Starting An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike On New Year's Day
Passing The First White Blaze On January 1st
Choosing the day to begin a thru-hike of more than 2,100 miles over an average of six months' time is a big decision for many who set out with that goal.
Each year, about 1,500 to two thousand people attempt to do just that: a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. The majority begin at the southern terminus on Springer Mountain, Georgia, between mid-March and mid-April. Beginning at that time of year, though still often cold in the mountains, is commonly referred to as "walking with spring."
But, each year, it seems that a small number of hearty souls choose to take that first step on the A.T. on New Year's day.
Below, you'll find links to trail journals by hikers who began their thru-hike attempts on New Year's Day and/or hiked the Appalachian Trail during the winter. Know of one I've missed? Let me know where to find it in the guestbook below.
Walking with Winter on the Appalachian Trail
A special time of year on the A.T.
In January, the Appalachian Trail is largely deserted. The lean-tos along the way often are uninhabited as well. Daylight is in short supply and the temperature frequently below freezing, especially at night and in the early morning hours. Some of the trail town amenities and resupply options that later hikers will make use of are yet closed for the season.
Winter in the Appalachian mountains is also a beautiful and unique time of solitude that relatively few people experience in such an up close and personal way as do thru-hikers starting their journeys at the beginning of the year.
What Do You Think About Winter Backpacking?
Is it for you too?
They Started on 1/1
Rocky & Swamp Fox started their Appalachian Trail thru-hike on January 1st, 2009.
You can read their journal on Trailjournals.com.
Hiking The Triple Crown Beginning New Year's Day
The Appalachian Trail -- Continental Divide Trail -- Pacific Crest Trail
On December 31st, 2000, Flyin' Brian Robinson hiked the approach trail from Georgia's Amicalola State Park to the summit of Springer Mountain, where the southernmost white blaze of the Appalachian Trail is located. He spent the night there, to his surprise, in the company of four other hikers, three of whom he knew from an online Appalachian Trail discussion group.
The following morning, on New Year's Day, Brian officially began his quest to hike America's Triple Crown of National Scenic Trails -- the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail -- in one calendar year. On October 27th, 2001, he successfully completed his 7,371-mile journey, becoming the first person to accomplish this goal.
Another January 1st Start
Bluevist hiked to the summit of Springer Mountain on New Year's eve and began her A.T. hike the next morning. Read her journal here.
Beginning at the Very Beginning of the Year
Stumpknocker started at midnight on January 1, 2008.
No Matter When You Hike The Appalachian Trail.... The Thru-Hiker's Companion Is A Guidebook To Have
This guidebook is a collaborative effort between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association. It's designed for potential thru-hikers who want the basic information on towns, shelters and water for a five- to six-month journey. This book is a great "companion" to the Data Book (below).
Pros And Cons Of Hiking With Winter On The Appalachian Trail
On the plus side for many hikers:
- No crowding at trail shelters and campsites
- More far-reaching views without leaves on the trees
- The sheer beauty of winter in the mountains
- No thunderstorms (meaning, no lightning)
- No bugs (ie. mosquitoes, black flies)
- No poisonous snakes
Some possible negatives:
- Fewer daylight hours
- Cold to frigid temps
- Snow and ice, meaning potentially hazardous hiking conditions
- Slower hiking
- Possibly frozen water sources
- Some services near the trail will be closed (some stores, hostels, etc.)
Santa's Helper also began an A.T. thru-hike on January 1, 2007.
Appalachian Trail Information At A Glance - The Data Book
I used this book many times each day, pulling it out of my hip pouch to check the distance to the next water source, lean-to, road crossing or other significant feature. It helped me plan how much food to buy for the next stretch and figure out where to camp each night.
I used this Data Book so much, in fact, it fell apart at the seams well before the end of my hike. That's okay, though, I kept the loose pages in a zip-loc baggie with the page or two of the day at the front for easy reference.
She Also Went for It on 1/1
Hikernutt began her thru-hike attempt on New Year's Day, 2007. See how it went here.
Forum Discussions About Winter On The Appalachian Trail
- From WhiteBlaze.net
A perspective thru-hiker asks, "Is there anything terribly wrong by leaving in January? I realize that I will end up experiencing the winter more so than if I leave in March. However, most of my camping and hiking experience has been in the winter. A
- Another discussion on WhiteBlaze.net
A hiker from Florida asks about starting his thru-hike in January.
The Ranger Said....
On December 31, 2005, a Ranger at Amicalola State Park told Hydro Heidi that New Year's isn't exactly the smartest time of year to begin a thru-hike. Find out if she listened to that advice on TrailJournals.
More About Winter On The Appalachian Trail
- Winter Night Hiking On The Appalachian Trail
Sometimes trying to make 18 miles before a snowstorm means you have to hike at night.
- Appalachian Trail Hikers Enthusiastic About Wintertime
''Everything changes in the winter. It's totally different than hiking at any other time of year."
An Even Longer Thru-Hike That Started on January 1
Another great adventure that began on a New Year's Day was Nimblewill Nomad's Odyssey 1998, beginning at the southern end of the Florida Trail, continuing along the Appalachian Trail to Maine and then the International Appalachian Trail to it's northern terminus in Canada.
Hiking With Winter
While their southbound A.T. adventure didn't begin on New Year's Day, Alaskan Pam Flowers and her dog Ellie hiked the trail through the winter. Read updates from Pam & Ellie on the Appalachian Trail.
Information On Winter Hiking And Camping
- Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping
A comprehensive article from Princeton's Outdoor Action, covering everything from trip planning and equipment to food, winter water and shelters, Leave No Trace winter camping and winter hazards, snowshoeing and avalanche basics, and more.
- Winter Camping Tips
An article from The Lightweight Backpacker at backpacker.net
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury