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As the Appalachian Trail meanders through my home state and was my first long trail, it has a very special place in my heart.   I’m sure I would be going to far to call it my favorite.   Whether because it was the first long trail I hiked or because it is so close, it feels like home to me. 

My experience has been that, on a daily basis, the Appalachian Trail is more strenuous than the other two.   Though it really isn’t fair to compare the three because they all have their own unique challenges and high points.   And while we are on experience; I thru-hiked the AT in 2003, which is often referenced in AT circles as the wet year. We hiked in rain on at least 2/3rds of the first 90 days.   I remember pouring water from my shoes at days end on many occasions when taking off wet clothes for the night only to put them back on the next morning and head out into the rain.   During my 2008 thru-hike, it appeared that we would get an average rain year until reaching New Hampshire. From there, rain became our intimate companion until some point in Maine’s 100 mile wilderness (about 25 days of steady rain).

Some Basic Facts

The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length. The Trail goes through fourteen states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the Trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine.

Fellow hiker Recurve in the White Mountains (2008)

Completed in 1937 and known as the “A.T.,” it has been estimated that 2-3 million people visit the Trail every year and about 1,800–2,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the Trail. Of those that set out to complete the trail in a single year, approximately 25 to 30% accomplish their goal. Most thru-hikers travel north from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Kathadin, Maine in 5 or 6 months.

In 1948, Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, completed the first documented thru-hike. He was later the first to thru-hike the trail north to south, and even completed the trail a third time when he was 79 years old.

Earl Shaffer
Grandma Gatewood

Emma Gatewood, better known as “Grandma Gatewood,” mother of 11 children and grandmother of 23, was 67 when she first hiked the Trail in 1955.   In 1957, she completed her second thru-hike at age 69, holding the unofficial title of oldest female thru-hiker for the next 50 years.   In 1964, she became the first person to complete the A.T. three times when she finished a section-hike. She was famous for wearing only “Keds” tennis shoes and carrying a small knapsack.   She has long been my favorite AT “celebrity” and even more so after I finished a recently published book called “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk”.   I think my favorite of her many sayings is, referring to thru-hiking, “It takes more head than heal.” I heartily agree!

In the course of its journey, the trail follows the ridge line of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks, and running, with only a few exceptions, almost continuously through wilderness. The trail used to traverse many hundreds of miles of private property; currently 99% of the trail is on public land.

Trail towns, towns where hikers normally resupply for the next stretch, are relatively close to the trail, or in some cases, right on the trail. On average, I carried from 3 to 5 days of food between resupply points.

Mountaineer Falls Shelter
Damascus Virginia in 2008

There are more than 250 three sided shelters along the length of the trail.   Personally, I prefer my own tent to such shelters; even when it rains.

Throughout its length, the AT is marked by 2-by-6-inch white paint blazes.

Though there seems to be some disagreement, a round figure from puts the total elevation gain at approximately 515,000 ft.   That’s equivalent to climbing Mount Everest over 17 times.

The highest point on the trail, at 6643ft, is along the Tennessee/North Carolina border just below the summit of Clingman’s Dome.

Condensed from, wikipedia, and my memory.
These are great resources for more information.   Not my memory; that can be a scary place.     Sojo, Conan, and Recurve, please stop laughing …