7 Things I Absolutely Hated About Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail
You either have a good time or a good story, as the saying goes. Now that I’ve completed the Appalachian Trail, I love to look back and laugh at all the miserable garbage I encountered during my thru-hike.
We all know thru-hiking isn’t all sunshine and roses. Letting the less-than-wonderful aspects of the trail get you down is a mistake, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge them and brace yourself for the worst. From trench foot to soul-crushing boredom, here are the top 10 things I hated about thru-hiking the AT.
The Top 7 Things I Hated About Hiking the Appalachian Trail
1. Hiking in the rain.
“Embrace the suck,” my ass. It rains a lot on the AT, but although I eventually got used to hiking in the rain, I never enjoyed it. I don’t like sloshing around in flooded shoes nor falling in the mud after slipping on a wet root. Sue me.
And don’t get me started on donning clammy, mildewy hiking clothes and shoes morning after morning because nothing ever dries in the humid eastern air.
Pro tip: if it isn’t raining when you get to camp, try to wear your wet clothes for a few hours so your body heat can dry them before you change into your camp things. Put the newly dried clothes inside a waterproof bag overnight, or else any salt from your sweat that remains in the fabric can attract moisture from the air, and the clothes will get wet all over again by morning.
If your clothes aren’t entirely drenched, you can also bring them inside your sleeping bag to help them dry overnight, though this only sort of works in my experience.
The notorious rocks of Pennsylvania are all too real. Don’t be fooled by the suspiciously smooth tread you’ll encounter just over the Maryland border. It’s a clever ruse to lull you into a false sense of security. Expect agonizing, rock-studded madness from Duncannon to High Point State Park in New Jersey. As one fellow hiker put it, it’s like walking barefoot on Legos for 100 miles.
You might consider getting a new pair of sturdy shoes before you hit this stretch to protect your tender soles.
On top of all the rocks, there aren’t too many views in the Pennsylvania section of the AT. Plus, by the time most northbound thru-hikers reach the area, the sweltering heat of summer is in full swing.
I’m not saying there’s nothing worthwhile about this state, but it was a slog for me. I wasn’t sorry to leave it in the rearview mirror.
3. Bugs. EVERYWHERE.
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’d think a rugged, stalwart outdoorswoman like me wouldn’t mind a few creepy crawlies. But the sheer number of ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, ants, and spiders was just too much, even for me. Ticks are the most problematic, of course, because of Lyme disease, but I was lucky enough to avoid any tick bites (at least as far as I’m aware) on my thru-hike. Religious nightly tick checks and regular application of permethrin to my clothing and gear helped with this.
I was lucky enough to avoid the brunt of blackfly season in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, but I did face shocking numbers of regular flies and mosquitoes elsewhere on the trail, which was trying. As an aside, blackfly season runs approximately from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day in northern New England, and the region becomes largely mosquito-free by late summer.
However, I think the spiders were the worst for me, owing to their unfortunate habit of stringing webs across the trail at face height. By peak spider season (October, southern Virginia), I existed in a state of near-nervous collapse each morning, just waiting for the next eight-legged apparition to loom out of the twilight.
4. The Crowds.
The AT is the quintessential long-distance trail. It’s the one everyone thinks of first when they think of thru-hiking. It’s also conveniently located within spitting distance of several major population centers. Nearly everyone agrees that the AT is a beautiful trail that’s wonderfully easy to access.
Which is great, but it does make for a crowded hiking experience compared to more remote footpaths like the Continental Divide Trail. You can still find solitude on the AT if you hike early in the morning or in the off-season (or avoid the most popular sections), but it’s relatively hard to come by.
Even on quiet days, you see evidence of humans everywhere. It takes the form of garbage, graffitied trees, and unburied poop and toilet paper. Don’t get me wrong—I love the community on the AT and loved interacting with other hikers on the trail. But the constant barrage of humanity weighed on me all the same.
5. The Green Tunnel.
OK, I didn’t hate the green tunnel all that much. I love forest ecosystems. But sometimes, after fighting my way up a long, tough climb with a name like “Bald Mountain,” only to find it completely tree-covered, I longed for the abundant views of western trails like the PCT.
Thru-hiking can be tedious at times. A bit of visual glory is perfect for breaking up the monotony. I will admit that the relative infrequency of expansive vistas made me appreciate them all the more when I happened upon them, though.
Note: if you’re craving big views on the AT, your best bets will be the balds of North Carolina and Tennesee, and the extensive alpine traverses of New Hampshire and Maine.
I think I’ll strangle someone if I have to eat one more Clif bar in my lifetime. In cold blood.
Bars are portable, compact enough to fit in a hip belt, and reasonably nourishing. But I can’t bring myself to like most of them.
I choked down two or three bars per day on the AT and regretted most of them. Fortunately, I’ve since found a few brands I like enough to keep eating them mile after mile, but it’s been a long journey to get to where I am today.
7. The shelters.
Unpopular opinion, I know, but I never liked staying at shelters. They were a safety net in the earliest days of my thru-hike when I was still uncomfortable with the concept of sleeping outside alone.
But shelters, along with being social hubs, attract wildlife. They’re often dirty, graffitied, and mouse-infested. Shelters are lovely to hide in on cold, rainy days. They’re also excellent for meeting other hikers, but other than that, I had little use for them.
I only slept inside a shelter four times on my thru, preferring the privacy of a stealth spot.
Despite the day-to-day annoyances, hiking the AT was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I can’t wait to do it again some day.
I’d be lying if I said every day on the trail was a good day. But the challenging, irritating, and downright unpleasant parts of thru-hiking are every bit as integral to the experience as the giddy, magical, awe-inspiring parts.
Besides, the bad days make the best stories.
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