The Appalachian Trail was created as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act of 1968. It began as the vision of forester Benton MacKaye, developed by volunteers and opened as a trail in 1937.
Today, 99 percent of the trail is protected by state or federal ownership or by rights-of-way. Each year, more than 5,000 volunteers contribute with maintaining the trail, with more than 240,000 working hours.
Reaching more than 2,190 miles across 14 states, the Appalachian Trail is considered to be the best long-distance hiking trail in the world.
The trail is used by short-term hikers, section hikers, and thru-hikers. Every year, more than 3 million people hike at least one part of the trail. But, only a few of them decide to walk the entire length.
The “thru-hikers” are the ones who learn a lot during their journey. They will tell you that there isn’t a way to adequately prepare for the challenge other than just doing it. Still, here are few fun facts that can prepare you for the journey ahead.
Hike it without a tent
Along the length of the trail, there are more than 250 shelters “roughly a day’s hike apart.” The best thing about them is that they are built near a source of fresh water. But, the garage-size shelters are not free. To save around 5 pounds from your backpack, leave your tent at home, and sleep in these shelters. Having lighter equipment is very beneficial since a “day’s hike” can be up to 30 miles.
You won’t see many animals
On the trail, you won’t see nearly as many animals as you’d expected. It’s because most of them can hear, smell or see you, and they will keep out of the way. That’s great news in the case of bears, raccoons, wild pigs, and snakes. Besides them, you might be able to see hundreds of birds, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, wild turkeys, spiders, and many others.
Follow this link to find out what to do if you encounter a wild animal.
You might see lots of mice
The No. 1 rule of the Appalachian Trail is: Leave no trace. Because of the irritating hikers who don’t obey this rule, critters congregate at shelters to feast on scraps that are left or discarded.
Sometimes it’s even unsafe to stow your food in your backpack during sleeping time. Mice have been known to gnaw through bags to get to the food inside. It’s a good idea to hang your food from branch where possible. Many shelters have “bear boxes,” in which you can lock and keep your food safe.
Since the Appalachian Trail follows the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, for the most part, the trails are strewn with rocks. The interesting thing is that there are more rocks on the trail than off it. Many hikers would tell you that if you lose the trail, look for rocks. You will encounter many variations of rocks. From rocks you must climb over, irregular rocks, rocks covered with mud, to rocks that stick out from the ground that you might trip over.
The best therapy
Hiking for one day is a better therapy than a year of visits to the psychiatrist. After one hour of hiking, you’ll get to the point of quiet alone time in the woods, only with your thoughts. On top of that, you’re surrounded by relaxing sounds and breathtaking views. It’s also a great substitute for a day in the gym. Hiking and carrying a 30 pounds on your back can burn around 450 calories an hour.
“Trail magic” comes from” trail angels”
Trail magic means an unexpected act of generosity and kindness. It might be simple as a short-term hiker giving a thru-hiker a candy bar, or grand as volunteers passing out hot dogs. When you spend months on the trails, the little things are the ones you miss the most. In those times you start to appreciate the small experiences like drinking coffee from a mug, dry clothes after a storm or sitting in a chair.
Downhill is worse than uphill
It’s very hard to hike uphill carrying 30 pounds on your back, especially if you climb large rocks. You sweat a lot of salt and potassium, and you might get hyponatremia, a condition in which you have difficulties using your muscles.
Make sure you have a rest, some salty snacks, and water, and you’ll be ready to go.
But, when you hike downhill, your knees take more impact. After a while, each step becomes painful. To ease some of the discomfort you can use trekking poles and try walking slower.
The length is changing constantly
Due to many upgrades and repairs, the length of the Appalachian Trail is regularly changing. For example, in 2004, the Trail was 2,173.9 miles long, in 2010 it was 2,179.1 miles, and in 2015 it was 2,189.2 miles long. The Appalachian Trail is crossing 14 states, and five national parks and the route is marked by white blazes on trees, rocks, and posts.
Around 12,000 people have hiked the full length
Since its completion in 1937, as estimated 12,000 people have hiked the whole trail. According to statistics, it usually takes five to seven months, but you can hike it over a longer or shorter period. These numbers are concluded from sign-in sheets at the end of the trail, or at the unofficial midway point in West Virginia. But, you don’t have to sign in or out on the sheets.
Volunteers maintain the trail
In 2016 around 6,200 volunteers, led by members of 31 Appalachian Trail maintaining clubs, worked for 210,000 hours on the trails. They repaired the trails, maintained shelters, painted blazes, and collected garbage. The volunteers are led by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which has 44 year-round paid workers and 12 to 15 seasonal workers.
There’s no doubt, hiking the Appalachian Trail is a hard and time-consuming activity. Hopefully, the facts above will help you to prepare for the incredible journey. So, pack your bag, get physically and mentally ready, and hit the trails.
Follow this link to find out how to hike the Appalachian Trail in only five months.
If you want to learn more about how to prevent an encounter with a snake, click on the following link.
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