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  1. #1
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Default Steepest climbs on the AT

    I just sorted my AT elevation profile data by % grade and thought folks might be interested to know which places were the steepest. This is based on the most recent GPS track and mileage from the ATC, with elevations pulled from the USGS National Elevation Database at every 0.1 mile interval. Note: Some climbs make the list multiple times but only the steepest 0.1 mile segment is listed. If the 2nd steepest part of the climb would make the list I added an (x2).

    Overall:
    Rank AT Mile State Grade (%) Location
    1 1852.5 NH 48.9 NOBO ascent of Webster Cliffs
    2 2194.9 ME 45.6 NOBO ascent of Mt Katahdin (x2)
    3 1883.0 NH 43.2 NOBO ascent from Carter Notch
    4 1947.4 ME 43.0 NOBO ascent of Moody Mtn
    5 (tie) 1871.2 NH 41.5 SOBO ascent of Mt Madison
    5 (tie) 1878.1 NH 41.5 NOBO ascent of Wildcat Mtn (x2)
    7 2001.1 ME 41.1 NOBO ascent of South Crocker Mtn
    8 1833.1 NH 40.3 NOBO ascent of Mt Garfield
    9 1949.6 ME 39.8 NOBO ascent from South Arm Rd
    10 1476.9 CT 38.6 SOBO ascent to St. John's Ledges
    Southbound (since 8/10 of the overall list are northbound):

    Rank AT Mile State Grade (%) Location
    1 1871.2 NH 41.5 SOBO ascent of Mt Madison (x2)
    2 1476.9 CT 38.6 SOBO ascent to St. John's Ledges
    3 (tie) 1885.1 NH 38.4 SOBO ascent from Zeta Pass (x2)
    3 (tie) 1998.9 ME 38.4 SOBO ascent of Sugarloaf Mtn
    5 1920.9 ME 37.9 SOBO ascent from Mahoosuc Notch
    6 1882.0 NH 36.9 SOBO ascent from Carter Notch
    7 (tie) 1219.6 PA 35.2 SOBO ascent from Port Clinton
    7 (tie) 1805.7 NH 35.2 SOBO ascent of Mt Moosilauke
    9 132.7 NC 35.0 SOBO ascent from the NOC
    10 (tie) 1819.2 NH 34.1 SOBO ascent of North Kinsman Mtn
    10 (tie) 1961.2 ME 34.1 SOBO ascent of Bemis Mtn
    South of NH (Since 9/10 of the overall list are in NH and ME):
    Rank AT Mile State Grade (%) Location
    1 1476.9 CT 38.6 SOBO ascent to St. John's Ledges
    2 99.6 NC 35.4 NOBO ascent of Albert Mtn
    3 1219.6 PA 35.2 SOBO ascent from Port Clinton
    4 132.7 NC 35.0 SOBO ascent from the NOC
    5 1512.3 CT 33.9 SOBO ascent of Bear Mtn (x2)
    6 1689.9 VT 33.1 NOBO ascent from Clarendon Gorge
    7 78.6 NC 33.0 NOBO ascent from Bly Gap
    8 1261.6 PA 32.4 NOBO ascent from Lehigh Gap
    9 (tie) 152.0 NC 31.6 NOBO ascent from Sweetwater Gap
    9 (tie) 1601.2 MA 31.6 NOBO ascent to the MA/VT state line

    By State (since 7/14 states don't appear on any of the lists above):
    State AT Mile Grade (%) Location
    GA 19.1 28.4 SOBO ascent of Ramrock Mtn
    NC 99.6 35.4 NOBO ascent of Albert Mtn
    NC/TN 184.8 31.4 NOBO ascent of Rocky Top
    TN 421.4 29.0 SOBO ascent from Laurel Falls
    VA/WV 798.2 29.2 SOBO ascent of Bluff Mtn
    MD 1064.5 26.3 SOBO ascent to High Rock
    PA 1219.6 35.2 SOBO ascent from Port Clinton
    NJ 1354.6 30.1 NOBO ascent of Pochuck Mtn
    NY 1387.4 30.3 SOBO ascent of Agony Grind
    CT 1476.9 38.6 SOBO ascent to St. John's Ledges
    MA 1601.2 31.6 NOBO ascent to the MA/VT state line
    VT 1689.9 33.1 NOBO ascent from Clarendon Gorge
    NH 1852.5 48.9 NOBO ascent of Webster Cliffs
    ME 2194.9 45.6 NOBO ascent of Mt Katahdin

  2. #2

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    Something doesn't make sense... Those grade percentages are off the charts steep.

