Flipping Out About Flip Flopping: Part 2

Rational Justifications

In Part 1 of my vacillations, I laid out emotional arguments for finishing at Mt. Katahdin as a NOBO even if it means hiking with hordes of impulsive hopefuls that are clueless about cat-holes.

Several different options are promoted by the ATC that other writers have also discussed and can be found in greater detail here. They aim to disperse hikers across a broader range of the trail decreasing pressure on southern resources. The ATC recognizes all hikers completing more than 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail accomplished from any direction, and whether the distance is finished within 12 months or over the course of many years. Even purist NOBO hikers will likely support the idea of alternative itineraries that reduce crowding because they ultimately benefit their own agendas.

In an attempt to convince myself that a hike other than NOBO is favorable—let’s take a look at rationale for thru-hiking an alternate itinerary. I’m tied into an April departure date and there are two options that make the most sense for me.

Option 1: Flip-Flop or Leap Frog

In an attempt to avoid the largest bubbles, I would start as late as possible within my April timeframe from Springer Mountain hiking north. At some point, I’d jump up to Maine, (tentatively from Harper’s Ferry) to then hike south, finishing at Harper’s Ferry (or whatever departure point). This option still has me traditionally starting the trail from the southern terminus. There may even be a slim possibility that I still could complete the trail as a NOBO, but only if my pace exceeds my expectations.

Option 2: Head Start from Harpers Ferry

I’d begin my thru-hike at Harper’s Ferry, first hiking north to Katahdin, then return to Harper’s Ferry hiking south to Springer Mountain. This option absolutely commits me to an itinerary other than traditional NOBO.

In addition to fewer crowds, the top PRO reasons for considering either of these options include:

  • Starting in mild, spring weather—avoiding winter temperatures—but still walking north.
  • Hiking through the mid-Atlantic before it gets hot, humid and water sources become scarce.
  • Reaching the White Mountains in July, before the peak crowds; less competition for work-for-stay in huts
  • Giving myself plenty of time to reach Katahdin before it closes.
  • Not needing advance reservations required for Baxter State Park and still eligible to use The Birches long-distance hiker’s site.
  • Still being able to walk south with fall during the second half of the hike.

Well now. That sounds pretty darn good.

But here is even another interesting statistic: According to the ATC website’s 2,000 Miler Report, 70 of the 122 reported thru-hikes originating from Harper’s Ferry in 2014, were completed. That is an out-of-the-gate success rate of more than 57 percent!

Compare that to the 653 picture-perfect Mt. Katahdin summits out of an estimated 2500 Springer Mountain starts. This equates to a completion rate for 2014 NOBOs of only 26 percent. (The success rate does improve for NOBO hikers who make it to Harpers Ferry.)

What, pray tell, would then prevent me from doing a Flip Flop, Leap Frog or Head Start thru-hike?

Well…besides forfeiting the imagined psychologically motivating photo finish atop that weathered mountaintop sign, the CON reasons of an alternative itinerary include:

  • Hitting Trail Days in Damascus, VA is less likely the farther north I find myself in May.
  • Missing the northern blueberry season.
  • Messing up my plans to do the traditional half-gallon challenge at the Pine Grove General Store when starting from Harpers Ferry. (Yes, I know I can still eat ice cream in Shaws in Monson, Maine…)
  • Messing with my psychological “carrots,” also known as friends, who live in New England. (This support network seems better placed after the halfway point vs. before it, as a means to help keep me motivated.)
  • There are TWO Southern Terminus plaques where your final photo might be taken, with more iconic one reading “Appalachian Trail. Georgia TO Maine.”

Finally, don’t those benchmark mileages artfully noted and arranged in stones and sticks reflect NOBO distances? At least the blogs suggest this is the case.

Some of these reasons are still rather important to me, but enough to outweigh the PROs?

The ATC will be reopening the website for voluntary self-registration later this year. It will give each of us a better understanding of how thick the lean-to and campsite competition might be on any given day come spring 2016.

Even if I don’t yet know exactly where I’m starting, I do know, that come April, one thing is for certain. I will be starting a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.

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Comments 5

  • Avatar
    George Turner : Sep 1st

    I’m planning to start at Marion, Va in late March, go north to Katahdin, then back to Marion to hike to Springer. I really like the idea of having two big finishes!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    SummertimePearl : Sep 1st

    I am starting 2016 and I am also having the exact same thoughts including my support system being from New England. I have yet to decided between going from Georgia to Maine or Harpers Ferry North than Harpers Ferry South. I’m so tossed up but keep leaning toward flip flopping. Id love to know what you finally decided.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      katina daanen : Sep 2nd

      I’m think I may “sign up” as a NOBO and see how the numbers start looking around my intended start date when the ATC opens the voluntary registration, but I’m really beginning to lean toward the Head Start from Harper’s Ferry. The ability to stay at the NH huts and summit Katahdin with less competition is looking better and better.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        SummertimePearl : Sep 5th

        The NH huts/Katahdin competition and especially with the Baxter pushing the important restrictions is just another add to the pro side of the Harper’s Ferry start. What date did you have in mind? Maybe our paths will cross!

        Reply
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