Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Observations of a Two Week Appalachian Trail Start

I decided to do it big this year, that is, begin at the beginning and in the throes of a very busy thru hiking season to section hike part of Appalachian Trail in Georgia and North Carolina. My intended "section" would include the Approach Trail to the Appalachian Trail atop Springer Mtn and on to Hot Springs. But as things go in life, the hike would take on its own identity (I ended at Stecoah Gap due to commitments at home and a tender Achilles tendon). Yet I would garner interesting observations learned from trekking the trail with countless others who looked to Maine as their final destination.

Observation One:  The Beginning

I was amazed at the amount of thru hikers who got dropped off at the parking lot a mile south of Springer Mtn to begin their thru hiking quest. I'm not saying this is a precursor to a failed hiking attempt, but I don't understand why hikers chose to do this and skip the main adventure - getting to that first white blaze.

First they miss the idea of a "pre" start. For those who go southbound, one must negotiate a pretty intense 5 mile trip up the massive Katahdin to begin a thru hike. Here, it's a modest 8.8 miles over tame terrain. Yes, the "steps" up the first mile are kind of steep. But isn't the falls worth it? Hey, I even liked the arch! And the nice woods hike for 8 miles. It's all good.

The "start" or the arch at Amicalola Falls
The reward for a few stairs - a gorgeous waterfall.
Observation Two: Preparation

I was now amazed at the "lack" of preparation by thru hikers for their long distance hikes. When I stopped at Black Gap shelter and met a hiker with a 40 degree bag for his trip, I knew there was trouble lurking in this year's class. Hikers did not expect cold and snow. They found themselves bailing out or even quitting. It made me wish they had taken to heart the first rule of Leave No Trace. Plan and Prepare. Some say you don't need to plan for a hike like this. I say it puts your dream in jeopardy if you do not. One must always be ready for any and every weather condition out there. Take an adequate sleeping bag. Take layers (and NOT cotton!). Don't be carrying 50 pounds on your back of wasted stuff you'll never use. Don't bring a 5lb tent (boy I saw a lot of bad tents out there and hikers complaining their tents leaked) Bring a map and some kind of guidebook. Prepare.  

Unexpected snow, cold and wind greeted hikers late in March this year. Plan for all kinds of weather!
Observation Three: Injury

Lots of ascents and descents on the AT means possible injuries. Work through it and know before you go.
Yes, injuries abounded on the trail. I heard more about foot and knee issues. Some can't be helped. Some can, by adequate footwear and insoles and physical preparation. Many hikers lacked the proper footwear. I saw hikers carrying their heavy boots and hiking instead in camp shoes because of blisters (!) Some were wearing worn out shoes. Some did not know how to use their poles right to make descent and ascents. Some older hikers are not carrying items that could help ailing knees (like a regimen of glusomine or a good cho pat duo knee brace just in case and limiting pack weight and know some good stretches). It helps to have a knowledge of first aid under your belt. To do hiking beforehand and learn how to cope with the maladies of blisters and sore feet that hit before you undertake a long distance hike. To know how to doctor yourself to keep the hiking show going. See When Injury Sidelines you.  

Observation Four: Showing Respect

How I wish hikers showed respect for people, towns and the trail. It is severely lacking on the trail. One thinks if they are doing a thru hike, they are "special" and they can therefore do and say whatever they please. Including trashing motel rooms with dirt blood and dog pee, not giving tips to drivers and motel staff, using foul language everywhere (I heard the f** word ALL the time at camp. For every possible thing or just as a part of normal conversation. Oh wow, my f**ing thing broke. Oh did you f** see that. I'm gonna put my f**ing tent up, I guess. Oh yeah, f** this. ). Out of the depths of a heart the mouth speaks. A mouth speaking such vulgarity means the body is likewise doing vulgar things and showing disrespect. Hikers, clean up your act, which means your foul mouth as well as your hands! Show respect. Respect elders. Respect trail providers. Respect towns. Respect the trail (like NO trash or toilet paper flowers!!) Pack it in, pack it out. Make the trail a great place for all.  

Lots of tents in Locust Cove Gap on my last night. And lots of swearing too.

Other Related Blogs:

Gear for a Start
Sleep System 
Town Etiquette


mackenzie said...

I totally agree about the language- it really makes for a less pleasant experience around camp when I have to hear foul words constantly.

Tami said...

Thank you for speaking frankly, especially regarding the lack of respect. It's sad to see the trail abused, but even more so to think about the reputation disrespectful hikers transfer to all hikers in the eyes of the communities that surround and often support the trail. Respecting the experience of all who share the trail is definitely lacking; I'm not sure why some must throw around even the most vulgar of foul language in the presence of virtual strangers.

self sufficient me said...