  3. #3
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CalebJ View Post
    Something doesn't make sense... Those grade percentages are off the charts steep.
    Well, these are the steepest 0.1 mile segments on the AT, and yeah the trail does get that steep in some places. Pretty much anything above 30% grade is where trekking poles become useless and you have to use your hands to climb.
    It's all good in the woods.

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    I wonder where the SOBO climb of Briar Knob in the Smokies fits in? You can literally touch the ground in front of you while going up that one. It's right before the climb up Thunderhead going SOBO.

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    Thanks for posting, this is interesting. I find it surprising that GA has the least-steep steepest section of all states..I would have figured GA would have somewhere steeper than the mid Atlantic states.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    Well, these are the steepest 0.1 mile segments on the AT, and yeah the trail does get that steep in some places. Pretty much anything above 30% grade is where trekking poles become useless and you have to use your hands to climb.
    Regardless, those numbers absolutely don't make sense.

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    I wonder how the gps tracking would handle switchbacks? Not that the AT is known for switchbacks, but any tight turn might look like less horizontal for the vertical gain…

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    My question shouldKatadin be in top ten SOBO?

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    Interesting. Having Thru Hiked and returned to portions of the AT, I would agree with the toughness of those listed climbs! The only one I didn’t see that I thought was difficult (but not as bad as Webster Cliffs) were the Kinsmen’s. I didn’t think much about SouthArm or Moody until a return trip. Moody put me in a bad mood for sure and showed the respect you need for Maine and Katahdin.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    Well, these are the steepest 0.1 mile segments on the AT, and yeah the trail does get that steep in some places. Pretty much anything above 30% grade is where trekking poles become useless and you have to use your hands to climb.
    Have you looked at the data using quarter mile and mile segments as well? Be interesting to see how the results compare. I ask primarily because I've long heard of the SOBO ascent of Garfield (NH) listed among the steepest climbs and it doesn't appear on your list. Having climbed it a few times in that direction I'd hate to find out now that it is actually easy
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    That is a nice compilation. Thank you for putting in that work and publishing it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seatbelt View Post
    I wonder where the SOBO climb of Briar Knob in the Smokies fits in? You can literally touch the ground in front of you while going up that one. It's right before the climb up Thunderhead going SOBO.
    The Briar Knob climb tops out at 27.3% over 0.1 mi increments but it averages about 25% over 1/2 mile. By comparison going up Rocky Top is only above 20% grade for the last 0.1 mile to the summit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Slugg View Post
    Thanks for posting, this is interesting. I find it surprising that GA has the least-steep steepest section of all states..I would have figured GA would have somewhere steeper than the mid Atlantic states.
    I think it's actually MD... only 26.3% max grade vs 28.4% for GA. But yeah from what I remember the trail in GA was mostly pretty well graded.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mfturner View Post
    I wonder how the gps tracking would handle switchbacks? Not that the AT is known for switchbacks, but any tight turn might look like less horizontal for the vertical gainÖ
    I think it depends on the quality of the GPS data. Most of the ATC's GPS track is very good quality (points every 10-20 ft) but some areas (most notably the section maintained by the PATC) are not as good with points only every 100 ft or so.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mfturner View Post
    My question shouldKatadin be in top ten SOBO?
    Haha, yeah I guess SOBOs have to climb Big K too

    Quote Originally Posted by LoneStranger View Post
    Have you looked at the data using quarter mile and mile segments as well? Be interesting to see how the results compare. I ask primarily because I've long heard of the SOBO ascent of Garfield (NH) listed among the steepest climbs and it doesn't appear on your list. Having climbed it a few times in that direction I'd hate to find out now that it is actually easy
    Hmmm... it would take a little more work, but looking at 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 1 mile steepest segments can be done and I agree it would be interesting. I'll give it a try if I can find the time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    I think it's actually MD... only 26.3% max grade vs 28.4% for GA. But yeah from what I remember the trail in GA was mostly pretty well graded.
    .
    Ah yes thanks for the correction.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gbolt View Post
    Interesting. Having Thru Hiked and returned to portions of the AT, I would agree with the toughness of those listed climbs! The only one I didnít see that I thought was difficult (but not as bad as Webster Cliffs) were the Kinsmenís. I didnít think much about SouthArm or Moody until a return trip. Moody put me in a bad mood for sure and showed the respect you need for Maine and Katahdin.
    If you think the AT over Moody is difficult, the AT corridor boundaries on both the north and south sides of the AT route are decidedly more interesting. I am the corridor monitor for that section.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 02-22-2023 at 19:09.

