Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Flip Flops - or Going Against the Norm

On May 2nd and 3rd the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will be hosting what will be an annual event each year. A Flip Flop Hiker Kick-Off Festival in Harper's Ferry, WV. When I mention flipflop this is what people assume -

But in hiking circles, a flip flop actually refers to an alternate method of completing a long distance trail. That is - not going from end to end but rather hiking the trail by alternate starting and end points.

The trails are getting busier. Already there are rumors of over 3000 starting the Appalachian Trail down in Georgia this year. And that number will likely increase as Hollywood makes known the trial
I finished my southbound hike at Harper's Ferry. It was great.
in the media and word spreads. Thus it's important to get out the word about other ways to enjoy and accomplish the trail. Like a Flip Flop.

For most AT hikers, the flip flop normally consists of jumping off at Harper's Ferry, WV for the trip north. The hiker hikes to Katahdin, returns to Harper's Ferry and heads south during the fall season for a finish at Springer Mnt, usually round early November. A flip flop has the advantage of not only missing the huge masses of thru hikers flowing from GA but also the enjoyment of seeing the trail in good weather, usually without the snows, cold, and other issues. And great fall colors in the south if you end there.

Some other alternate ways for a flip flop hike are as follows (from the ATC website)


Harpers Ferry, W.Va., north to Katahdin; Harpers Ferry, W.Va., south to Springer Mountain.
Summary: For a two-part flip-flop, this version hits the sweet spot between crowds and loneliness. It begins with the easiest part of the entire A.T., reduces exposure to extremes of weather, and starts in one of the prettiest and easiest-to-get-to spots on the Trail.

Sample itinerary:
 Start in Harpers Ferry late April or first half of May, reach Katahdin second half of August; return to Harpers Ferry after Labor Day; finish at Springer Mountain the second half of November.
  • Start in easiest part of the Trail that very gradually gets more difficult.
  • Start in mild, pleasant weather.
  • Start amid spring wildflowers and walk north with spring.
  • Do not expect to keep pace right away with thru-hikers who started in Georgia.
  • Encounter rocky but mostly flat terrain in Pennsylvania 
  • Hike through the mid-Atlantic before it gets hot, humid and water sources become scarce.
  • If you start earlier than May, make sure you do not reach Vermont before mud season ends (Saturday of Memorial Day weekend). 
  • Reach the White Mountains in July, before the peak crowds; less competition for work-for-stay in huts
  • Reach Maine in August, when black flies are gone (but expect crowds the last hundred miles of Maine).
  • Plenty of time to reach Katahdin before it closes.
  • No advance reservations required for Baxter State Park  (eligible to use The Birches long-distance hiker's site)
  • Wait until after Labor Day to start southbound from Harpers Ferry to give the earliest southbounders time to catch up with you.
  • Walk south with fall colors on the second half of your hike.
  • Companionship with early northbounders the first half, then finish the Trail with early southbounders.
  • Be prepared for hunting season in the South.
  • Be prepared for cold weather and the possibility of snow starting at the end of October, especially in The Smokies.


Damascus, Va., north to Katahdin; Damascus, Va., south to Springer Mountain. 

Summary:Allows you to start earlier than some options, but you can expect cold weather much of he first month, and a solitary hike on the final leg southbound from Damascus.

Recommended Itinerary: Start in Damascus mid-April, hike north to climb Katahdin mid-September; resume hiking south third week of September, finish on Springer Mountain beginning of November. 
  • Start ahead of biggest crowds of thru-hikers, but be assured of companionship from early hikers.
  • Be prepared for snow and frigid temperatures across the 5000-foot-plus Mt. Rogers highlands (a 26-mile high-elevation stretch that starts about 17 miles north of Damascus).
  • Be prepared for the possibility of below-freezing temperatures anytime in April since you'll be in higher mountains
  • Do not expect to keep up with the pace of thru-hikers who started in Georgia; allow yourself 3-6 weeks to get in optimal shape.
  • Start out in terrain of moderate difficulty.
  • Plenty of time to reach Katahdin before it closes.
  • Enjoy fall colors in the deep South, but expect no fellow travelers (you'll be ahead of the southbound thru-hikers) 


Southern New England north to Katahdin; southern New England south to Springer Mountain.
Case study: “Scatman” started on the NY/CT line mid-June and hiked northbound, climbing Katahdin mid-August. He returned to starting point in NY and headed south with the southbound thru-hikers, finishing the end of November.
His comments: “I believe that beginning in Connecticut in early June was beneficial. By hiking southbound for most of the trip, we also avoided the crowded shelters and the 'spring break' atmosphere of the early part of a northbound hike. It also allowed me to 'follow autumn' for much of the southbound portion of my hike. We did experience some cold weather at higher elevations and some snow in the Smokies … Doing New England northbound also afforded me the opportunity to approach Katahdin head-on, one of the most exciting sights on the A.T.”

Transportation note: Public transportation is available weekends to the Appalachian Trail Stop in New York near the Connecticut border via the Metro North railroad line (between Pawling and Wingdale). More information is available on ATC' shuttle and public transportation list at


Springer Mountain north to Harpers Ferry, W.Va.; Katahdin south to Harpers Ferry.
Sample itinerary: Start at Springer Mountain second half of April and hike north, reaching Harpers Ferry, W.Va., middle of July; then flip to Katahdin. Hike south to Harpers Ferry and end first half of November.
  • Start at Springer Mountain, but without the crowds.
  • Minimal chance of snow or severe cold the entire hike.
  • Avoid heat in most of mid-Atlantic.
  • Reduced (but not eliminated) exposure to Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases.
  • Avoid crowds of other thru-hikers.
  • Advance campground reservations required at Baxter State Park (not eligible to uses The Birches Long-Distance Hikers site)
  • No worries about reaching Katahdin in Baxter before it closes.
  • Hike with late northbounders first half; hike with southbounders the second half and meet northbounders a second time.
  • Hike south with fall colors.

More Information on the Hiker Festival:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Flip Flop Kick-Off Weekend

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