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  1. #1
    mountain squid's Avatar
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    Post observations from fs42 (advice for first week on trail)

    OK, I just got back from Forest Service Road 42 at the foot of Springer. I saw about 150 people begin their long distance journey to Maine (not including section hikers). Some observations/suggestions for those planning a long distance hike on the AT:

    1. I’m sure this has alot of opinions, but the bottom line is that the approach trail is not part of the AT. Somebody is dropping you off somewhere. Add an extra hour to your driving trip and say your goodbyes at FS42. Stop at the State Park visitor center for directions, sign-in, weigh your pack, etc. Although FS42 is a dirt/gravel road, the preferred route that most people take is passable by cars.

    2. Too many people with heavy packs. If your pack weighs more than 50 pounds, it weighs too much (30 pounds or less is desirable). If you are unable to get below 50#, ensure you have 2 crisp hundred dollar bills included in that weight. When you finally make it to Mountain Crossings @ Walasi-Yi (Neels Gap), find the nearest employee and hand him/her your 200 bucks. You’ll need it for a new backpack, sleeping bag or tent (possibly all three, not to mention resupply and the heavy box of gear that you‘ll be mailing home). It is highly likely that you will spend alot of money there.

    **On this note, remember that ounces add up to pounds. While going over your gear, keep track of how many times you’ve thought “Hey, it is only a few ounces.”.

    **Still on this note, I would suggest a pre-trip to Mountain Crossings, if it is at all possible. Preferably at least a year before you start and when there are likely to be hikers there. It would also be best to visit before making major gear purchases (backpack, sleeping bag, tent). Discussions with employees and hikers will help solidify your gear decisions and save you money. While there, ask what was the most any one hiker spent.

    3. Many hikers start on or after the 1st day of Spring. Unfortunately, that does not mean instant warm weather. It will be cold and the possibility of snow still exists (don’t forget the Smokies). Ensure you have appropriate cold weather gear (including long pants). Another interesting thing about spring is that leaves don’t appear over night. Until the leaves arrive, when the sun is out you are exposed all day long. Bring some sunscreen.

    **During your pre-trip to Mountain Crossings, observe sunburned hikers. OUCH!!

    4. The weekends are busy on Springer. Start during the week. If you do start on the weekend understand that upwards of 60 other hikers will also be starting (on 4/1/06 and 4/2/06, I counted 29 (Sat) and 35 (Sun) at FS42). The shelters (and tent sites) will definitely be crowded (as well as the hostel at Neels Gap).

    5. Climbing rope is extreme overkill for bear rope (you don’t need to haul your entire backpack up a tree). 50 feet of nylon cord (parachute cord or 550 cord - whatever you want to call it) is sufficient. Nor do you need those huge carabiners that usually accompany climbing rope. Although required in several places on the PCT, bear canisters are NOT required on the AT. Areas that have heavy bear concentrations have appropriate systems for hanging food (and other aromatic items). GA and GSMNP have cable pulleys. SNP has poles and NJ has metal boxes. A sil-nylon stuff sack will work for food bag.

    6. Saws, axes, Rambo/hunting knives can be left at home (unless you plan on wrasslin’ a b’ar as part of the evenings entertainment at the shelter). A small knife (with tweezers for pulling out those tiny ticks up North) for slicing bagels and spreading peanut butter is perfect.

    7. Another piece of useless gear is a camp chair/stool. A camp chair/stool is nice for camping. However, you’ll be hiking more than camping. When you stop for the day, you fix dinner (while talking gear with other hikers, who are also carrying too much) and then you go to sleep. If you stay at shelters (which most do) there will be somewhere to sit down.

    8. Nalgene bottles. Almost everyone carries two or three of them (sometimes clipped to back of pack with large carabiners). Nalgenes are heavy and bulky. Consider a collapsible water reservoir which is lighter, holds more water and can be rolled up when empty. Of course, for drinking on the go you will also have a water bladder with a drinking tube.

    9. Crocs/Waldies. Very comfortable and very lightweight. Enough said. Buy them before your hike and save the money it’ll cost to mail home your heavy sandals.

    10. It takes approximately 4 days to get to Neels Gap (30.6 mi) from Springer. That means you only need enough food for approx 4 days. Anymore more than that only increases pack weight. Of course, err on the side of caution. If you are uncertain of your daily mileage, carry an extra day of food.

    Anyway, these tips have absolutely no bearing on whether or not you make it to Katahdin. Hopefully, they will make your first week a little more enjoyable and save you some money. I’m sure you don’t want to blow half of your budget on day 4.

    See you on the trail,
    mt squid.

  2. #2
    Registered User Pacific Tortuga's Avatar
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    MT. Squid your tread is very nice for the 'Bill Bryson's' out there and I qualified 5 years ago . If your out to hike, another 8 miles should be a beautiful warm up. I read where many Katahdin finishers wish they would have started that way. Mountian Crossings should open stores after 30 or so miles on every long distance trail,I can dream of their class act out west. It is hard to believe backpackers are humping 50+ packs still with the quality info out there but I here some even make it all the way .
    Your first thread, Your passing on good, honest thoughts do not get taken off gaurd if the kitchen here gets to hot,thanks.

