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  1. #1
    Registered User somers515's Avatar
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    Default Starting in Mid-May NOBO? How much harder than starting in March/April?

    I have a good friend who really wants to hike the AT NoBo and I've offered to go with him if he attempts it. Only problem is, if it happens, the earliest he can start is in the middle of May.

    We are in our late 40s/early 50s. We are both in good shape. We've both done lots of backpacking, including in the NH Whites and in freezing temperatures. Both our packs are pretty dialed in for our style, I'm guessing counting everything including food/water for 4-5 days of food our packs will likely weigh 20-25 lbs. when we start in Georgia.

    My understanding is that you need to aim to reach Baxter State Park BEFORE October 15th, which would give us 4-5 months. That's an average of a little over 100 miles a week, obviously needing to do more in Virginia and the mid-atlantic states, as I'm sure our pace will drop in the NH Whites and Maine.

    This all sounds doable to me but I've read the average thru hiker takes more like 5 and half months to finish. How much harder is it starting in mid-May as opposed to a "normal" start window of March/April for a NoBo hike? Obviously we can always try to flip up if we feel ourselves falling behind in pace. I'm just curious for the wisdom of whiteblaze on how likely you think that is. Any other tips or insight for those heading NoBo in May?
    LT End-to-Ender 2017; NH 48/48 2015-2021; 8 of 159usForests.com
    "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." - John Muir

  2. #2

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    From the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

    “Most thru-hikes take between five and seven months. The average is a week or two shy of six months. Weather conditions tend to limit the amount of time available, and northbound (NOBO) thru-hikers must plan to reach Katahdin, the Trail’s northern terminus, before Baxter State Park closes the Trail to the summit in mid October. Flip flop thru-hikes generally offer the longest window of good weather; southbound (SOBO) thru-hikes, the shortest.”

    There are too many variables to predict whether you can make it in 5 months. Go for it, and if for whatever reason you see you can’t make Katahdin by mid October then do a flip-flop.

  3. #3
    Registered User One Half's Avatar
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    Good shape doesn't necessarily mean "trail shape" but certainly better to start there than "couch shape." By starting later you will have the advantage of probably NOT needing a bunch of zeroes, or consecutive zeroes due to weather. Many people do it in much less time than 5 months. Without injuring yourself by doing too much too fast and not overpacking (weight) it's completely doable.
    https://tinyurl.com/MyFDresults

    A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White

  4. #4

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    Starting mid-May you avoid the worst of the early spring weather, so you have fewer zeros or low mileage days due to bad weather. Most of the NOBO crowd is ahead of you so there is less competition for hostel and shelter/tent space. You'll see lots of wildflowers, something the early starters miss. You can start out with lighter packs since you don't need heavy clothing or sleeping bag.

    The downside is you spend much more time in the heat of summer and may encounter water shortages starting in Virginia. It was a really hot summer this year and that was hard for a lot of thru hikers to deal with. But one way or another, the summer heat and humidity can't be avoided.

    Chances are you will want to flip flop at some point. Flipping up to Maine sometime in July gets you into the somewhat cooler New England weather and extends the amount of time you have to finish.
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  5. #5
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    Check out the YouTube series of "Bestill on the Trail": Appalachian Trail Thru Hike 2020 - Day 123 - Summit Day Plus Knife Edge - YouTube

    The start of his 2020 thru was delayed to late May due to COVID. He was in his 50s or older, I think. He finished in 123 days, about September 28.

  6. #6

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    I think you have enough time if you and your friend remain healthy, injury free, and make decisions that maximize time on the trail. It goes without saying mental endurance needs to be exceptionally high and able to withstand days of rain and slop that waiting out will not be an option very often.

    If you are able acclimate to the trail and get your "trail legs" going quickly will be important during the first month. Estimate how many zero days are needed to rest knees and ankles and map out resupply points long before you start. You don't know what weather you will run into, but as Slo-go'en observes, you won't have to worry about early spring weather and likely will not need to change out any gear from the start. If you are not a purist, you also have time to see how you can trim some time and/or effort from the trek by having someone meet you at specific road crossings with food/equipment resupply or you can set up shuttles to take you into town and back to reduce the time off the trail. I have heard of people setting up food stash in advance of their hike though I have not heard anyone who has done that with great success.

    4-5 months requires a fairly steady pace, which does not need to be fast, just steady. Injury may await if you try to increase your speed or extending your normal stride for more miles, versus increasing your hours of travel moving at your normal speed. Zero days will have to be few and far between (save those for injury?), limit time in town for laundry, resupply, and a softer bed. Bringing some environmentally kind detergent would help reduce time off the trail for laundry chores which can be done along the way.

