It's one thing to put one foot in front of the other, day after day, month after month, for more than 2,000 miles. It's a challenge of another sort to plan that kind of journey.
Yet, every year, about 3,000 hikers make just such a plan as they set out to walk the entire Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.), from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine.
Puzzling through the logistics can sap your calculator batteries and wear down the lead in your pencil just as surely as miles and miles of rocky terrain will abrade your boot soles. However, planning ahead is one of the keys to a successful hike of the iconic trail.
A new online guide to hiking the A.T. aims to simplify at least a few of those logistical hurdles. It was launched this past week by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), and can be found at outdoors.org/appalachiantrail.
The new guide provides information on trail features and hike-planning that's useful for day-hikers enjoying the A.T., as well as for end-to-enders.
The trail's length varies from time to time, given occasional relocations of some segments. It's currently a 2,186-mile route, and it passes through New Hampshire's White Mountains along the way. Hikers remark on the ruggedness of the terrain and the beauty of the scenery surrounding the trail in the Granite State.
Whether hiking the trail from south to north or the other way around, end-to-end hikers often find conditions in the White Mountains and Mahoosuc region different from those found on other sections of the trail, in terms of the number of hikers, locations and variety of backcountry accommodations, as well as the challenges of rough terrain and often unforgiving weather.
"Our objectives with the new online guide include improving our ability to respond to through-hikers' needs as they plan their hike, as well as during their time on the trail; raising awareness of how we meet the variety of challenges we face in maintaining the Appalachian Trail, and how we use campsite fees to provide needed trail stewardship; and inviting hikers to help conserve trail resources along with us as they enjoy a life-changing trip along the Appalachian Trail," said AMC Backcountry Resource Conservation Manager Sally Manikian in a news release announcing the launch of the online guide.
Noted Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) New England Regional Director and through-hiker Hawk Metheny: "The A.T. in the Whites and Mahoosucs is a study in trail superlatives: steepest, oldest, most remote, grandest views, most popular and AMC has done a great job detailing the logistical uniqueness of this section. The club has provided a beneficial planning guide for A.T. through-hikers, and it will also be useful when planning a section hike through this spectacular section."
"This region sees much heavier use than other sections of the A.T., due to its popularity with day-hikers and backpackers, as well as through-hikers," added Manikian. She said hikers may notice a higher concentration of resource protection efforts in the region than may be found along other stretches of the trail, given heavy use, steep terrain and severe weather, all of which contribute to trail erosion.
The online planning guide points out the importance of continued trail stewardship to help control erosion and manage hiker use. Staff and volunteers from AMC and many other trail-maintaining organizations contribute such stewardship.
The new web-based guide also lists services available to through-hikers, such as mail drops, a through-hiker register maintained at AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in the White Mountain National Forest, and local amenities. Links to local chambers of commerce are also included.
AMC maintains eight huts and 13 backcountry campsites along the A.T. in the region. Information on those backcountry accommodations is also included, as are details on a work-for-stay program AMC offers to A.T. through-hikers on a limited, first-come, first-served basis.
AMC is a member of ATC, which oversees management and protection of the A.T. AMC volunteers and staff maintain 1,800 miles of trail in the Northeast, including more than 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Rob Burbank is director of media and public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch. His column appears monthly in the New Hampshire Sunday News.