Appalachian Trailway News
Volume 9, May 1948, Number 2

This article was sited in:
A Walk in the Woods
Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson © 1998 Broadway Books, New York, NY.

Call number: F106 .B92 1998 & 917.404
ISBN: 0767902513 & 0767902521 (pbk.)
276 pages.

(page 22)


If you must make an extended trip over the Trail: Don't go alone; don't go in the winter in the northern states; don't start without practice trips of considerable duration: and don't try to “make time”.

The "endless" character of The Appalachian Trail seems to present a challenge to too many persons. All too often they attempt an extended trip without either adequate preparation or adequate knowledge of what such a journey requires. The number of such ill-advised and faultily planned attempts seems to be increasing, rather than decreasing, hence this necessary warning.

In the past year, word has come to Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters of several cases where a tragedy was averted only by the merest accident.

In one case, the trail traveler was alone, unsuitably clothed, lost his way several times, was out all night without shelter or food in the rain and put camp proprieters to trouble looking for him. Despite these warnings of deficiencies, he persisted and finally wandered from a high range into a wilderness 'bowl" and only by a near miracle, after three days without food or shelter, stumbled out on a road where he was found.

Another case received considerable publicity in the Maine newspapers. It seems almost unbelievable A Navy veteran, aged 19, had read much about the Trail, so on his discharge he bought a guidebook and a couple of days later went to Millinocket, strapped an 85-lb. pack on his back and with only seven days supply of food set out for Katahdin in order to start down the Trail. This was in March, which is winter in Maine. He was wearing Navy fatigue clothing, new riding boots, and the snow was about knee-deep. Fortunately for him, his tracks were seen by two game wardens, who followed them for a dozen miles When they found him, some 20 miles in on the Greenville-Millinocket Road, he had discarded his stockings and was sitting completely exhausted in the snow; it was half a hour before he was capable of more than unintelligible mumblings.

Had he not been found at the time he was, he would probably have perished. It was a chance patrol and only the keen discernment of the wardens that something was wrong with the tracks led them to alter their route and follow the adventurer.

Many other somewhat similar cases might be mentioned. They lead one to wonder if there are others, where the hiker was not fortunate enough to strike a road or where his tracks were not seen and followed. It may well be that a solitary hiker may stray from the trail and die in the woods; and the fact that he was missing from the Trail never be known. If in Maine or New Hampshire, where there are sporting camps or huts, and those at such places happened to know of his passing and his non-arrival at the next point a search might be started. This means a great expense and much trouble to all concerned. The personal danger as well as the unrequited services of those who are called upon to render humanitarian service in the way of search impose d totally unwarranted duty.

There are, of course, some solo hikers who are experienced, know the problems and take the necessary precautions.

The Maine Appalachian Trail Club work party in September, 1947, encountered such a solo traveler near Rainbow Lake This traveler was a young man, of very apparent physical sturdiness He bore his (page 23) heavy pack with astonishing ease He had studied the Guidebook and was checking his route continually. He checked in and out at each camp or other point he passed, He radiated confidence and ability to accomplish his project. Of particular interest was his statement that he had specially trained for this excursion, as one does for a college contest, in order to be in perfect physical condition. He had taken into consideration and provided as nearly as possible for all contingencies. The communication of this solo traveler, announcing the successful completion of his venture, strikes an unusual note and one worth repeating:

"I was on the A.T. during the month of September and I met a trail crew near Rainbow Lake with whom I visited a moment and just by way of interest I am writing this note.

"I walked 240 miles of the 266 in Maine and I felt that I had the value that I wanted of the experience then. Can't say that I can remember spending a more profitable few weeks.

"It strikes me that we are capable of being more perfectly adjusted to the more natural environs and I wanted to observe my own reaction. I found the woods very congenial to a contented condition of mind and nature's society very companionable. "Just a word of appreciation of those whose effort helped make the experience possible."

This instance indicates that solo trips with the benefit of such fundamental planning are susceptible of accomplishment, although this admission in no wit diminishes the value of the general warning sounded.

Appreciating the necessity for constantly reiterating the cautions with respect to trail travel and of drilling into the minds of those who might stray from the route their means of self rescue, the 1948 Supplement to Guide To The Appalachian Trail in Maine contains a pertinent warning. It has, however, such a wide application to the entire Trail that it is worth setting forth here:

"In view of the difficulties which may be experienced in traversing areas where lumber operations are in progress, it seems desirable to repeat essential trail monitions. These are primary essentials They should be the basis of conduct in woods travel. In case of doubt as to the route, stop. Do not go forward. Retrace your route deliberately, carefully and slowly, marking it in an unmistakable manner, until you return to some cleear indication of the Trail. Inspection will then usually disclose the point of initial error. The cardinal mistake and the basis for unfortunate experiences is a headlong precipitous insistence on going forward when once the route seems obscure or dubious. Haste, such as in a desire to avoid darkness or to reach Camp, only precipitates the difficulty. If you have followed the monitions (in "the event of solitary travel, which is strongly advised against), your failure to arrive at destination will be detected and you Can be much more readily located. It is far preferable, when in doubt, to overcome the urge to travel and remain at the point of difficulty, since this prevents straying far from the route. A night out close to the Trail is far preferable to the disability of being genuinely lost:"

