Preparing to be a 2017 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

Preparing for my AT Thru-Hike

Finally, 42 years after I first stated my desire to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I will begin that trek next year at the age of 67.  Hardly the oldest person to accomplish this mission. I surely don’t want to get out on the trail and decide that I can’t hack it because of a lack of physical conditioning, so I am preparing for the hike of my lifetime.  For the past two years, I’ve rarely gone a day without getting the American Heart Association’s recommended 10,000 steps. I have a three day per week exercise routine that includes sit ups, push ups, squats, and lunges as well as working with weights. I also participate in other physical activities to help maintain strength and endurance.

Strapping on the pack…

Until this year, I have not strapped on my backpack since 1978. Pitiful, huh? It is an old Camp Trails external frame pack. I have been reading about all of the new packs out there, and I just can’t decide on one that I would like more than the one I have. For the time being, I am going to stick with it.

During May, my eldest daughter and I took a trip to Arizona. We camped in National Parks and National Forests, and experienced varied environments ranging from hot, humid swampy conditions to near freezing alpine forest. We experienced nights with nary a breeze and nights with high winds gusting to 55 m.p.h. Some nights, we experienced light rainfall, but no torrential downpours. My daughter has a 2-person Kelty tent. I bought a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL-1 tent for this trip, which worked pretty well for me. However, when I set it up in the wind, I looked like I was trying to fly a kite, and gusty wind made the fly flap quite a bit during the night, but at least it stayed anchored.

I own two sleeping bags: a Holubar down sleeping bag that I got in 1975 and a recently purchased Marmot Nanowave 55. I don’t know the rating of the Holubar, but it is warm. The old Holubar, with a silk liner, has kept me warm down to zero degrees Fahrenheit. I used the Marmot the first time in Louisiana at Kisatchie National Forest. The weather was very hot and humid, so I slept on top of the bag and was too warm until I took off my shirt.

Into the Grand Canyon

Hermit Trail…

The highlight of the trip was a two-day Grand Canyon backpacking venture.  When we went to the Back Country Office to get our permit where a posting told us that there was a waiting list for all of the more popular trails.  The Park Service does not maintain Hermit Trail, so few people want to hike it (hence, no waiting list). Sections of the trail are covered by rock slides and negotiating the jumbled rocks is a fun exercise.

The ranger tried to discourage us from taking Hermit Trail to Hermit Rapids and told us that hiking in the canyon is not like hiking anywhere else. She finally issued our permit with the warnings:  “aggressive itinerary” and ” hikers advised of the associated risks.” According to the National Park Service, Hermit’s Rest, at the rim, is 9.7 miles from the Colorado River at Hermit Rapids. Elevation drops 4,340 feet.  We hiked 8 hours in and 13 hours out. How’s that for my first attempt at preparing for the Appalachian Trail?

Campsite…

We set up our tents on a sandy beach about 10 feet from the Colorado River.  I did not use my fly because rain wasn’t in the forecast and the sky was beautiful. During the night, the wind picked up and gusts blew the fine beach sand through the tent mesh. I pulled the Marmot bag up around my shoulders and covered my head with my shirt. When I woke up in the morning everything was covered with sand. My daughter had her fly on and still got sand in her tent. We shook off the sand, packed up, and headed up the trail.

The hike out…

We took frequent short rest breaks on the way out and a longer break when we got to Santa Maria Spring, about 2.2 miles from the rim.  Here, we met a family of day hikers who had hiked to the spring for lunch. The man and wife were in their mid-40s and their daughter looked to be about 20 years old.  They left the shelter about 10 minutes before us, heading back toward the rim.  It was not very long before we caught up to them while they were resting. The mom explained that they had to go slowly because they were from Florida and not accustomed to the terrain. My daughter told them that she lives in Ocala and I live in Lakeland.  The mom said we adjusted fast.

Nevertheless, the daughter was quite well adjusted. She hopped around on the rocks taking pictures and exhibiting an excess of energy.  I mentioned that she looked strong and jokingly asked her what she would charge me to carry my pack the rest of the way. She quickly replied, “Twenty dollars.”  That sounded like a bargain to me, but I told her that wouldn’t be fair (after all, I am in training) and I needed to carry it myself.  I must admit that I was tempted. Very tempted.

More opportunities to strap on the pack…

Right here in Lakeland, FL, I came across a group called White Blazers of Florida ( https://www.meetup.com/White-Blazers-Of-Florida/events/231268971/ ). This group is doing “Summer Intense Hikers Training Days” every Wednesday for eight weeks. I joined the group and participated last Wednesday (6/15/2016) and will attend as many as possible. The group leader encouraged us to carry loaded backpacks. I carried my old Camp Trails pack with a total weight of about 30 pounds.  We hiked about 6 miles in 90 deg F heat and 90% humidity. We are supposed to build up to 12 miles. The trails are through reclaimed mined land so there are some small hills; nothing like the A.T. or the Grand Canyon, but it is about the best we can do locally.

In July, friends and I are going to Maine. We plan to hit the A.T. for a few day shake-down hike. The details are not firm yet, but I will post about this trip, and hopefully any thru-hikers that we meet.

