Unconventional and Unconcerned: Why I’m Choosing to Flip Flop the AT

When I tell people I am attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, the first follow-up question is usually, “Georgia to Maine?” I answer, “Well, not exactly…” I am going to be taking the most popular flip-flop route, starting in Harpers Ferry, WV, and heading to Maine- then getting a ride back to Harpers Ferry and continuing south to Georgia. There are plenty of lists weighing the general pros and cons of flip-flopping, so I figured I’d contribute my personal reasons for deciding on an alternative approach.

First, the pros:

1. Social Balance

While I do love talking to fellow backpackers and hikers, I am a bit of a lone wolf by nature. I just don’t think  that the crowds that NOBO-ers experience right out of the gate are what I’m looking for. From my experience backpacking on the AT in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states during peak thru hiking season, I have an idea of what to expect. This level of trail traffic will allow me a better mix of social time and solitude.

2. Fewer cold nights on the front end

As a hunter and frequent winter backpacker, I’m used to freezing my tail off in the woods. I’m very familiar with deep bone-chills, freezing fingertips, and long winter nights. Familiarity leaves me aware of the impact repeated days and nights in the cold can have on health and morale. I’m not an idealist- I know I will encounter plenty of rain and cold on trail. Even so, I’ll be happy to put the seasons in my favor and start a little further into Spring. 

A frigid overnight this past December in the Catskills. West Virginia in April is going to feel (comparatively) toasty!

3.  Swimming!

If there is a good body of water along trail, expect me to be jumping in. There is not much that beats a cold swim in the morning, or a nap after an afternoon dip on trail. Ideally I’ll be in northeast in late summer, perfect swimming season for my favorite part of the east coast. Lonesome Lake? Yes please!

4. Proximity to Home

Since I live in southeast PA (for now!), I’ll be starting my hike on parts of the trail that I have previously travelled. The comparatively easy terrain in Maryland and southern PA will be perfect for getting my trail legs while minimizing risk of overuse injuries. Also- my family lives in the area and are kind enough to drive me to West Virginia, and available to help out if I make any early equipment trade outs. Most importantly, my dog will be nearby in case I need an emergency canine fix!

The aforementioned canine, Buck. I will use any excuse to share a picture of the best boy. I did warn you guys in my intro post!

5. The Trail

The ATC encourages hikers to consider flip flopping to help conserve the trail by spreading us out to reduce impact. The huge influx on northbound hikers is inevitably hard on the trail. I won’t pretend that this was the leading factor in my decision to flip flop, but it is a definite benefit! I can start out feeling good about contributing to conservation of the trail.

The Cons:

1. Anti-Climatic Finish

I don’t mean to get ahead of myself and talk about the finish line before I even get started- but this was a big factor in my decision to flip flop. I spent some time hung up on the idea of a traditional Georgia to Maine route before I let it go. Katahdin is such a dramatic finish, the culmination of so many miles marked by that famous summit. From what I understand, finishing at Springer is a much quieter thing. While I do love the idea of finishing in Maine, I feel that ending in Georgia will allow me to lean heavier into the ‘journey not the destination’ mindset that I plan to embrace. Anyways, who doesn’t want two big finishes?

2. Loneliness

I know that this contradicts my ‘pros’ point, but I am just a living contradiction. NOBO-ers will be blowing past me through West Virginia and Pennsylvania as I get my trail legs, and there simply aren’t as many southbounders. I’m hoping that I find a good ‘mini-bubble’ as I go. If not, I’m well practiced at keeping myself company, and I know there will be plenty of day hikers and LASHers around if I’m spoiling for conversation!

The Conclusion: Ready to be Harpers Ferry Bound

Moments of indecision aside, I’m psyched to be tackling an alternate route. As a scientist, I tend to take an analytical approach, and I think that flip flopping will set me up for the greatest chance of success. There is less than a month until I get on trail, and it simply cannot come soon enough. 

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Comments 6

  • Bruce Hall : Mar 31st

    Consider doing the F/F SOBO first . Still start at HF. If starting now, there will be very little snow in Va and none in the Smokies when you get there. This way you still get the classic Katahdin finish.

  • Clifford Ward "Sparks" : Mar 31st

    I like your flipflop, which I intend to do.
    I am going to start about in Georgia in April, head to Harpers Ferry, Fly up to Main and re-join at Katahdin as it will no longer be winter and then hike “down” to Harpers Ferry.
    This should limit my weather issues, having grown up on the Texas Gulf Coast I am a warm weather person!

    • Laura Statts : Mar 31st

      That sounds like a great way to do it, good luck out there!

  • Randy Chase : Mar 31st

    I am planning a flip-flop for 2024. I struggled a lot with the idea I would be missing out on what is a shared experience, the hike from GA to ME. So much of what I see are based on the assumption that this is what the thru hiker is doing. Mile Markers being one. Starting at the arch on the approach trail. And as mentioned, the finale…the ascent of Mount Katahdin. I pictured myself hold up the poles in one hand standing on that sign. But the positives I think outweigh those.

    The bubble worries me. I am not a big fan of large groups, I am happier around a very number of people. But I mainly worry about the bubble, and think it would be far easier with hostels, shelters, and tent spaces to be away from that bubble.

    But the main thing for me to consider a flip flop, is the timing when ascending Katahdin. First, I am adverse to cold, perhaps more than most. So a later start in Georgia would have me hiking against the calendar to make sure I get to Katahdin before it is snowed in. If I had to take off for a week or so, that could be a probem. Hiking from Harpers Ferry in April puts me ascending Katahdin in the summer (some concern about biting flies and their season?). Then I can hike from HF south and not worry as much about when I finish. Autumn in this area (I live near the south terminus) is beautiful anyway and should I extend into the colder season, it will be easier to manage closer to home as far as upgrading equipment or taking more zeros.

    My thinking is indeed…celebrate Katahdin as one does. It is a half way celebration of sorts and I will still have an epic pic. Then celebrate again at the arch at Amicalola Falls. One positive for me, I can have my family and perhaps more, meet me at the arch, to join in the celebration.

    Let me know if there is a vlog to follow. I would like to keep up on your flip flop. Thanks.

  • Wade Schwartz : Mar 31st

    I did HF to Maine then went to Springer Mountain and back to HF.I used Amtrak for transportation I did have problems with shuttle’s.I did enjoy the solitude it did me good

  • Michael Collins : Apr 13th

    Looking forward to following along with your journey! I hope you get great weather. I’ll be here in WI tackling various segments of the Ice Age Trail.


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