  3. #3
    Planning for after college. ShawnR80's Avatar
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    Thanks for the great info!!! The idea of starting on the weekdays was excellent! My start day was going to be on a Sat. but, I am rethinking it now, thanks so much ShawnR80, planning for 2008

  4. #4

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    great advice. Thanks for the entertaining post.

  5. #5
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    I agree, this is a good post. Thanks, Mt. Squid.

    Stickman

  6. #6

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    There can definitely be some good entertainment had at Neel's Gap. It's almost as good as watching the return of the mule riders at the Grand Canyon.

  7. #7
    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    Wow, and I thought starting this late you would avoid the crowds! Guess it doesn't matter whether you start in March or April as far as that's concerned. (?)







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    Quote Originally Posted by sliderule
    There can definitely be some good entertainment had at Neel's Gap. It's almost as good as watching the return of the mule riders at the Grand Canyon.
    ....Or after they take a huge swim at Lava Falls rapid on the Grand Canyon (big eyes, seeing Elvis while underwater) LOL.

  9. #9
    Registered User Peaks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blissful
    Wow, and I thought starting this late you would avoid the crowds! Guess it doesn't matter whether you start in March or April as far as that's concerned. (?)
    Based on some old data, the majority of thru-hikers start between March 15 and April 15. Start any other date, and you avoid the rush, especially if you start during the week.

    Myself, I started April 22, and shared a shelter the first night with one other hiker. That's certainly not a crowd.

  10. #10
    Registered User briarpatch's Avatar
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    Default 1st maildrop

    Another bit of advice would be to not use Suches as a maildrop, use Neels Gap instead. Its only one day further, but you avoid the off trail side trip to Suches. I've taken lots of hikers down to the post office from Woody Gap, but it can kill the better part of an afternoon to walk there and back when rides aren't available. I would carry an additional days food and head on into Neels Gap for the first maildrop.
    A bad day on the trail beats a good day most anywhere else.

  11. #11

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    The only thing a thru-hiker should be buying at Mountain Crossings is ice cream!

  12. #12
    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peaks
    Based on some old data, the majority of thru-hikers start between March 15 and April 15. Start any other date, and you avoid the rush, especially if you start during the week.

    Myself, I started April 22, and shared a shelter the first night with one other hiker. That's certainly not a crowd.
    But this hiker supposedly just posted about seeing 150 people (doubt it WAS 150 but it was probably a lot) on or near April 21st heading up Springer. To me, that sounds like plenty for late in the season...

    maybe they all gave up at the summit... (?)

    Anyway, I'm glad for my tent in 2007 whether there's one hiker in the shelter or 20.







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  13. #13
    Registered User Pacific Tortuga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sly
    The only thing a thru-hiker should be buying at Mountain Crossings is ice cream!
    You forgot the "drinki'n free Bubble-Up and eatin that rainbow stew" too.

  14. #14
    mountain squid's Avatar
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    To clarify, from 01 APR to 10 APR, I counted 168 “thru” hikers after they summitted Springer as follows:

    01 Apr - 29
    02 Apr - 35
    03 Apr - 21
    04 Apr - 18
    05 Apr - 14
    06 Apr - 9
    07 Apr - 10
    08 Apr - 14
    09 Apr - 13
    10 Apr - 5

    Again, this does not include “section” hikers. My tick marks for section hikers adds up to only 88 (I know I missed a bunch of them). I only saw one quit on the top of Springer.

    I agree with Peaks concerning start dates. If you look at the Class of 2006 (Whiteblaze thru-hikers) you can see when most began their hike. After the second weekend of April, things start slowing down.

    I don’t know why most start in March. Not only do you have to take a number to summit, but it is also cold and will likely be cold for another month. I started my hike on 20 APR 04. Had great weather (even in the Smokies) and although it was busy at the shelters (actually, the shelters themselves were mostly empty - most were tenting), they were not over-crowded (except in the Smokies, where, for some reason, 80 Marines were hiking).

    See you on the trail,
    mt squid.


  15. #15
    Registered User Michele's Avatar
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    Default Why I think hikers start in March

    In response to your thought about why people would start hiking in March. Well, for me, I'm trying to build in a safety net of time. I'm going to be a slow hiker, and I want to make sure that even if I get ill or minorly injured, I'll have enough time to recover off the trail and then get back on w/plenty of time to reach the Big K by 10/15. I don't want to start on Apr. 15 and just have the "average" amount of time to finish.

