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Flip-Flopping the AT

Sorry for the intro, I’m not really a fan of Grease, though my wife is, and sorry if that song is now in your head! Last time I talked about why I am hiking the Appalachian Trail. This time it’s about why hike a flip-flop of the AT. 

There are at least three ways to thru-hike the AT. Northbound (NOBO) from Georgia to Maine. Southbound (SOBO) from Maine to Georgia. Or, doing a flip-flop. Which basically means start in one place along the trail. Hike to Maine or Georgia. Return to your starting place. Then hike to the opposite end. NOBOs make up the vast majority of thru-hikers on the AT, typically between 80-90%. SOBOs and flip-flopers make up the rest. Due to the sheer volume of NOBOs, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the organization that manages the trail, encourages hikers to consider options other than NOBO. The goal is to try to spread out the volume and lessen the impact on the trail. 

The one flaw in a flip-flop, at least that I can see so far, is that the ATC gives out hang tags each year to thru-hikers. The tags hang on your backpack and are a fun way to identify thru-hikers. But, they only give these out at three locations – Springer Mountain, Mt Kathadan, and the ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry. And, I will be getting to none of these places until 700 miles (Mt. Kathadan), 1100 miles (Harpers Ferry) or 2200 miles (Springer Mountain)! Flaw fixed, as shown in the photo at the top, we traveled to Harpers Ferry in April to obtain said tag!


So, why will I be attempting a flip flop thru hike? Two reasons actually. The first and largest reason is timing. I am retiring from my job in mid-June at the end of the school year. The last day of school is a Friday and I plan on starting the following Monday. Starting in mid-June will not work for a NOBO trek. You need to get to Mt Kathadan, the northern terminus in Maine, before mid-October when Baxter State Park closes for the season. There is not enough time to get to Maine starting from Springer Mountain, the southern terminus, in June. 

It’s a bad picture, and the only one I have, but this is Laura and me at Amicalola Falls, the home of the approach trail to Springer Mountain, in 2013. We hiked the 8.5 miles to the start of the AT that day in clouds, then downpours and lightning, and then a snowstorm on the way back. Fortunately, we were sleeping in our heated camper van that night in the parking lot! 


I considered a SOBO trek – which my timing would be perfect for. SOBOs typically start mid-June when Mt. Kathadan is usually snow-free and passable. However, there is a real challenge in doing a SOBO trip. By most accounts, the hardest terrain on the AT is Maine and New Hampshire. And, due to snowmelt, the rivers in Maine and New Hampshire are very high in June making for potentially perilous river crossings. While I like to think of myself as up to pretty much any challenge – this sounds like taking on a really tough challenge right at the start of a really, really big challenge in the AT. 

Hoping to avoid being this exhausted on the trail by doing a flip-flip – picture from somewhere on the Long Trail in Vermont in 2000. 


Which brings me to doing a flip flop. My plan is to start at the New York-Connecticut state line. I will then head to Maine. I  expect to get to Mt. Kathadan by mid to late August. I will then return to the New York-Connecticut line (thank you in advance for the ride Laura!) and hike south to Georgia, expecting to complete the trail in mid to late November. That’s my plan! Wish me luck, particularly since my trail name is Lucky. 

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