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    A while back I believe it was Guthook himself who posted a similar list. I copied and pasted the info into a Word document, including an introductory paragraph from him.

    Okay, here are the calculations using 0.5 miles as the limit rather than 1.0 miles. One thing that is clear to me after looking at these is that after the top 20 or 30, things start to look pretty similar. I think this is more interesting as a discussion piece (just an addition to what's already been discussed here), but I had a good time running through all of the calculations with my elevation data. It's kind of fun to see the numbers. Here we go:
    Section 1 from 1865.5 to 1866.0 with 1017 change -- Pinkham Notch to Wildcat E (2000' in 1.5m)
    Section 2 from 1794.3 to 1794.8 with 934 change -- Asquam Ridge Trail to Kinsman Notch (2180' in 1.7m)
    Section 3 from 1824.2 to 1824.7 with 896 change -- Galehead to South Twin (1130' in 0.8m)
    Section 4 from 1821.2 to 1821.7 with 875 change -- Northbound from Mt Garfield (970' in 0.6m)
    Section 5 from 2182.1 to 2182.6 with 860 change -- O Joy Brook to The Gateway (2120' in 1.4m)
    Section 6 from 1908.2 to 1908.7 with 850 change -- Mahoosuc Arm (1600' in 1.4m)
    Section 7 from 1869.9 to 1870.4 with 846 change -- Carter Notch to Carter Dome (1530' in 1.1m)
    Section 8 from 1934.5 to 1935.0 with 812 change -- South Arm Rd to Old Blue (2180' in 2.6m)
    Section 9 from 1790.4 to 1790.9 with 801 change -- South Peak Moosilauke (total, 2920' in 3.0m)
    Section 10 from 1932.2 to 1932.7 with 799 change -- Sawyer Notch to Moody Mtn (1300' in 1.3m)
    Section 11 from 1897.4 to 1897.9 with 792 change -- south side of Mt Success (800' in 0.5m)
    Section 12 from 1985.3 to 1985.8 with 792 change -- Crocker Cirque to South Crocker (1330' in 1.1m)
    Section 13 from 1918.8 to 1919.3 with 778 change -- North from East Peak Baldpate (1070' in 0.9m)
    Section 14 from 1906.1 to 1906.6 with 759 change -- Fulling Mill Mtn to Mahoosuc Notch (900' in 0.9m)
    Section 15 from 1930.8 to 1931.3 with 754 change -- Hall Mtn Lean-to to Sawyer Notch (1530' in 1.3m)
    Section 16 from 1983.4 to 1983.9 with 749 change -- South from Carabassett River (1020' in 0.9m)
    Section 17 from 1875.4 to 1875.9 with 742 change -- North Carter to Imp (1200' in 1.4m)
    Section 18 from 1880.2 to 1880.7 with 742 change -- Just north of Mt Moriah to First Crossing of Rattle River (1600' in 1.3m)
    Section 19 from 1968.1 to 1968.6 with 734 change -- The Horn to Redington Stream Campsite (900' in 0.6m)
    Section 20 from 1916.7 to 1917.2 with 732 change -- Baldpate Lean-to to West Baldpate (960' in 0.8m)
    Section 21 from 1813.4 to 1813.9 with 719 change -- Liberty Brook to Franconia Ridge Trail (2180' in 1.8m)
    Section 22 from 1585.7 to 1586.2 with 698 change -- Mt Prospect to stream at base of Greylock (1450' in 1.4m)
    Section 23 from 1818.4 to 1818.9 with 695 change -- Lafayette to Garfield Notch (1460' in 1.5m)
    Section 24 from 1804.5 to 1805.0 with 687 change -- Eliza Brook to South Kinsman (1310' in 1.4m)
    Section 25 from 2110.6 to 2111.1 with 682 change -- White Cap to Logan Brook Lean-to (1270' in 1.4m)
    Section 26 from 1971.7 to 1972.2 with 678 change -- Poplar Ridge to spring before Orbeton Canyon (1100' in 1.0m)
    Section 27 from 1210.8 to 1211.3 with 677 change -- Northbound into Port Clinton (950' in 0.8m)
    Section 28 from 1765.2 to 1765.7 with 677 change -- Northbound to Smarts Mountain (800' in 0.8m)
    Section 29 from 1964.9 to 1965.4 with 661 change -- Moose & Deer Stream to Saddleback (1480' in 1.9m)
    Section 30 from 1830.0 to 1830.5 with 658 change -- Zeacliff to Zealand Falls Hut (1070' in 1.0m)
    Section 31 from 1605.5 to 1606.0 with 656 change -- Northbound into Woodford Hollow / VT Rte 9 (760' in 0.7m)
    Section 32 from 1252.1 to 1252.6 with 639 change -- North from Lehigh Gap (950' in 0.9m)
    Section 33 from 1840.4 to 1840.9 with 637 change -- Crawford Notch to Mt Webster (2650' in 3.2m)
    Section 34 from 2106.5 to 2107.0 with 633 change -- Sydney Tappan Campsite to West Peak (760' in 0.7m)
