Three weeks from today, I expect to camp at the Hawk Mountain Shelter at mile 7.8 on the Appalachian Trail, day 1 of my AT through-hike. To get to that point, I’ve been steadily checking off tasks on my spreadsheet. See my Appalachian Trail Gear List.
The AT is reputed to be more challenging than other long-distance trails, such as the Pacific Crest and the Continental Divide trails. According to the White Blaze web site, the total elevation gain for the 2,190-mile long AT is 490,694 feet. This compares to a total elevation gain of 489,418 feet for the 2,660-mile long Pacific Crest Trail and a total elevation gain of about 400,000 feet for the 3,100-mile long Continental Divide Trail. While the elevation gains on the AT and PCT are equal, the average grade of the AT is about 20% greater. Furthermore, rain falls frequently on the AT, resulting in feet being wet frequently, with increased risk of blisters and other foot problems.
Given the challenge of an often-steep trail, I’ve been highly motivated to hit the gym every other day with strength, flexibility, and balance exercises. On the off days, I walk about four miles at a brisk clip. For the past month, I’ve walked with a pack weighing 26 pounds, 2 pounds less than the maximum weight I expect to carry on the AT.
I’ve almost completed packing food boxes for the first 634 miles of the trip. The 2016 Northbound AT Guide indicates few supermarkets with a wide selection of healthy foods that for the first part of the AT. Given my lack of interest in subsisting on Poptarts and white bread, I’ve opted to mail food boxes. Beyond mile 634, the abundance of supermarkets increases. Thus, I’ll buy food in those supermarkets. From time to time, I may buy food in a supermarket and mail it to myself to towns farther up the trail, but which lack a decent-sized grocery store.
I pondered what to do about maps of the trail. Apparently, maps aren’t necessary to follow the trail, but I like to know where I am relative to the wider world. I purchased a set of 12 National Geographic maps of the trail. They’re not a great solution, but the set if considerably cheaper than the maps from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I opted not to buy Guthook’s maps, which I hear are great, but not necessary I heard, given my National Geographic maps.
I’ve completed my gear list and have all of the items in hand. Pack weight refers to the weight of my pack, less expendables (food, water, fuel) but counting their containers. I estimate my pack weight at 13 pounds. At the start of the trip, my pack will weigh about 18 pounds with 1 liter (2 pounds) of water, 8 ounces of alcohol (for my stove), and 2.5 day’s (5 pounds) worth of food. When the weather warms, I’ll swap out my pack, sleeping bag, and tent for lighter versions, reducing my pack weight by 3 pounds
Water appears to be generally plentiful along the trail. Unless it’s flowing directly from an apparently uncontaminated spring, I’ll treat my water with Aquamira drops. I recommend them highly.