 

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Comments 16

  • Avatar
    George (Old Growth) Turner : Jun 21st

    I’m your brother from a different mother. I tried my long dreamed of thru hike this year at 65. 480 miles into my flip flop, I came home for a planned visit, slipped on the stairs and tore my rotator cuff. God has a whimsical sense of humor. I will be able to do the SOBO leg in the fall, but for now I’m rehabbing the shoulder. I’ll go back to Harper’s Ferry next May and head for Maine. I would highly recommend that you take a 3 week section hike with your first draft gear. Include a zero day and a couple of resupplies just as you would on the trail. Not only will you get a chance to evaluate your gear and level of fitness, you’ll get to talk to thru hikers and see what they are packing and talk about things they have learned. I did this last summer and learned a lot. There have been incredible advances in gear tech. Do your homework and replace your older gear.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Tom Abel : Jun 21st

      Howdy Brother! I recognize your trail name (Old Growth) from reading Appalachian Trials blogs. Thanks for the recommendation about a 3-week section hike. I will try to do that, maybe in the fall. I am not going to try to be an ultra light packer and I don’t want or expect to break any speed records. I am still researching gear, but there are an overwhelming number of options. I’m hoping to find a pack that suits me.

      My friends and I are thinking about starting at Harper’s Ferry in May or June and heading north to Katahdin, then flip-flop back to Harper’s Ferry for SOBO to Springer Mountain.

      I hope your shoulder heals quickly and you can get back to the trail as planned. Maybe I’ll see you out there sometime.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        George (Old Growth) Turner : Jun 21st

        Check out ULA packs

        The flip flop is the way to go and the fall is a great time for a section. SOBO you may end up walking with SOBO thro hikers

        Reply
        • Avatar
          Tom Abel : May 30th

          I ended up with a ULA Circuit and like it a lot. Base weight down to 16 pounds.

          Reply
  • Avatar
    jerry prendergast : Jun 21st

    Hi Tom,

    Good luck, My name is Jerry from Fl. also 66 yoa and will be doing a section hike from Springer to Hot Springs lv Aug. 23 or so, until Hot Spring or Oct 1st. I am enjoying the quest to find the right fits for me, food plans, ect. It’s been a few years since any wilderness camping but like yourself have hiked out west National Parks.

    I hope you have a great hike free of any setbacks, one foot in front of the other till the end.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Tom Abel : Jun 21st

      Thanks for the good wishes. I am thinking about a section hike later in the fall. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Roaming Gnome : Jun 21st

    Good luck my friend. Next year I’ll be thru-hiking the AT at 53 years of age.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Tom Abel : Jun 21st

    Good luck to you too. I’ll keep an eye out for you.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Perry : Jun 21st

    A nice weekend training hike for you might be Torreya State Park, about an hour west of Tallahassee. It has two 6-7 mile loops, primitive camping and not-so-primitive camping, and is about as hilly as one can find in Florida. It should only be a 4-5 hour drive from Lakeland.

    I plan on using it frequently to prepare in the year prior to my hopeful AT hike in 2020 as I live less than an hour from TSP.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Tom Abel : Jun 21st

      Thanks, Perry. I looked at the website and it sounds like a great place for a weekend trip.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    John Longino : Jun 21st

    Hi Tom. I’m going to give it a go starting SOBO on a flip flop at HF WVA 3/1/17. I hope to start the 2nd SOBO leg 8/1/17 from ME. I’ll turn 66 in ME. I’m John but have gone by “Lawnchair” for 32 years so I guess it has stuck. See you out there.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Tom Abel : Jun 22nd

      It sounds like you are targeting cooler months and have a good plan. Maybe we will cross paths.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Salty Dog : Jun 21st

    I did a thru in 2015 at the age of 64. I used a warbonnet blackbird hammock & hammock gear cuben fiber winter palace tarp. Worked awesome slept great. Carried a pad for Smokies ( never used it ) & The White Mtns. Used pad 5 times until Katahdin. Check out cottage industry backpacking gear to save weight. My base weight was 15 with pad & less w/o. Weight matters a lot. Your body will love you. Good luck & have fun. Salty Dog

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Tom Abel : Jun 22nd

      I know a hammock is not for me. I sleep on my side and like a firm, flat surface. But thanks for the info. I will look at cottage industry backpacking gear.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Tom Abel : Jul 24th

      OK, Salty Dog. I am rethinking the hammock. I just got back from a short section hike in 100-mile wilderness and was able to talk with people using Warbonnet hammocks and see them in use. They seem very practical and comfortable.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Packman Pete : Aug 12th

    Don’t knock the new light weight gear. I’m an old fart too and the lighter the better. More so now than ever before. What cracks me up is these kids that spend a ton of money on the lightest gear, then carry 3.5 LBS. of electronic crap. No phone, camera, ipod or anything else for me. The whole idea is to get away from all that clutter. Summer base weight is 10 lbs. and I’m lovin it. BTW, my old ’72 Holubar bag is still good also. But at 4 lbs. it was relegated to the car camping box about 20 years ago.

    Reply

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