Very few of those who start the "stunt" of completing the entire Appalachian Trail in one journey communicate their intentions in advance to Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters. Rumors of such proposed trips come in continually. As far as is known, no one has as yet completed the traverse of the Trail in one continuous journey. This is entirely understandable for there are four definite obstacles to overcome.

First: Such a journey would require at least six months' continuous travel. Very few persons have that much time to devote to such a project. It cannot, however, be done in less time. This time is based on the old woodsman's schedule of 15 miles d day and a lay-over every seven days. In past days, when one walked as a necessity, it was learned that continuous travel on a more intensive schedule exhausted the walker. That this still holds true is borne out by the fact that when those who have made the most extended trips on the Trail attempted a faster pace they were forced to quit because of swollen knee joints or heel or ankle inflammation. Minor ailments become serious under the pressure of a continuous drive.

Second: It requires considerable in the way of planning, to get food supplies and to replenish clothing, and also entails considerable expense.

Third: It requires physical stamina and training for that type of constant travel.

Fourth: There is a psychological factor involved Many persons enjoy the woods for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, but day after day of solitary travel, with the knowledge that there is a definite goal ahead, is another story. The temptation is to push ahead, more and more, and finally there is an obsession to keep going which militates against the benefit and makes the effort of walking the hardest kind of work Then, any slight illness or accident will put an end to the trip. It should be recognized that when the hiker finds he is running behind his schedule and is not making the alloted 15 miles each day he is tempted to press on under inclement weather conditions, or when he is not feeling too well; his pack becomes 10 lbs. heavier and the blisters become agonizing sores. The planned itinerary with its daily average is an invitation to failure. The mental hazard of a schedule which has to be adhered to is a more serious factor than the physical exertion. Most trail travelers over-estimate, by a wide margin, the average day's travel on an extended trip.

If The Appalachian Trail is covered in a continuous journey it will not be by someone who begins at one end and "drives" himself through to the other. It will be by some one who has two years or more to spend in the out-of-doors, who does not become oppressed by weeks of solitude in the mountains, who has no financial concern over the time being so spent or his future on completing his outing, and more than all, who does not care whether he makes a record or not. Such a one, with nothing to take him away and with ample funds, might start at one end and leisurely travel northward or southward as the case may be, with no planned itinerary and no care for the morrow. His only need would be that of getting to a place where he could replenish supplies before he exhausted his food. He would camp several days, or a week, or more if the weather was bad, in one place, if the spirit so moved him; but when he moved on, it would be on the Trail route. He would make side trips to points of interest, explore the mountain tops and valleys on either side, but otherwise leave the Trail only to get supplies and then return to his point of departure from it. Such d traveler, feeling with Robert Louis Stevenson, that "to travel cheerfully is better than to arrive" might "take to the woods" along The Appalachian Trail for a couple of years, with the idea of following the Trail as circumstances permitted and he felt inclined, and in time find that he has actually completed (page 24) the traverse of The Appalachian Trail in one continuous journey. The word, "continuous", in such case, of course, meaning a journey with no departures from the Trail system except those in search of water, food and other necessities of travel. Such a traveler would be well repaid for his time, in his knowledge of the eastern mountains and the pleasure he would find en route, but the time and expense preclude from attempting it most of those who would enjoy such a trip. On any other basis, an attempted continuous trip is a "stunt".

Experienced hikers do not advocate "stunt trips". Rather, they advocate traveling the Trail a section at a time, leisurely, and with ample opportunity for enjoyment. There are a number who are now traversing the entire Trail on this basis.

A.T.C. Chairman Myron H. Avery has, of course, traversed the entire Appalachian Trail in this manner, and filed with the Appalachian Trail Conference detailed records of dates and mileages covered. The Bulletin of the Philadelphia Trail Club announced first that Dr. George A. Outerbridge and Dr. and Mrs. Martin Kilpatrick and later Charles Hazelhurst had completed the entire Appalachian Trail in a series of trips. If others have done so, word to that effect has not reached Appalachian Trail Conference Headquarters, although it is understood that there are three others who have only a few sections yet to go.

Two or three weeks on the Trail each summer make an ideal vacation, and the length of the Trail is such that variety can always be found Even to those who have once covered it, the Trail still presents a challenge There have been extensive relocations in the past ten years, so that although the Trail may have been traversed as it once was, it will still afford to them new regions to travel!