This time of year, we get a lot of section hikers passing through the shop. It’s the time of year when people either already have time off work or can more easily obtain time off of work. It is also one of the more forgiving times of year to be out in the mountains. For so many great reasons, summer time is peak section hiking season! Here are a few things to keep in mind for your section hike, whether on the AT or any trail!
Unexpected hiccups in your planning can sometimes lead to shattered expectations when backpacking, such as poor weather that the forecast didn’t quite pick up on or an injury. But still, a certain amount of it is needed to get you out there and on trail! Some folks get by with beginning and ending at major drop off and pick up points along the trail using information that can easily be found online. But if you are embarking on an extended section hike or if you are a serial section hiker and have a dream of piecing together a full AT hike, having access to all the ins and outs of the trail will be very beneficial! Purchase a guide book used by thru hikers to gain a continuous scope of the entire trail and to find potential jump off points that may otherwise be forgotten about. If your section hike is taking you past several trail towns, you will have all the information needed for a night of rest and resupply in the nearby town. You will also gain the benefit of all the information printed inside the guide book telling of local services that any and every hike may potentially find need for. Though a book like AWOL’s AT Guide is mostly carried by thru hikers, it works wonders for section hikers as well! Consider picking one up to help plan your next hike!
Nearly a third of all the phone calls we answer at Mountain Crossings is a hiker searching for shuttle driver numbers. Some folks are planning a hike and are looking to schedule a ride and others are currently standing at a road crossing on the trail, hoping a driver is currently available to come pick them up. No Matter which is your preferred method, it can be nice to already have a list of shuttle driver numbers ready and waiting. Many guide books, like the one mentioned above, will have a few shuttle drivers listed in their information sections about certain towns. You can also call up a local outfitter and receive even more phone numbers of local people looking to give rides to hikers.
When planning a shuttle for a section hike, many people will drive their own car to the destination that they plan to stop at and have a shuttle driver take them to their beginning point. This method of walking to your car allows you more freedom in your planning. If you try to get a ride from a shuttle driver at the end of your hike, you may have to wait several hours, if not more, for a shuttle driver to be available if you call them at the time you need a ride. If you plan to meet them at a certain time and date, many things can potentially go wrong and it at very least sets you on a firm time schedule you have to abide by. We always suggest giving yourself all the time in the world you may want so you can enjoy your hike and also making sure that you never leave a shuttle driver high and dry after planning a ride!
Pro Tip: Always carry a bit of extra cash for shuttle rides and unexpected cash only instances!
Anytime you are going on a backpacking trip, it is good to have an exist strategy if needed. One of the things that keeps pulling us all outside is the unexpected nature of backpacking! If a problem arises, such as something back home, an unexpected injury or horrendously poor weather, having the phone numbers of several local shuttle drivers is a great way to make sure you are able to contact the correct person for a ride. Carrying a guide book with all the data points about road crossings, parking areas and side trails will also be crucial to helping you revise your plan if needed. Before setting out on trail, familiarize yourself with a few potential ways you can switch up your hike if you have to. Already having this bit of information in your mind will do wonders for helping you roll with the punches and not spoil your trip!
One of the greatest things about section hiking is your ability to pick times of year or blocks of time with good weather. Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with our plans. Be sure you have done your research into local temperatures and weather in the area you are about to go hike in. Always keep in mind that mountain ranges create a lot of their own weather. If you are coming from Florida to hike in the Smoky Mountains in May, snow may seem like the last thing possible, when it is quite likely that those mountains may see snow into June even! Look for the weather in local towns and make sure to subtract roughly 5 degrees for every 1000ft of elevation you gain from town. You can also use websites such as Mountain Weather Forecast to help you get an accurate idea of the temps and weather on particular mountain tops. Regardless of what the weather man is telling you, always come prepared for wetter, colder, dryer, and hotter weather than you are expecting. A thin, extra layer in summertime can be a life saver on a tall mountain peak and a collapsable extra water bottle may save you in a particularly dry stretch.
We often times see section hikers come in very bummed out when their hike is not going as planned. And we totally get it! When you have a week off and all you want to do is hike and all the weather wants to do is dump rain on you, it sucks! Or maybe you’ve built up a bit of an injury and know its not smart to keep trekking on. It’s so much nicer to be able to enjoy good weather on your week (or more!) out into the woods and to be able to cruise through it without problems. But we always tell them, “You getting the true hiking experience now!” It is a sometimes futile attempt to help them feel better, but it is fun as a section hiker to have to make those tough calls like thru hikers have to time after time while on their thru hike. Do I muscle through the bad weather (rain, snow, storms, whatever it may be) or do I throw in the towel for a few days until it passes? Do I take a rest day or two to help my ankle (or knee, or blisters) heal? Sometimes for a section hiker this means giving up crucial hiking days hanging out in town or at a hostel when you only have a small window of time to hike, and that is a hard choice. But don’t let it ruin your trip. It is all part of being in the hiking community! We have all had to make those hard choices to stay put for comfort or push on and suffer through it. That is what makes backpackers so interesting! If you are section hiking and get rained out for days on end, or have to take unexpected days off to rest, take heart! You’ve been inducted into the backpacking family!
Lastly, having a general idea about the water report in your area is key. If the area you are planning to go hiking in has had lots of rain recently, you are most likely going to find that the springs and water resources along the trail are running well. If it has been dry, there is a potential that finding water may be a problem. Local outfitters, as well as several websites, can give you an update on water. In our area, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club has a list of all the GA water resources and their volunteers work to keep the list updated as much as possible. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy also has an ongoing list on Trail Updates that will inform you of any trail closings and major goings on along the AT. Be sure to always have the capacity to carry several liters of water if needed and drink up while at the water resource if you are hiking in a dry portion of trail!