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  1. #1

    Default Mid-February Start: Why or Why Not

    Thought that I would avoid the crowds. Any other thoughts on this?

  2. #2

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    Too cold. I'd start about a month later. The crowds are only an issue at the shelters and they thin out quickly as you go north. Now if you are determined to stay in a shelter everynight than I guess that's a good time to go.

  3. #3

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    No, I'm going to avoid shelters if at all possible! I just don't get a lot of snow out this way and wanted to enjoy it. (Ask me after I have been hiking in it for days!! LOL ). I've heard it is pretty crowded on the trail in March and April.

  4. #4

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    I wouldn't characterize the trail as crowded in the middle of March; I could walk for a long while without seeing anyone. Now the sheter areas, yes they were crowded, very crowded.

    I also didn't mean to make it seem as though it would be warm in the middle of March, there will be cold, very cold, nights and actually you will want the same sleeping bag in March as in Feb. But in a Feb. hike, you're more likely to be slowed down by icy conditions, wouldn't be the same as walking through snow in a field.

    You are however, almost guaranteed to see snow in March, I've seen it twice and I've seen it in April, checkout my gallery.

    However, I've never been to Springer in Feb, so I'd be curious to hear from those that have and can compare it to March. Or maybe you can read some Feb Trail Journals.

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    every winter/spring is different. Feb-March 2010 was brutal in the southeast mountains. Look at the winter/spring 2012, the east coast was balmy compared to 2010. A mid February start is not as bad now as it would have been 10-20 years ago.

  6. #6
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    Do it.... or the first week of May. If I started a thru in March or April I would hike the BMT to Davenport Gap to avoid the circus. Plus the BMT is a much better trail in every respect.

    But then it wouldn't be a real thru hike for those who are sticklers about that sort of thing.

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    MEGA '11, LT '09,'13
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    Go for it! I imagine February would be a spectacular time to be on the trail. As far as avoiding crowds...just avoid 'em.

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    In that part of the south, Feb is often the " most winterest" part of winter. But there's a lot of cold in March also, especially when it's raining or sleeting. And the days are shorter so you spend a lot more time not walking, but instead trying to stay warm. You also miss the wildflowers and the blossoms. That being said, I too plan a mid-Feb. start. Spent fifteen years of my life in north Georgia. Been there done that. Maybe I'll see you out there. HYOH

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    I started in late Feb in 2010 and overall was glad that I did; a lot of snow in the south that year, and so not only snow but blowdowns to deal with. But it was nice to be able to count on getting space in shelters, and the relatively fewer people out at that time I think bonded a bit better for the shared experience. Nice too that if you keep a decent pace you won't have to compete for resources much all along the way, i.e., pretty likely you can get space in a hostel AND have a shot at using the one computer there, not have to wait a long time to do laundry or take a shower, etc.

    I thought that the number of people that I encountered with a late Feb start was just about right; I suspect that I would have been less happy with more people around later in the year.

    I'd also mention that I never had any humidity issues in the south and overall heat was just not a factor (I finished in late July). You don't escape ticks that way, but overall bugs weren't bad either.

    Bottom line: I liked it. You do need to be able to deal with cold, ice/snow, and recognize that trail crews won't have been out to clean things up for the early parts of your trip.
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    It'll likely be cold . . . and coming from AZ . . . brrrr . . . if there is alot of snow, you will likely not be 'enjoying' it. Consider some other way to 'enjoy' snow. I would start second week of Apr. Should be warmer and should be fewer hikers starting.

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    MARCH ONe has worked for many. February has had numerous wonderful thru-intentioned backpackers worn out or injured due to ice and deep postholing from a particular season's personality. I think midMarch can provide the snow adventure you want while not destroying your hike. Of course, if you REALLY want snow, try finishing a SOBO up on the ridges in the South in November/December.
    You never know just what you can do until you realize you absolutely have to do it.
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  12. #12

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    Unless you are really out of shape and only doing 5 miles a day, mid-April is the best time to start. No ice storms, less chance of major snowstorms, less rain, lots of flowers and green in the mountains instead of lifeless gray and brown. Most folks seem to be starting in March these days, so starting later works well to avoid the crowds, plus the weather is usually better so it's easier to stay away from the shelters. Starting early means more time spent in towns waiting for the weather to improve - thus more money spent. In February it gets dark at 5:30 or so, so nights feel very very long. It also means you will likely get to New England long before leaf change, which is something worth seeing, especially if you are not used to seeing real autumn color.