    Section 35 from 1913.5 to 1914.0 with 629 change -- The Eyebrow to Grafton Notch (960' in 1.1m)
    Section 36 from 2036.9 to 2037.4 with 628 change -- Pleasant Pond Lean-to to Pleasant Pond Mtn (1150' in 0.7m)
    Section 37 from 1795.6 to 1796.1 with 622 change -- Kinsman Notch north (850' in 0.9m)
    Section 38 from 1507.6 to 1508.1 with 620 change -- Race Brook Falls to Mt Everett (730' in 0.7m)
    Section 39 from 2104.9 to 2105.4 with 618 change -- Carl Newhall Lean-to to Gulf Hagas Mtn (740' in 1.0m)
    Section 40 from 1945.8 to 1946.3 with 617 change -- Northbound to Bemis Stream (800' in 0.9m)
    Section 41 from 1976.4 to 1976.9 with 615 change -- Perham Stream to Lone Mountain (950' in 1.1m)
    Section 42 from 1997.6 to 1998.1 with 608 change -- Beaver Bog to View before Horns Pond View (1030' in 1.3m)
    Section 43 from 783.3 to 783.8 with 597 change -- Little Rocky Row to Big Rocky Row (600' in 0.5m)
    Section 44 from 1701.1 to 1701.6 with 597 change -- Thundering Falls Rd to Quimby Mtn (1300' in 1.2m)
    Section 45 from 1838.1 to 1838.6 with 596 change -- Ethan Pond Trail to Crawford Notch (850' in 1.0m)
    Section 46 from 1466.9 to 1467.4 with 592 change -- St John's Ledges to River Rd (590' in 0.5m)
    Section 47 from 1850.7 to 1851.2 with 587 change -- Lakes of the Clouds to Mt Washington (1260' in 1.5m)
    Section 48 from 187.0 to 187.5 with 584 change -- Northbound into Starkey Gap (580' in 0.5m)
    Section 49 from 2048.5 to 2049.0 with 584 change -- Moxie Bald North Peak side trail to Bald Mtn Lean-to (1000' in 1.2m)
    Section 50 from 2090.0 to 2090.5 with 582 change -- Northbound from Fourth Chairback (580 in 0.5m)
    Section 51 from 1969.3 to 1969.8 with 579 change -- Northbound to Saddleback Junior (600' in 0.6m)
    Section 52 from 2001.0 to 2001.5 with 578 change -- Avery Peak to Safford Notch (1860' in 2.0m)
    Section 53 from 1806.6 to 1807.1 with 575 change -- North Kinsman to stream before Lonesome Lake Hut (1470' in 1.4m)
    Section 54 from 1772.9 to 1773.4 with 574 change -- Mt Cube to Brackett Brook (1500' in 1.7m)
    Section 55 from 1877.6 to 1878.1 with 574 change -- Between Imp Campsite and Mt Moriah (700' in 0.8m)
    Section 56 from 374.7 to 375.2 with 568 change -- Ash Gap to Roan Mtn (870' in 0.9m)
    Section 57 from 142.1 to 142.6 with 566 change -- Jump Up to Swim Bald (930' in 1.2m)
    Section 58 from 672.3 to 672.8 with 563 change -- Northbound to Sinking Creek Mtn (800' in 0.9m)
    Section 59 from 1584.1 to 1584.6 with 562 change -- Mt Williams (Greylock) to Junction with Notch Rd (600' in 0.6m)
    Section 60 from 1502.4 to 1502.9 with 561 change -- Bear Mtn to Sage's Ravine (720' in 0.7m)
    Section 61 from 429.5 to 430.0 with 555 change -- North from Wilbur Dam Rd (550' in 0.5m)
    Section 62 from 152.0 to 152.5 with 552 change -- Sweetwater Gap north (550' in 0.5m)
    Section 63 from 1397.3 to 1397.8 with 552 change -- Perkins Memorial Drive to Bear Mtn Rec Area (740' in 1.0m) NY
    Section 64 from 1722.5 to 1723.0 with 552 change -- Stage Road to Suicide Six View (600' in 0.6m)
    Section 65 from 1891.1 to 1891.6 with 552 change -- Northbound into Trident Col (550' in 0.5m)
    Section 66 from 1534.3 to 1534.8 with 551 change -- Northbound to Shaker Campsite (550' in 0.5m)
    Section 67 from 667.3 to 667.8 with 549 change -- Kelley Knob to Laurel Creek Shelter (960' in 1.4m)
    Section 68 from 1678.0 to 1678.5 with 549 change -- Northbound from Clarendon Gorge (620' in 0.7m)
    Section 69 from 372.8 to 373.3 with 548 change -- Hughes Gap Rd to Ash Gap (1400' in 1.6m)
    Section 70 from 1378.5 to 1379.0 with 545 change -- Agony Grind to NY 17 (540' in 0.4m)
    Section 71 from 1399.4 to 1399.9 with 544 change -- US 9D to Anthony's Nose side trail (540' in 0.5m)
    Section 72 from 2097.7 to 2098.2 with 542 change -- Southbound from Katahdin Ironworks Road (650' in 0.6m)
    Section 73 from 627.8 to 628.3 with 540 change -- Angels Rest to Pearisburg (1900' in 2.4m)
    Section 74 from 1352.8 to 1353.3 with 540 change -- Northbound to Pinwheels Vista & Wawayanda Vista (780' in 0.9m)
    Section 75 from 1762.3 to 1762.8 with 540 change -- Lye-Dorchester Rd to Lambert Ridge (1250' in 1.7m)