    There some strategies that may play to your favor. As Slo points out, you can flip the hike if you see the Baxter closing down before you can get there. A 14-mile per day pace will be difficult at first and this is where many get injured by trying to stay to that pace before the body is ready. But as you said, mileage will get a serious boost in the mid-atlantic States presuming you are injury free/healthy for those sections. If not a purist, since you have hiked in the Whites before, you might be able to skirt the trails you have done to pick up some days once you get into NH.

    IMHO, if you have the right ingredients of experience, fitness, mental/emotional strength, and logistical planning, you should be able to make it in 4.5 months.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by Traveler; 11-11-2022 at 09:47.

  7. #7

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    IMHO, As long as you have backup plan to flip forward to BSP if you are running late its not a bad plan. With the apparent explosion of near real time trail data including water sources you can normally plan ahead for dry water sources. It may require carrying some or changing plans but the key is you know before you get to dry source that it is dry. Of course that means using an electronic trail guide.

  8. #8

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    Maybe consider going SOBO or doing a flip-flop right from the start?
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  9. #9
    Registered User One Half's Avatar
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    I just listened to a podcast with a hiker who did the AT in about 3.5 months. He is in his 60s maybe? At least 50s. Yes, he used to run marathons and he talked about his prep. The thing I found very interesting is how he would go out and do "something" in terms of exercise for like 3 hours every day and not take days off, in preparing his body to have just 12 hours to recover. So while he was training physically, it was also training his body to recover in short periods of time and building his mental toughness (though he probably started out well ahead on that just from having been a marathon runner when he was younger).
    https://tinyurl.com/MyFDresults

    A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White

  10. #10
    Registered User One Half's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Half View Post
    I just listened to a podcast with a hiker who did the AT in about 3.5 months. He is in his 60s maybe? At least 50s. Yes, he used to run marathons and he talked about his prep. The thing I found very interesting is how he would go out and do "something" in terms of exercise for like 3 hours every day and not take days off, in preparing his body to have just 12 hours to recover. So while he was training physically, it was also training his body to recover in short periods of time and building his mental toughness (though he probably started out well ahead on that just from having been a marathon runner when he was younger).
    I forgot to add the podcast was Mighty Blue on the Appalachian Trail episode 346
    https://tinyurl.com/MyFDresults

    A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White

  11. #11
    Registered User somers515's Avatar
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    Thank you all for the replies and great advice! I will post here again once my good friend commits to doing this! We've been hiking pals for a long time and I wouldn't want to do it without him if I can help it.
    LT End-to-Ender 2017; NH 48/48 2015-2021; 8 of 159usForests.com
    "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." - John Muir

  12. #12

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    I really like Alligator's suggestions, but if you want to go NOBO, you may see less crowding but fuller privies, more mosquitoes and yellow jackets, more heat and humidity, and fewer water sources. You minimize mud season, black flies, and high fords. To deal with colder temperatures, you will likely carry more weight in the toughest sections - the Whites and the 100 Mile Wilderness.

    If you want to know how fast you can go, try a 3 night shakedown. See how far you can go on the second day, and then see how far you want to go on the third. Averaging those two days will let you know what your daily pace could be, but you will have to adjust for trail surface and elevation change. In my late fourties with a 15 pound pack, I walked 35 miles through Maryland on the AT in 2 days. That might be one of the easiest AT sections, with the possible exception of the Cumberland Valley.
    Hot water, hot ramen, burning alcohol, all in my lap

  13. #13

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    If the social aspect of hiking is important to you, you coyld start near Hampton mid may and walk north into Damascus just in time for http://www.visitdamascus.org/traildays.html . After reaching Katahdin, you could walk south from Hampton or north from Springer. Walking south would let you continue south on the Pinhoti Trail using parts of the Duncan Ridge and Benton Mackaye trails as connector trails. If you hiked north to Damascus, you could extend your adventure on the Virginia Creeper and Iron Mountain trails. Other trails to consider are the Bartram and Foothills trails. Finishing in the southern portion of the AT may give you the best weather for hiking Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and likely extend your chance to see tree leaves changing colors.
    Hot water, hot ramen, burning alcohol, all in my lap

  14. #14
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    I find it easier to think in terms of weeks vs. months for planning.
    2190 mi at a very achievable pace of 100 mi/week = 22 weeks. Start May 15, finish Oct 15. The down side is dealing with summer heat in VA and the Mid-Atlantic. The (better) alternative is a flip-flop. Start NOBO at Harpers Ferry, say, and take as long as you want.
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  15. #15
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    I agree with all that's been said. I hiked the AT at age 51, with a 64 yo partner, in 3.5 months. We left in early April, and if I did it again I'd leave in mid-May. I got into New England too early, mud and black flies, and dealt with some late winter weather in the south.