    I was raised in Tucson, so I know that in Arizona, March is full spring. In the Appalachians, it's still winter.

  13. #13

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    It really is impossible to convince anyone from away how bad the weather can be in the mountains of North Carolina during the late winter and early spring. Very few can put up with it for long. Search out trailjournals for Feb starters and you will find most didd't last on the trail long.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

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    MEGA '11, LT '09,'13
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    Quote Originally Posted by SawnieRobertson View Post
    Of course, if you REALLY want snow, try finishing a SOBO up on the ridges in the South in November/December.
    My fingers and toes are STILL thawing out from this last year From Damascus south, we were in snow/cold rain what seemed like 75% of the time. I didnt mind it so much as we kept moving to stay warm and had springer on our minds. But, I do agree, it can be cold and nasty down south, especially on the ridges. As a NOBO, however, at least you know its going to get warmer sometime..

    With proper cold weather gear and knowing when to throw in the towel (i.e. get out of the elements for the day/next couple of hours) I would love to start that early on Springer. Have most of the hostels opened down south this early?

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    its not that bad till the snow gets deep. no need to avoid shelters, they'll be empty and you will have the mices undivided attention
    I'm so confused, I'm not sure if I lost my horse or found a rope.

  16. #16
    Registered User ChinMusic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WIAPilot View Post
    Thought that I would avoid the crowds. Any other thoughts on this?
    Mid to late Feb is my plan for next year. I have hiked the southern AT in every winter month. I like it. I DO pick my poison though. If the weather reports are nutzo I just hole up for a bit and wait it out. It can make for a more expensive starting time.

    Every winter is different. Feb could be awesome or suck. The most annoying part I had to deal with is all the blowdowns. An early start will mean that the trail volunteers will not have them cleared. If the winter has been bad this makes for some tough travel.
    Fear ridges that are depicted as flat lines on a profile map.

  17. #17

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    I have thought about this,and I like the snow,so yeah,it wouldn't bother me to get snowed in,and have to bail,thats good stuff for building character.I also would not want to come off a winter,start a hike and not finish until winter comes around again(6 months for me,i'm slow),I'd like to enjoy some summer and fall just chilling after a Thru-hiking the whole thing,but of coarse this is all hypothetical,cause you probably won't ever see me doing a Thru-hike of the whole thing,cause I require more repair time for the ol' bones than most do.But if I did do one,Yep,I'd start in Feb,right around my birth day,yep,thats what I'd do.

  18. #18
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    I've left Springer twice, 2 March and 9 April...I would not recommend leaving in mid-Feb for the following reasons:
    - potential for 10 weeks of cold weather, including snow and ice, freezing rain (10 weeks is a long time on the trail)
    - short daylight will mean spending more time in camp
    - you will spend more money as the weather is more likely to drive you into town, and for longer periods of time to wait out storms
    - your pack will be heavier with cold weather gear, more fuel, etc
    - you will reach NE in the height of bug season

    The key to avoiding crowds is leaving late, not early...IMO. Even a 1 May start start gives you 5.5 months, then there is always the flip option. The heaviest concentration of hikers will generally be:
    1. Shelters
    2. Hostels in town
    3. Motels in town

    If you plan to use shelters, understand the bug situation, so starting in Feb will certainly mean a good 10-12 weeks before the bugs get bad...which is good for shelter sleepers, the bad news is that shelters are much more cold than tenting or tarping...so shelters are a liability in terms of warmth.

    If you want to avoid crowds I would leave Springer in very early May, go north til end of July, start Sobo from Katahdin 1 August and hike back to the jump point...other than the passing of the Nobo swarm, the trail will be fairly open. You are also unlikely to see any cold weather.

  19. #19
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    Clarification...extreme cold weather could be avoided, it can snow in the Whites in August, etc...

  20. #20

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    One year (around '92 or '93) I drove my two buddies down to Springer in Feb.
    The day they started it was in the 60's and beautiful.
    They thought they were pretty smart as no one else signed in that day and they had the beginning of the trail to themselves.

    However, about a month later they came home with their tail between their legs.
    Weather turned bad.
    They spent all their money holing up in hotel rooms and watching TV.

    Either be prepared to rough it in the cold, or take lots of money and some books to read.

    You deal with what's given to you when it comes to weather.
    Don't let your fears stand in the way of your dreams

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