  16. #16
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by illabelle View Post
    A while back I believe it was Guthook himself who posted a similar list. I copied and pasted the info into a Word document, including an introductory paragraph from him.
    Thanks for sharing this, illabelle - this is a really good list. A couple of the sections have been rerouted (Roan Mtn in NC/TN, Bear Mtn in NY) but the vast majority are still accurate. It's rather discomforting to know that I've finished nearly 80% of the trail and still haven't done any of the top 20.

    There's a lot of overlap but also some differences due to the different distance increments (0.5 mile vs. 0.1 mile). For example, the steep part of the trail going up Albert Mtn is only about 1/4 mile long so it doesn't show up in guthook's list.

    As a sanity check, the grade calculation based on guthook's steepest 1/2 mile segment is 100%*1017 ft/(0.5 mi*5280 ft/mi) = 38.5%. This is not terribly different from my list and it makes sense that you will get steeper grades if you use shorter (0.1 mi) distance intervals. It is very steep though - for comparison, the roof of my house is 50% grade (45 degree angle) and I've always been afraid to climb up there.

    Seeing the NOBO descent into Bennington, VT reminded me of a funny story from my last trip. My guide book said to call the motel in Bennington from the top of Harmon Hill for a shuttle into town because there wasn't any cell reception at the road. So I called, and the guy said he'd meet me there in an hour and 15 minutes. I hung up and was like "It's not even 2 miles - I'll be waiting for 30 minutes." Then I got to the last 1/2 mile down to the road and I understood why he said that: the trail went straight down on slick wet boulders. The shuttle driver pulled up 30 seconds after I got to the road.

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    Very cool lists, thanks LittleRock and illibelle!

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    Quote Originally Posted by CalebJ View Post
    Regardless, those numbers absolutely don't make sense.
    Can't say for sure on most, but the St. John's ledges one in CT feels like a staircase, except someone left out every other (or in some cases 2 out of every 3) stairs. The kind of stuff you feel like you should sit down on going down (otherwise you are more jumping then stepping down, and if your foot doesn't land right...) and as someone else said you are close to rock climbing without a rope on the ascents. I do seem to remember the other one (Bear Mountain) feeling fairly steep as well, but don't remember it being so much of a step-like setup as St. John's is.

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    You hike from GA thru VT.
    NH and ME are a whole another experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LittleRock View Post
    Thanks for sharing this, illabelle - this is a really good list. A couple of the sections have been rerouted (Roan Mtn in NC/TN, Bear Mtn in NY) but the vast majority are still accurate. It's rather discomforting to know that I've finished nearly 80% of the trail and still haven't done any of the top 20.....
    I think I probably copied that list about 2017 or so. At the time we would have had 3-4 years left in our 10-year section hike, and yes, we had a bunch of those tough ones left. However because we weren't trying to do the trail in order, we organized the remaining miles (slacking at times) so that we could knock out several in each trip without being overwhelmed by a particularly tough section. I think one of the worst for us was from Pinkham north to Gorham. The Mahoosucs were "memorable" also.

    If I remember correctly, Guthook said he selected half-mile increments to avoid having data skewed by things like ladders. I'll look for the old thread and post it here if I can find it.

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