I’d never hike the AT.

I guess I’m hiking the AT

The water on the Appalachian trail tastes like earth. I reluctantly filter it. I spend my first day hating every piece of gear that sits heavy in my pack as I struggle up the approach trail. I hate it all and then when I get to camp, I decide I like it again. My bag feels heavier than I remember my backpack on the PCT feeling despite the fact my base weight is much, much less. I have packed way too much food. I have enough for a week not 3 days. 2650 miles of thru hiking experience and I still haven’t figured it out. I certainly don’t feel experienced as I struggle up the Approach trail to Springer Mountain, I feel unprepared and desperately out of shape.

This AT attempt had been a spontaneous decision after I’d lost my job 3 weeks prior to me standing on Springer Mountain. Like any sensible person with a crisis would, I deal with it by deciding to run into the woods and get away from it all. The timing of it had worked out perfectly to start in the middle of winter and after hiking the PCT in 2022 I’d longed desperately to be part of the thru hiking community again after missing it so badly. So this is where I land, attempting a trail I’d never thought I would, because all I know about it is that it’s a cold, wet, dank green tunnel.

Where southern vampires live

It is so much colder on the Appalachian trail than I’d really been prepared for. I sleep in all my clothes and order a warmer quilt to the next town, where I pack out hand warmers, an emergency pair for every night and trudge through frozen ground with a fresh sprinkling of snow. I’m hiking in the heart of winter and it’s so cold my fingers freeze in the pathetically thin gloves I’d naively thought would keep me warm in the harsh Appalachia wind and rain.

Blood Mountain Shelter

Blood mountain is my first big climb of the trail, I love the name and as I climb higher through the mist and fog and I don’t stop, it’s too cold to stop and it makes me think this is where vampires in winter would live. I go further and further until I’m on the summit, standing in the stone shelter that I’d planned to sleep in. The wind blows in through the empty frames of where I’d expected windows and doors to be. There’s no way I’m sleeping up here. I try to stand out of the wind and shove a couple of protein bars into my mouth with frozen hands. I’ll go down to Neel Gap and camp there before the sun sets and winds get worse. As I continue across Blood Mountain I slip and slide across wet rocks following the white blazes that loom ahead of me. I don’t know how long it’s taken me when I get down to Neel Gap. It’s windy and I’ve lost all feelings in my hands. I try to set up my tent next to the trail behind the hostel which is locked up for the night. The wind repeatedly blows it away and I give up trying after I can’t even move my fingers. I want to be warm in this moment more than I’ve ever wanted it before. I bang on the hostel door but nobody opens it. I sit on the steps with the orange kitty shivering, hugging my tent to me to cover my knees. I’m so dehydrated and hungry from being too cold to eat or drink properly all day. I have no idea what to do. Only 30 minutes early I’d felt so alive and exhilarated going up and over the mountain mid storm. A hiker I’d met briefly on the summit appears at the trail head. He tells me he’s booked a cabin and tells me to come with him. Soon my hands are under running water in the sink slowly defrosting. A burning sensation starts causing me pain and my fingers prickle uncontrollably and start to turn white. Early signs of frost bite? I’d underestimated how cold winter in Georgia would be. This hiker has probably saved my hike and my fingers. I realize then, more than ever, that just because I’m already a thru hiker, it does not at all guarantee my success of becoming an Appalachian Trail thru hiker. This makes me want to get to Katahdin more than I’d previously realized. The next day, with warmer, defrosted hands and new shoes, I keep walking north, because after all, what else would I do instead?

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Comments 3

  • Arizona : Mar 24th

    I appreciate your story, very fun to read despite the bad bits, sorry that happened to you. I begin the AT in mid April this year. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s better to start in April in my opinion. Only reason I can figure out is people get too anxious, not willing to wait for a good time, or want to be part of the bubble.

    It’s mid April for me, and I hope you’re doing better, take care.

  • MinnesotaSmith : Mar 24th

    I hike the entire AT in 2006, and half of it (following thru hiking the Pinhoti Trail) in 2009.
    When I retire I hope to attempt the North Country Trail.

    Thruhiking a long trail is ultimately mostly mental. No one can make you succeed if you want to quit, or drop out if you want to finish. Thruhiking a long trail is an irrational act, but I’m glad I did it.

    I also am glad I did not make hiking my entire life. I have two careers and 11-year-old twins because of that decision.

  • Mark : Mar 30th

    I am an overnight section hiker, mostly in the U.S. but some in Europe. I’m 75 but in great shape.
    Somehow your AT blog popped up on my screen. Your writing is compelling and I relate.
    I install geothermal systems, and am a swing dancer just now picking up xydeco with my similarly oriented girlfriend. Thanks for providing a vicarious hiking experience.


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