Where to Start?

Where will I start? Maybe a place where there are some trees?

Why Harper’s Ferry?

OK – So I needed a start date and a direction.  Start date is about May 1st at Harper’s Ferry. I’ll be heading north (NOBO) to Maine, and then return to Harper’s Ferry to head south (SOBO) to Springer Mountain.

Huh? Why’s that?

The Pure Hike

In theory, the true, pure, through-hike from Georgia to Maine is much more romantic. Leave in early Spring and hike through the seasons to Maine in the Autumn. But, that’s what almost everyone does. Sharing shelters with the other 50 hikers that start each day from Georgia isn’t as appealing as it might have been in my younger days.  Could snoring could be an issue? What? I can’t here you!  Critters in the shelters? If even 5% of hikers leave food bits or don’t use odorless bags, then there will be no shortage of mice and raccoons in the shelters.  Weather?  It’s still very cold in the southern mountains in March/April as you can see from snow reports as recently as last week from other hikers.

So, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”  So much for the theory of a pure through-hike; how to deal with reality?


Alternate 1

Leave Northbound (NOBO) early and avoid the crowd. Sorry, but I want to enjoy the trip rather than freeze off body parts (remember the 70+ thing?). Not to mention that after 5 fused disks, one of my hands gets too cold to operate very easily. Nope.


My impression of the AT in January (The water is the snow melt on the trail)

Alternate 2

Leave NOBO late and avoid the crowd. There is always a rush to get to Katahdin before the State of Maine (wisely) drops the curtain at the end of the 2024 scene.  If you’re still on the stage, oh well…  Further, I don’t want to go through the mid-Atlantic in the heat and humidity of summer (I’ve done that).  I haven’t got enough weight to lose any more – I’ll lose plenty hiking in nice weather. No, again.

Alternate 3

Leave South Bound (SOBO) out of Maine. First, that puts the hardest part of the trek at the beginning; and it leaves the end anti-climactic.  Second, it’s not warm when you start, but I suppose that’s not much different than leaving from Georgia in March.  Third, HOWEVER, 2 weeks or more of Black Flies?  I’m out. Most flies, mosquitoes, and other insects will leave a welt that itches for a while – not fun, but tolerable. Black flies actually take a chunk out of you!  Expect scabs and itching enough for you to re-consider the nonchalant approach of “only a few weeks of black flies”.  I’m having a vision problem – I can’t see doing a SOBO.

Alternate 4

Leave North Bound from somewhere in the middle. If I start NOBO far enough north to avoid the Mongol Hordes leaving from Georgia in April, that sounds appealing. Most of the NOBOs won’t reach Harper’s Ferry until after May 1st.  Yes, the January and early February starters will be there (and be half done!), but that’s fine.  This option is starting to sound good!

How about weather?  Well, it’s the East coast, anything can happen. Yet, ON AVERAGE, the weather in May in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania is temperate. Further, the altitude in the “mountains” is lower so it’s not as cold. That means I can ditch the cold weather clothes and precious pounds.

This choice also gets me past the mid Atlantic before the heat of summer and up to Maine mostly after black fly season. A Katahdin summit in late July should be decent weather. And I can avoid the line to summit.  Hmm, this is looking good. Anything else?

After further examination, another advantage emerges. The first 110 miles north to Duncannon, PA is one of the easiest sections of the trail.  A pleasant way to break in my hiking legs and still make good time. In fact, the first 6 miles are down a hill over the Train Bridge, and then flat along the Potomac River Towpath.

A side discussion on an easy start.  Let me tell you that after practicing with a 25-lb backpack (a mere 2½ gallons of water in the pack gets it to 25lbs for practice purposes), I am certain that I do NOT want to gain 25 pounds!  (I’ve already lost 7lbs practicing).  Living daily with extra weight cannot be easy.

The hiker’s dilemma is that we WANT to take everything; BUT we DON’T WANT to carry anything.  Bottom line is that EVERY ounce really does count. So, by leaving from Harper’s Ferry NOBO without winter gear, my pack is lighter – At some risk, of course. My choice in sleeping gear will make a difference.

What about Part 2 of my hike – Will it be Harper’s Ferry SOBO or Springer NOBO? While the NOBO part has many advantages, SOBO works better for me logistically. BUT, that means I’m heading SOBO out of Harper’s Ferry (think Washington DC) at the hottest time of the year – UGH! At least it’s only about 60 miles or about 4 days to get up into the Shenandoah Park Mountains and get a bit of a break from the heat.

From Scott Morrison’s journey two years ago, it appears that I’ll probably be rather lonely SOBO – I’ll be far ahead of the Maine SOBOs, so I’ll likely be hitting only day-hikers or section-hikers on the way south.

The choice

So, the plan is to start at Harper’s Ferry about May 1st, going NOBO to Maine in July. Then return to Harper’s Ferry SOBO  and finish about October 1st.

Post Script

Thank you for all the comments on my previous (first) post! I am truly surprised at the number! I hope this post answers at least one of the questions.

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Comments 6

  • Ken Lunsford : Apr 16th

    My brother from another mother…

    I am hoping to thru-hike the AT in 2025, celebrating my 70th BD on the trail.
    And last week have about decided on an inside-out flip flop VA to Maine 04-06 and VA to GA 07-09.
    Then I see your post and say “YES!”, it does make sense and I’m not the only septuagenarian with a wanderlust…

    I will be happily following your journey…best wishes and thank you.

  • Nat : Apr 17th

    Great choice to give yourself time to get adjusted to trail!

    • Kat : Apr 18th

      So looking forward to following you! I’m 53 now and looking at doing this hike at 65 when my husband retires. I’m obsessed with the AT! It’s been a dream of mine for years I just hope at age 65 I can actually do it. Wishing you all the best.

  • Rob "Furnace" Hickerson : Apr 18th

    I chose the flip flop route in 2018. Started from Waynesboro VA. north to Maine the flipped back to VA and hiked south to Springer. I was very happy with my choice for all of the reasons you mentioned. A little hot on the southbound portion and a little quiet but I liked it. Good luck

  • Murray Ziegenfuss : Apr 21st

    Thanks for the laughs! Love your way of poking the “purist” airbags. Your plan’s right on — especially re. the kinder, gentler start miles out of Harper’s Ferry. Enjoy the trek!

  • Laurie : Apr 22nd

    Have you considered starting NOBO at Front Royal. Then when you flip SOBO, you are starting higher. Just a thought. I am a AT dreamer at this point but when I do it I too am going to do a very similar flip-flop so looking forward to reading your adventures!


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