I Decided to Skip Georgia, and Maybe You Should Too

For my 23rd birthday I made my almost annual pilgrimage to the North Georgia mountains with my dad. He had never been on a backpacking trip, and with him joining me in Virginia for my 2019 thru-hike, I know he needs the experience. So for the fourth time I hiked up the stairs, and for the third time I backpacked through the Approach Trail. Knowing my deadline, dad asked the following question:

“Jack, why even bother doing Georgia again in March?”

Skip Georgia or not skip Georgia? At first, my hubris spoke about being a true thru-hiker means starting at Springer and finishing at Katahdin. Then I thought about his question some more. Georgia is and has been my practice round. All my shakedowns, all my learning, and all my mistakes were born and fleshed out in North Georgia. At this point I have backpacked all of Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail twice. Except for four miles between Gooch Gap and Neel Gap. I’ll get to that in a moment, but for the time being I’ve decided to skip Georgia.

Skipping Georgia offers several advantages for me and you

Consider such a route as a different form of flip-flop thru-hike.

1. Pop or skip the bubble

The bubble is a term for the large influx of NOBO thru-hikers starting between March and April. For those seeking more solitude, like myself, this can be a great thing. You won’t have to compete for campsites, chances of catching a disease go down, and you don’t have to deal with other people’s mess as much. The Appalachian Trail also benefits from decreased erosion from fewer thru-hikers in Georgia.

2. Georgia is hard

This point should be taken with a grain of salt as I have not personally done much outside Georgia. What I do know is that Georgia is difficult in two ways. Firstly, as a new thru-hiker you are not physically conditioned for the stresses of hiking all day and therefore more likely to get injured. Secondly, the terrain of Georgia has a lot of up and down that adds to your chances of injury. You go up Springer, down Springer, up Sassafras, down Sassafras, up Blood, down Blood, and so on. As someone with knee issues, Georgia is hell for the knees.

3. Time to adjust to urban living

This point pertains more to NOBO hikers than SOBOs, but hear me out. You’ve been hiking for five to six months and made it to Katahdin. Now it’s time to go home, and your journey is done. So you fly back south and maybe spend a few days with family and friends to celebrate. Then you leave again to hike NOBO or SOBO on just the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, giving those 70ish miles special attention and care because soon it’s done. You did it. The mental adjustment can start and progress. Make Georgia your love letter to the trail. Because here’s the thing; Georgia is beautiful!

Well, on a good day. Here’s me in perpetual mist that makes everything wet.

I’m not ignorant to the downsides of this method, though. Most likely I will miss all the major trail festivals. I probably won’t fall into that odd entity that is the trail family. Lastly, some may not call me a thru-hiker but they have a right to do so. Besides, I want the Triple Crown more.

What does my plan entail?

Simple, at my start date I will be dropped off at Gooch Gap for four miles of solitude to Woody Gap. Therefore, completing Georgia for myself. I will then be shuttled up to Dicks Creek Gap and dropped off there, and to Katahdin I go. I have a large family and I have lived with them for all 23 years of my life and I know I will miss them terribly. I’m making Gooch to Woody that time to cry it out, frankly. Georgia will not be that love letter I envision, but Georgia made me the hiker I need to be. Mentally, goodbyes are the first of my five million steps.

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Comments 9

  • John Addison : Jan 3rd

    Jack, best of luck on the attempt. Theres a saying that goes around the trail..Hike Your Own Hike. Basically whatever system that works for you is great, but may not work for others. For me, the simplicity of getting dropped off at springer on day one was appealing. The freedom and sense of having the whole trail ahead of me was a beautiful thing, with only one objective..hike north until the end. At some point you’ll hopefully wake up in Maine, with strong legs, long hair, a full beard, and a different perspective. And realize what a journey you’ve been on, as you reflect on the people you’ve met and the places you’ve seen. Thats what this trail is about, not worrying about logistics, skipping sections, or slackpacking. Best of luck.

  • David M : Jan 3rd

    I agree with John. Hike it the way you want to. And if you hike the whole thing in a 12 month period, regardless of the order, you’re a thru-hiker. Period. ? Good luck!