    We were both very experienced, having hiked the PCT and CDT together and it was my buddy's second hike on the AT. Experience was as effective as conditioning--keeping a steady, sustainable pace, avoiding injury, and having reliable gear. We only took three zero days, mainly to visit friends and family along the way.

    We met quite a few first-time hikers up north keeping a 4-5 month pace.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  16. #16

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    Did a SOBO at 58, June 10 to 1 Nov, 12 zeros (2 early medical, 3 to attend a West Coast funeral) plenty of town related Nero’s. I was in okay shape, walked around my flat suburb for a couple of hours with pack most morns for a year. Sounds like you’d be fine.

  17. #17

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    It just depends how good of a hiker you are (and not what kind of shape you feel like you’re in). I started the trail completely ripped with six-pack abs in 2021. And I found out I was a terrible hiker. My Nobo hike turned into a flip-flop when I realized I had no chance of making it to Katahdin by mid-October. My plan on paper completely collided with my lack of experience and conditioning plus various injuries. I was amazed how many zero days I needed by the time I was through.

    Speaking only for myself, starting in May sounds AWFUL!! I would never even think about it… But for a lot of other people I met out on the trail, it would have been no problem at all. If you can maintain a genuine average of 15-20 miles per day (with zero-days included) you’ll probably be fine.

    But that’s not me lol

  18. #18
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    Yeah, the flip-flop is always there for you, no shame in doing that, and it can get you hiking in NE in the fall - something I would choose to do anyway. I don't think you want to be pushing the 10/15 mark, and for that matter, don't think you want to be hiking the Whites in mid Sept either - which would be the case if on that schedule. So you're talking about a plan to finish the trail in 4.5 months.

    Math says thats a pace of 16m/day - not including zero days. That average pace is very doable, its just that your cushion will depend on the number of non-hiking days. On the one hand, this may give you some more focus to have during the days where you find its a real grind and lacking motivation. On the other hand, this will cut into some of the enjoyment that thrus typically experience on the trail. You know, like pizza and beer.

    You don't need to start out doing 16m/day, and I wouldn't, but you can get there relatively quick. Leave early and stop late and its very doable at a reasonably leisurely pace which allows you to take it all in. I would also say that it gives you greater confidence to hike later into the day if you're using a hammock setup. Its really hard to pass up good tent sites at 4pm when you're just not sure what lies ahead. Even in the Whites, you'll never have that issue. Yeah, you can't stay on a bald, but you'll always be able to stay near there if that's a goal. Only issue for me is getting up out of my hammock in the morning, LOL.
    "I wonder if anyone else has an ear so tuned and sharpened as I have, to detect the music, not of the spheres, but of earth, subtleties of major and minor chord that the wind strikes upon the tree branches. Have you ever heard the earth breathe... ?"
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  19. #19
    Registered User somers515's Avatar
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    OP here. Again I appreciate all the advice in this thread, thank you all. Although my friend originally had a strong preference to going NOBO even with his schedule restraining him from a normal Nobo start date, we've talked more over Thanksgiving break about the pros and cons and now he is much more willing to just start as a flip-flop. If we do the flip-flop we will start in early June at the Delaware Water Gap head north to Katahdin and then after that travel back to DWG and head south to Springer. Still not sure what the final plan will be but its been nice to get this feedback on whiteblaze!
    LT End-to-Ender 2017; NH 48/48 2015-2021; 8 of 159usForests.com
    "The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." - John Muir

  20. #20
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    First off, I feel like the feedback you're gonna get here is SO much better, or at least more refined, than what you'll get on social media platforms. Lots of folks are just doing that these days, most of them noobs that don't really know anything, so the advice can be real spotty. Don't get me wrong, you'll still get differing opinions here, but better chance of old school types that really do know something. As for me, I know something about where I hike...

    In that regard, I don't know NE personally, but I think that puts you into mud and black fly season there. I'll let others chime in on that. You might do a flippitty flop hike just because of your odd timing - flop 2 or more times to be doing sections in the best of times, or at least not the worst.
    "I wonder if anyone else has an ear so tuned and sharpened as I have, to detect the music, not of the spheres, but of earth, subtleties of major and minor chord that the wind strikes upon the tree branches. Have you ever heard the earth breathe... ?"
    - Kate Chopin

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