Appalachian Trail - Part 1

 

My first thoughts in a long time about the Appalachian trail.

If you don't know what the Appalachian trail is let me try to help. According to Wikipedia its an American national scenic trail. Along the Eastern  side of the states that extends from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It notes the length as about 2,200 miles. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy website states it is 2,160 mile long trail and a 2,190 mile long trail... I have `also read it as about 2175 odd miles in other sources. Either way you look at it, it's long. Very Long. It crosses 14 states and has a gain/loss elevation profile of about 464,500 Feet. I have also read this elsewhere as 515,000 Feet (157,000 Metres) or about 100 Miles straight up then down over the course of the entire hike. To give you an idea about how much elevation that is like, to climb up Mt Everest from the trekking approach is 20,540 Feet (6260m) ! 

Now this isn't the only long distance hike in the states. but it does (probably) have the most elevation gain over its length. The others are slightly longer. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2650 Miles long and has 488,000feet of elevation and the Continental Divide Trail is longer yet at 3100miles long but only 400,000 feet of total elevation. Although the states highest mountains lie in the west, the rolling hills of the east are relentless and get the heart and legs pumping more per step. This isn't even taking into account the conditions people face across those three trails. The Appalachian Trail takes about 4/6 months on average to complete. Generally starting in the south early spring and hiking until autumn hits New Hampshire and Maine. Its a bloody long tiresome walk and the success rate is pretty low on average. 

 

Today is 3rd March 2015.

I'm sat in a bus shelter in the Swiss alps. Not sounding too shabby so far. I'm waiting for the 11:12 bus from montana village to the town of crans montana where I have had a season to myself. Practicing for my riding portion of my Level 3 CASI Exam.

Ironically, I'm taking the bus to make my way up the mountain (and have been for the majority of my season here). The walk up the mountain from door to lift is about an hour, and then the same down again. In my day pack, which I have filled with a few sandwiches for the day, my hiking books to walk down in, some odd and ends I'll need on the hill, like a camera and tool to adjust things and then a snowboard too. A two hour walk up and down a mountain doesn't sound like much to anyone who's hiked seriously but after trying everyday for the beginning of the season I was happy to slide into a lazybones attitude that allowed me to work harder on the mountain.

The last few days I've been off from the mountain and been religiously watching Will Woods YouTube Series about him hiking the Appalachian Trail and my thoughts through these last few days have moved back when I first read Bill Brysons, "A Walk In The Woods". A book I must have read when I was nothing but a child of maybe between 10/15 years old. If you haven't read it you should. To me Bill Bryson is an iconic man who owned the majority of space on my bookshelf. His travels are written with wit and laugh out loud humour as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge. But I digress, having read the book I was hooked on the idea. I've never really hiked before and at the time of reading was only outdoors as much as you would expect someone In their early teens. I skateboarded and biked and hung outside. Being forced to go hiking wasn't my idea of fun unless I chose to myself. Since going snowboarding during my A levels (actually I studied the International Baccalaureate but who knows what that is anyway?!) I learned to appreciate the outdoors way more. I've spent the last 10 years to this point trying to become more of a permanent feature among the trees, rolling hills of grass and the peaks and ridges of the mountains. The treetops and ridgelines if you will.

Every winter since I have managed at least a week in the mountains every winter and a few seasons training to be an instructor and then instructing.

In the summers times I haven't really managed to get to them as much at all. My closest being when I went from Park City, Utah to Glacier National Park, Montana in a road trip. Along the way doing mountain biking, hiking and road biking along going to the sun road.

 

I check the change in my pocket to make sure it's the right amount before the bus pulls up and load my board on the rack and step on for the ride up. 

These next few weeks and months and years I will spend looking into weight and kit available for hikers these days. My urge to buy equipment already is strong even though there is little daily use for it at the moment and things could change before I go! There is a reason to look at weight and materials very closely for a hike like this. Because every single gram counts. Imagine having to carry everything you need for 6 months of walking and being self sufficient on your own back, every single mile. Yup. I will count the grams to save my back. 

Tents by zpacks looks like a lightweight option and this cuban fibre stuff seems to be the way forward. Who knows how outdated this could be when I come to doing the trip, at the moment the best down jackets I can find are from mountain hardware and the walking boots I have currently from Solomon that are a hiking boot made from a trail runner are looking the way forward. 

One major consideration of this is because of the length of the trail, as a non-american citizen it is nigh on impossible to just waltz into the country to hike for 6 months. If you are lucky enough to be part of the visa waiver countries the states allows the. you are allowed 3 months at a time in the country. That means having to hike the trail in 3 months. Its unlikely to do that without sacrificing a few things. like rest days, being a tourist and stopping to smell the roses, bear poo and other such things. To put that into perspective, one of the top ultra runners in the world ran the 2,189 mile journey (yet another measurement) in 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes. An unbelievable achievement in itself. Even more so when you realise thats the fastest it has ever been done.  Sparkies notes on the other visa option is more exciting. The B1/B2 visa, where you can have up to 6 months a year for 10 years! Perfect... Now to try find out how to get one.