about the same today as 30 years ago . . . you either carry-use them or you don't.

  19. #19
    Springer - Front Royal Lilred's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Summit View Post

    More privys - the GA ones have ramps. Not sure if they were thinking wheelchair access or what . . . kinda strange!
    Much of the new construction is financed through government grants. If grant money is used to construct a privy, it must be wheelchair accessible. Stupid? yes. Waste of the money? yes. Our gov't at work? no doubt about it.
    "It was on the first of May, in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River, in North Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America." - Daniel Boone

  20. #20
    Registered User Summit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lilred View Post
    Much of the new construction is financed through government grants. If grant money is used to construct a privy, it must be wheelchair accessible. Stupid? yes. Waste of the money? yes. Our gov't at work? no doubt about it.
    Well I'll be dipped in sheep excrement! Wow! That is insane. Well . . . I like the ramps 'cause most mornings . . . I . . . like . . . gotta go real bad when I wake up, so they keep me from tripping on my dash to the potty!

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