Thanks Blissful, I also feel the same way you do. This years hikers are the worst I have ever seen. I was telling some one about some of the hiker behaviors and they are non hikers. Their comment was its the world now they all feel like they are entitled.
I feel like I am entitied to not have myself or the land or any one abused ever.
Thanks again, Sweet Spot

Auntie Coosa said...

Unfortunately too many of the hikers since Bill Bryson's "book" use him as an example ... Katz littered ... Bryson used "trash talk" (tho' not the "f-bomb") and showed ultimate disrespect for the Mull Family in Hiawassee. Why should these "hikers" be any different?

This is not to say that the hundreds of hikers who read his book emulated his behavior -- all it takes is a few -- back on the 80's it was a rare hiker who misbehaved and the Hiking Community usually took care of the miscreants ... In the 90's, we started hearing about trashed motels but it wasn't widespread ... In the 2000's hikers ethics transitioned from civility toward uncouth behavior ... each year we heard reports of Hostels closing due as much to disrespect of the people running the Hostel as to hikers refusing to pay the requested Donation -- they would complain in their journals that they "expected" luxury accommodations for a $5 or $15 Donation. Hotels raised their rates for Hikers or quit giving a Hiker Discount.

And NOW, if anyone politely asks the "f-bombers" to quietly refrain from such language, the "f-bomber" usually becomes a bully and his/her behavior escalates. "You can't tell me what to do or say" -- with at least 3 "f-bombs" used in that sentence. And most of the time the Hiking Community does not defend the person asking the "f-bomber" to cool it ... because they're afraid of physical retaliation! LACK of Respect! For themselves and others --- "you have to EARN my "f-bombing" respect!" No Darlin' -- respect yourself and it will flow to others -- even those you don't think deserve it. Respect is a gift, not a payment for services rendered.

I'll be out on the Trail soon ... Pray that I don't cross paths with unruly "hikers" ... I expect the respect due to every Grandparent ... Pray that the "f-bombers" have already lost interest in a Thru Hike. After all, Bryson & Katz never finished the Trail ... Why should these "hikers" be any different?

Auntie Coosa said...

Having lived in Georgia for 13 years and hiked the Approach Trail half a dozen times ... I disagree with you ... The 0.9 mile hike from FS 42 to the summit of Springer Mountain equates with the 5.2 mile hike from Baxter Ranger Station to the summit of Katahdin. Both of those hikes are on the Appalachian Trail ... The Approach Trail is not.

Lauralee Bliss said...

Hey Aunt Coosa. I understand about the Approach not being the AT. What concerns me is would-be thru hikers who decide to skip it because it's boring, too tough, etc. That to me can set up a challenge for them later on in their AT quest when they will surely come on days that the trail proves hard and boring. But SOBOers do have to do Approach - they can take the AT sure, but there is also the Abol Slide, etc. The point it, they still need to do a very tough approach to summit the northern terminus of the AT up the toughest mtn, and NOBOers hardly have anything to complain about on this 8 mile trail down south.

Unknown said...

After reading this, and watching some videos of thru hikers on YouTube, I am temped to not even try a thru in 2014 because of the useless eaters out on the trail. It seems people have no respect for anything anymore, likely due to a complete lack of parenting that's happening in America. Vulgarity and ludeness is the result. If I do this in 2014 I will likely avoid hostels and shelters more often so I don't have to put up with this kind of nonsense.

I would think most people would WANT to do the approach trail, it's only 1 more day and is part of the experience. But I guess we can't tell someone what experience to have. Thanks for writing this article, I learned a few things.

Jonathon said...

I thru-hiked last year and didn't do the approach trail, my brother wanted to see me off and see the Southern Terminus. Hike your Own Hike and don't hike the approach if you don't want to hike it!

The good thing about the disrespectful is the further north you get the fewer in number they become. They get stuck in Hot Springs or Erwin. They go party at Trail Days and never come back. The disrespect and blatant disregard for others was strong at Kincora, but after I got beyond Damascus the party crowd diminished severely.

As for the cursing, that may just be a generational thing. It isn't meant to be disrespectful, it's just an adjective or a verb or adverb (depending on use). My generation isn't offend by it, doesn't think it's disrespectful (in some circles) and it doesn't hold the power it once held. I don't curse around strangers, but around friends the bombs drop!

Personally I stayed away from shelters, not just because of the mice, but also because of the people. Visiting and mingling during lunch was cool, but give me my solitude, my private mountain-top, my distance from kids with bottles of booze and bags of pot when I want a good night sleep!

It is easy to stay away from those circles though. The Trail can be any Trail you want it to be. You can socialize, you can judge, you can get frustrated at others for what they are or are not doing. Or you can just hike and enjoy the camaraderie where you can get it, enjoy the views, the blisters, and the sore muscles. I dream about being out there again, often!