Hurricane Season and SOBO Thru-Hiking

Adding to the list of bonus challenges as a southbound thru-hiker: hiking in prime time hurricane season.

Mostly that means hypothermia conditions, flash floods, and days of nonstop cold rain and wet gear. Even the Appalachian Trail Conservancy provides hurricane updates. The first week into September and we’re currently experiencing steady rains, remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon with Hurricane Florence about to slam Virginia and West Virginia, along with Isaac and Helene on the horizon. I’m about to hit the 1,000-mile mark in Pennsylvania and I’m facing a personal and real dilemma: yellow blaze a 46-mile section where I’ve heard of multiple sources of flooded trails and streams, waist deep water, and even animal carcasses seen floating in the trail. Earlier this summer we heard of NOBOs bypassing a section due to flooded trails and now we face a similar predicament. As a stubborn purist, I’m a stickler for making sure I hike back to the trail the same way I entered either from a shelter or town. But to what extent would you short a section of your thru-hike due to inclement weather or otherwise?

The skylight at 501 Shelter.

501 Shelter, mile 996.1.

I’m back at the 501 Shelter after spending a night in Pine Grove at the Econo Lodge, where I rejoined my trail family for a night. We craved at least one night out of the rain to get hot showers, plenty of Arby’s fast food, and brainstorm a plan to tackle the hurricane rains and unnerving trail conditions. We weighed our options for most of the day: zero another day at the Econo Lodge, zero on trail at 501 or another next shelter, yellow blaze to Duncannon and wait out the storm, and each of us reaching out to friends and family for ideas. Or figure out a way to get through the next section in one piece.

Ultimately they decided to bypass this next section and wait out the weather in Duncannon thanks to a ride from trail angel Mary. Yellow blazing during adverse weather is one thing and it’s totally a personal decision.  After enough Doppler radar screens, weather reports, and reviewing the next section with Borderline, the 501 caretaker, I’ve decided to give it a go. Tomorrow I’m picking up where I left off.

Reviewing the maps with Borderline, the 501 Caretaker. Bethel Library, PA.

We discussed the next 46 miles of waypoints, stream crossings, the beaver dam after Stony Creek, and good campsites. Borderline notes that the section from roads PA 72 through PA 325 is the longest stretch of trail in Pennsylvania, which I think is pretty cool. The idea is get to Duncannon before Friday when Hurricane Florence makes landfall and wait out the rest of the storm over the weekend with my trail family.

Simple Cautionary Steps: a good plan, an umbrella, trash bags, and tea lights

Now that I had a solid plan and plenty of food until town, a few extras couldn’t hurt. The Dollar General was right next to the Econo Lodge and provided the added peace of mind I needed before I ventured back to the trail. I purchased an umbrella ($8) and a box of five trash bags ($1). I’m always checking hiker boxes and the Econo Lodge box did not disappoint. There I found a little bag of citronella tea lights and I figured I’d grab these for the next section for added morale. 

Umbrella, trash bags, tea light.s

I always thought the idea of carrying an umbrella while hiking was a little melodramatic. Until now. Normally, I’d just wear a hat and a rain jacket and tough it out, but these conditions are different and should be taken seriously. I’ve seen hikers use umbrellas and they’d arrive to camp drier than anyone. Now I’m about to see if an umbrella will work for me. If all goes well, I may even upgrade to something more waterproof, like the ever fancy silnylon Sea to Summit trekking umbrella.

A well-known gear hack is to use a trash bag to line the inside of your backpack to keep everything dry; now I’m finally taking that advice. While all my clothes and sleeping bag are already in dry bags, I’m not taking any chances. I’ve lined my pack with one of the five bags. I may use another bag as a hiking skirt by cutting the bottom of the bag and using the drawstring opening around my waist. The other bags I’ll bring along or leave in the hiker box for the other SOBOs staying at 501.

I’ve been on trail for almost three months and every day has been an opportunity to learn and grow as a backpacker. Hurricane season is providing a nice twist in the learning curve of thru-hiking. Planned, prepared, and in good spirits – I’m eager to get back to hiking.

Stay tuned for a post-hurricane update and follow this next section on my Instagram Stories @janealexajane

Happy trails,


Big thanks to Borderline for driving me to and from Pine Grove, sharing your life stories, and instilling the confidence I needed for this next leg of my journey. I’m so grateful for your help and support. Thanks for all you do!

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Comments 2

  • Preggy : Sep 11th

    Your inspirational. I like your attitude. It confident and positive. You sound as though you are growing and still interested in what your they hike has to offer… which is alot, I’m sure. Hope laughter and some clear days are part of your near future. The hurricane has me thinking about the thru hikers… I believe as a whole most are conscious of their abilities and respectful of nature’s abilities. I would like to be right there with you all…

  • Brewerbob : Sep 17th

    As an armchair thru-hiker (I haven’t even done an attempt {yet}), I would opt for a shelter. After reading the weekend’s worth of weather related posts, I mentioned to a co-worker that it would be nice to find a shelter that’s in a clear (to avoid falling trees) and wait out a storm like this. As an armchair hiker, I would have the luxury of taking a week off work to wait out stream crossing and downed trees on the way back out.

    Would be nicer still if I worked for a park service and could spend the following week out there with a chainsaw reopening the trail(s).

    But then I’ve been told I’m not quite right. When the east coast was preparing to shut down for a full scale blizzard, I went plotting for a shelter I could get in/out of fairly easy even with 20″ of predicted snow. I found one not far from the 501 shelter. I used Windsor Furnace shelter. There’s a municipal water pumping station at the end of the dead end road. This meant it was the first to be plowed. The shelter itself is a short 1/2 ~ 3/4 mile hike in. Obviously I had the place to myself. Only a fool would be out there hiking in a blizzard!!


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