Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine to Georgia
The Appalachian Trail

October 30, 2000

I've enjoyed meeting other southbounders this past week. Although the conversations between thru-hikers generally center around gear and food, I've increasingly found myself in conversations on the benefits of thru-hiking the AT southbound.

We southbounders are going backwards. Most AT thru-hikers start at Springer Mountain in Georgia and hike north to Katahdin. This is the traditional direction to hike; in fact, until recently, very few people hiked north to south. Even now, the number of southbound thru-hikers is drastically lower than the number of northbounders.

There are many good reasons to hike the AT northbound. Starting in early spring, the northbound thru-hiker walks with the seasons. From the cold and ice of March in the north Georgia mountains to the wildflowers of early spring, they experience the wonder and beauty of the southern Appalachians as they spring to life. Northbounders walk through the summer months as well, and their grand finish at Mount Katahdin occurs in early to mid-fall.

Still, I'm glad I'm going south. Although I had my share of bad weather early on, I've experienced very little cold or rain since the middle of Vermont. The weather in Virginia has been amazing—cool, clear, and dry. I've loved walking through fall; ever since Pennsylvania, I've watched my favorite of the seasons progress. Also, since the autumn and winter skies are clearer and the leaves are falling, we southbounders get excellent views that that northbounders never see.

I also like how quiet the trail has been. Because half our hike occurs after summer is over, we seem to have the trail to ourselves. Fewer large groups are on the trail. In the summer in New England, it seemed that everyone and their uncle were on the trail. In the evenings, the shelters were often crowded with a mix of thru-hikers, camp groups, scouting groups, and weekenders—all of us probably hoping to get away from civilization for awhile in the woods. Even though I usually enjoy meeting other groups on the trail (and partaking of the free food they offer!), I must admit that it's been nice to have shelters and campsites to myself this week.

Another benefit of southbounding, and one that goes with the milder weather, is fewer bugs. The bugs were bad for us in the Maine's Hundred-Mile Wilderness, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The bugs we encountered were primarily blackflies (in Maine) and mosquitoes. Few southbounders have reported finding deer ticks (the Lyme disease tick) on themselves. The northbounders I spoke with had found numerous deer ticks, and several actually contracted Lyme disease. Needless to say, I was happy to have missed most of tick season.

Of course, the best thing about hiking southbound is this: It's November, and all my northbound friends are now at home, wishing they were still on the trail. And I'm still out here! :)

Even though my thru-hike, being southbound, is not a "typical" AT thru-hike, I still get to experience so much of the trail's beauty. I know the good weather is bound to pass eventually, but I'm looking forward to witnessing (and writing about) the changes of the trail as autumn turns to winter. It should be quite a show!

Check out Nina's gear list and pack weight.
See the trail dispatch archive for previous weeks.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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