5 Reasons the AT Will Be Harder than the PCT

AT Harder than the PCT

With one complete thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail and two mere attempts at the Appalachian Trail under my belt, I am bracing myself for the Appalachian Trail in 2015. Sure, the AT is 500 miles shorter than the PCT. It’s been around longer, has many dedicated clubs maintaining individual sections of the Trail, and there are more roads by which one can get to town, a motel, a restaurant, and the relative security of society. So why am I so nervous to do the AT? I’ll give you 5 reasons.

1. Weather

Windy, rainy, cold and damp. These words sum up much of my experience of the AT. As a New Englander, I realize that my natural mentality toward the weather (and everything, ever) is one of irritation and displeasure. However, I felt I had struck gold in California. Somehow, there was a land where the weather was calm, pleasant and predictable. Was it all a dream? I am still uncertain. This year, I have added an expensive raincoat, really solid pack cover, and other waterproofing gear to my inventory. But on the AT, I can still be sure of one thing: I’m going to get soaked.

On Springer Mtn in 2011 in all my clothes, plus Dry Ducks, plus an emergency blanket. How cold? That cold.

On Springer Mtn in 2011 in all my clothes, plus Dry Ducks, plus an emergency blanket. How cold? That cold.

2. Bitey Bugs

Whether I am swatting at the air force of kamakazi mosquitoes following me through Massachusetts, breaking and entering into the homes of 200 spiders each morning in Virginia, or feeling the pinch of bitey little ants as I try to catch my breath in Maine, the number and ruthlessness of the insect population on the AT is far greater than I experienced on the PCT. I am preparing by carrying Ben’s 100% DEET bug spray (which melts plastic sun glasses like dino venom), and a bug net for my head (which I carried the whole way on the PCT without ever donning). I will say there were lots of ants in the sands of California, but they didn’t seem as villainous.

3. Vertical Miles

In 2,175 miles, the Appalachian Trail incurs a total elevation gain/loss of roughly 515,000 feet. Over the course of 2,650 miles, the Pacific Crest Trail have an estimated elevation gain/loss of 315,000 feet. Let your knees do the math. Or check this out.

4. Green Tunnel

Sore feet, dirt face, stink butt. None of that seems to matter when you reach the top of a mountain and look out over Mother Nature’s great creation. Indeed, there are lots of glorious views to be offered on the Appalachian Trail, and even signs that denote such vistas for those days you are too in the zone to look anywhere other than two feet ahead of you. However, these signs soon become the subject of comic photos as many days, you can hardly see your hand for the fog. The view is like a Bob Ross painting – before he’s actually started painting. Also, the overall elevation on the Appalachian Trail is thousands of feet lower than that of the PCT, allowing much more vegetation to create “The Long Green Tunnel” we know, love and can’t see beyond.

5. More People

I know, I know. What kind of horrible misanthrope would think of this as a downside? Well, an introverted misanthrope. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hiker community. Amongst my nature walking brethren, I really feel like I belong. However, I’m a slower hiker and it is a pain getting out of everyone’s way all of the time! It also means a wider spread of sicknesses like noro virus, especially in a shelter. In 2011 I was laid up in Pearisburg for a week with MRSA. Boo! The PCT has virtually no shelters and all camping is done in a tent or under the stars. This means that hikers spread out much more at the end of the day. Though the shelters on the AT are convenient and a life saver in the rain, I plan to tent much more this time around, giving me the freedom to tuck away when I am all done socializing for the day.


“Tear the roof off the mutha, tear the roof off the mutha sucka. Tear the roof off the sucka.” -George Clinton

BONUS: 5 Reasons Why The AT Will RULE

1. Water Fire Burn

Sweet salvation, it’s holy water coming out of the sky! You do not fully appreciate the glory that is the rainy East Coast until you go out West and have to carry 6 liters of water because the next trickling spring is 30 miles away. No water means a fire ban, too. At high elevations, it can be quite cold, and aren’t campfires the most fun element of camping?Fortunately, on the AT I will hardly have to carry water at all, and there will be a fire ring at every shelter! Plus, we won’t have to do a ton of road walking and Forest Service road reroutes due to massive and scary wildfires. I’ll try to remember my joy after a week of rain on the AT.

PCT 916 6by4

About as close as I ever need to be to a wildfire, thanks.

2. Multi-State Gratification

There we were, arriving at the halfway point on the PCT. 1,330 miles in, and still 400 miles until we get out of California! Damn, that state is huge. I remember feeling like such a baller the first time I crossed from Georgia to North Carolina, and it is only 70-something miles in. However, each state one knocks down is an achievement in itself, and I’m really looking forward to passing thru.

3. Easier Access to Town

Easier access to town means, once again, lightening my load. If I plan properly, I won’t have to carry nearly as much food as I often did on the PCT (especially in the Sierra, where I had planned for two weeks of food sometimes!). It will also be nice to be able to stay better connected and keep up on my blog! The down side to this is there are a lot more strange dudes in jeans (not thru hikers) and day walkers on the Trail.

4. Dope Hostels

There are hostels on the PCT, but there are more donation-based Trail Angels. With the boom in hikers after Wild got big, these Trail Angels are becoming overwhelmed and it is clear that many hikers are not donating. However, the donation jars are anonymous, so instead of some people being ousted as freeloaders, there is instead a general looming discomfort between hikers and Trail Angels. It is not a good feeling. I will be much happier to have the concierge at a hostel see my money, take my money, and let me sleep at ease knowing I am not suspected of being a freeloader.

5. Hiking Home

The Appalachian Trail was my first love and it is my home. I am a New Englander at heart, and it will be exciting and symbolic to hike home. The completion of this Trail is truly a homecoming for me. Once it’s done, I can go on to conquer anything!


Home sweet home.

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Comments 5

  • TurtleTracker : Mar 26th

    This is probably one of the best “list” posts I’ve read on this site. You’re clearly very experienced and have a good perspective on what makes the AT great (and not so great). I will never think less of someone who fails a thru-hike (especially if they get right back up and do it again!). It’s far more noble to take on a challenge you don’t know you can accomplish and then fail than to take on a challenge you know you can accomplish and succeed.

    Happy Trails

  • Halleck Wrigley : Mar 24th

    The gain of the PCT is closer to 480,000 feet.


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