I have come to find that much of the Midwestern population is unfamiliar with the Appalachian Trail, so I’m going to share a few quick details about the trail to give a better understanding.
The Appalachian Trail (or AT) is a hiking trail spanning 2,190.9 miles (as of 2018) from Georgia to Maine. It begins on top of Springer Mountain winding its way up and down the backbone of the mountain range through 14 states and ending atop Mt. Katahdin.
The trail is managed by a group called the Appalachian Trail Concurrency but is overwhelmingly maintained by volunteers. The AT is the longest “hiking only” footpath in the world as well as the largest and longest-running volunteer project in the world.
The 14 states it hits are:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
- New York
- New Hampshire
Flat sections of the trail are more or less non-existent and are often referred to as a “roller coaster.” There is so much elevation gain and loss over the course of the trail that it is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest (29,035 ft) 16 times.
Each year, approximately 2,500 hikers attempt a thru-hike, but roughly only 20 percent actually finish. Finishers include the new record holder Dale “Greybeard” Sanders, who was 82 in 2017 when he finished his hike as well as 5-year-old “Buddy Backpacker” as one of the youngest. Since it was completed in 1937, only 18,366 people have completed a thru-hike.
Generally, the pilgrimage takes an average of 6 months and about 5 million footsteps. The current speed record was broken in 2017 and is now held by Joe McConaughy at 45 days 12 hours and 15 minutes.
Nearly everyone that thru-hikes uses a trail name–an adapted persona that follows them from Springer to Katahdin and often beyond. Often, they are chosen out of a personality trait or mishap.
Over half of the population in the United States is within driving distance to the trail, and it shares its beauty with over 3 million visitors each year.