  16. #16
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    I met you in two places: Springer and Neel's. I started on the 9th of April with the plan to section to Nantahala. My hike went far better than anticipated and I reached Neel's in 2 days; NOC in 9 days. Therein lies another caution: the weather was very hiker friendly during that time and I was literally drawn into longer, faster days than anticipated. The sunshine/lack of shade induced some dehydration issues that I didn't monitor well and nearly became a serious problem. I have a lot of hiking time in the Whites,NH and am in decent shape for a 60 year-old, but still didn't pay close enough attention to the effects of the constant sun exposure - it could have been ugly. A day of hydrating in Hiawassee fixed me up and that section is in the books for me. Good to have met you. Thanks to all of you folks for the support offered to me and all the hikers.

    dan buzzell

  17. #17
    mountain squid's Avatar
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    Good point dannyb. Stay hydrated. At Woody Gap, I saw a younger guy who was getting off the trail possibly because of heat stroke/exhaustion. When I saw him he was doing ok, but I think he had had a few rough nights.

    Long term sun exposure and physical exertion can certainly be a recipe for dehydration (or worse). Especially if you are coming straight from the couch (as I'm sure many are). Stay hydrated (and, of course, don't wait until you are thirsty - drink, drink, drink).

    Otherwise, glad that you are ok and that you had a good hike...

    mt squid

  18. #18
    GA - Central PA 1977
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    As someone who sold backpacking equipment for 11 years may I add that don`t let the weight of a certain backpack be your deciding factor in your purchase..It is very important how the pack distributes the weight and transfers it to your hips and legs etc..You might carry the exact same load in 2 pack and one of the packs weighs 3 pounds and the other weighs 7 pounds but the weight will feel much lighter in the heavier pack and you will conserve more energy and walk more naturally.....Also make sure you get the correct size and adjust the stays and misc straps correctly..Try and load heavier objects higher up and in towards your body

  19. #19
    mountain squid's Avatar
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    Spent the last weekend of Mar and the first weekend of Apr at FS42 and saw much of the same as last year. If your pack is too heavy, be aware that YOU have to carry it at least to Neels Gap. It is NOT acceptable to discard unwanted items at a shelter or to the side of the trail...

    A few more observations to share:

    1. Books. If you think that you absolutely must have something to read, bring no more than one tome. Personally, I would suggest foregoing a book, at least in the beginning. At the onset of your long distance journey, you might find yourself a) too tired to read or b) too busy meeting and talking with fellow hikers. Once your body is used to the daily routine of walking all day long, then consider carrying one book (not two, not three, ONE).

    2. Warm weather in Mar/Apr (or Jan/Feb for that matter) is not likely to last long. You might get lucky and avoid snow but COLD weather will definitely be in your future. NEVER, ever, ever get rid of your cold weather gear or sleeping bag to lighten your load or to create space in your backpack. Also, ensure you have a shelter of some sort and those with hammocks ensure you know how to stay warm inside your cocoon.

    3. Ensure the stuff that ‘should’ fit inside your backpack (sleeping bag, tent) does indeed fit inside your bp. If your sleeping bag and tent do not fit, you either have too much bulky stuff or your bp is too small.

    **On this note, suggest utilizing sil-nylon stuff sacks for keeping things organized. Opening a side/lid pocket should not allow things to spill out...

    4. Hiking with a handcart on a trail is not a good idea (it is probably not even a good idea on a paved surface).

    5. Instead of a taxi, consider staying at the Hiker Hostel. Josh and Leigh have an outstanding hostel and provide superior service. During ‘Hiker Season’ they make a daily trip to FS42 and then to the Approach Trail. I’m sure the cost of a shuttle from Atlanta or Gainesville and an overnight stay is a fraction of what a taxi costs (plus you get to start your gear envy a day before you actually begin your hike)...

    6. I know this will be difficult for some, but don’t start off too fast. Take it slow. It actually might not hurt to have an itinerary for the first few days (and actually stick to it). If you get to a shelter after only 8 miles, yes, it might be just after noon and you might still feel good, but stop anyway. Gather wood for a fire, watch the rest of the hikers roll in, relax, let your feet air out, fiddle with your gear, figure out a better way to pack your gear, etc...(yes, I realize this might be a good time to have a book, but the flow of hikers will be so great that you probably won’t even notice...).

    7. There doesn’t appear to be any ‘reliable’ water sources between Hawk Mt Shelter and Justus Crk, which is about 6 miles. In between you climb Sassafras Mt and Justus Mt. If you attempt this stretch in the afternoon and especially during a ‘heat wave’, ensure you have plenty of water.

    For those with aspirations of a long-distance hike in your future, GOOD LUCK and HAVE FUN!!!!

    See you on the trail,
    mt squid

    PS. This year I saw 217 hikers begin their long distance journey...

  20. #20
    Registered User Nightwalker's Avatar
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    Good thread. Seems a good time for my "three rules for a successful GA thru."

    1. Eat more than you think that you should.
    2. Drink more than you think that you should.
    3. Go slower than you think that you should.

    I'm no thruhiker, and probably never will be, but I've done Georgia four times. These are some very good rules of thumb, at least for me.

    As always: YMMV; professional driver, closed course; HYOH.

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