  • Lan4d : Jan 3rd

    HYOH, just don’t call yourself a thru-hiker. Half the experience is dealing with the bubble, shakedown, the funk, and stuff. I bet you will be the same with ups and downs in NC. It just feels different because you were conditioned in GA.

    To me it is just wimping out.

  • Lemonhead '98 : Jan 3rd

    My advice, don’t skip GA (unless you plan to finish in GA after reaching Katahdin). If your ultimate goal is truly the Triple Crown, don’t water it down by skipping a measly 70 miles of a 2200 mile trail (7900+ collectively for the Triple Crown). We’re all wired differently but I can’t imagine finishing the AT, let alone the Triple Crown, and thinking “why did I skip those 70 miles!!”. My 2 cents anyway. Good luck and have fun.

  • Paul Boulay : Jan 3rd

    The ATC offers a 2000 Miler Patch for hiking the AT to a specific definition.
    I am unaware of a patch, with a definition, for Thru-hiking it. I have listened to several who try to degrade another’s 2000 Miler accomplishment as not up to their own personally fabricated definition of a “Thru-hike.” Unless and until there is a Thru-hiker patch with a definition,

    they are just blowing smoke. HYOH

  • Quiet Storm : Jan 3rd

    I agree that Georgia is hard. Just finished it a month ago. Sounds like you have an idea of what you want out of your hike and that’s the most important thing. Good luck.

  • tim andrew : Jan 4th

    I am 65, did half the AT this yr, going back to finish 2019… never hiked before, lost 45 pounds… I think hikers want to get it done and over with… big hills, do small hikes… just go easy.

  • Ruth Morley : Jan 4th

    Ironically, I’m pondering the same question: do I skip a section next year when I hike the northern half, because I’ve already hiked there? I’m a NOBO LASHER (Long Ass Section Hiker), doing the AT in 3 sections, so the term “thru hiker” doesn’t concern me. My issue is do I start in southern PA, the northernmost point I’ve reached during a shakedown hike in 2017, or start again further south from Harpers Ferry and retrace those steps for my first week.

    I think I’ve decided on Harpers Ferry, because I like the town and the week’s walk. I started my southern half SOBO from there, so I’d like to do that for the north. I’d later feel like I made excuses why I didn’t do those miles again. What’s a few extra few days? It’ll be fun seeing familiar sights again, knowing they’re just a preamble to a whole new adventure.

    I’m sharing all of this because I think it applies to your decision. I agree with the earlier reader who said later you may regret not having done those miles. I suggest you go ahead and do them. Your bio said you want to do it in under 100 days. It’ll be so anticlimactic and hard emotionally to force yourself come back and do GA after having done the upper 2100 miles. Do yourself a favor: be able to say, atop Katahdin, “I hiked it ALL this year! Every inch of it!”

    (If you want to skip something, remember the Approach Trail isn’t the AT.)

    But, in the end, it’s totally your decision.

  • Pony : Jan 25th

    A thru-hike is a complete hike of the trail in question within a calendar year, just fyi. There are nearly infinite ways to accomplish that.

    Georgia *is* hard. But just fyi, so is North Carolina. So is Tennessee. Virginia is definitely not “flat.” Yes, the mid-Atlantic section of the AT — let’s generously define that as everything from the southern end of Shenandoah through New York, maybe Connecticut — is *relatively* easier. Ditto for Connecticut and Massachusetts and Vermont. But New Hampshire and Maine are a whole different ballgame; it’s hard to convince those who haven’t hiked the miles, but virtually every thru-hiker agrees once they’ve done it.

    But here’s the thing: Even the “easy” parts of the AT have challenges. Pennsylvania contains multiple long ridgewalks, interspersed with descents and ascents to the next ridge, but the rocks, green tunnel, climate (many hikers go through PA in high summer), bugs (watch out for ticks) and so on make it incredibly arduous for many, many hikers. New York and New Jersey often surprise hikers with their sudden, precipitous climbs, and even supposedly docile Connecticut has a series of tough climbs.

    Having done Georgia, you needn’t go back. That won’t affect your thru-hike. But don’t expect the trail to get any easier than that!

    Enjoy your hike.


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