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Hit the (Appalachian) Trail: explore the AT as a day hiker or a thru-hiker with Teresa Soule.

The Appalachian Trail, or AT, is one of the ultimate backpacking adventures. It stirs images of beautiful vistas and peaceful meadows, gentle paths and grueling rocky climbs. Hikers experience rarely seen wilderness and pass a hundred tiny towns. Some trail hounds travel straight through and some experiment in smaller day or week trips.

When considering a hike on the AT, first consider the facts. The AT spans 2174 plus miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It runs through fourteen states and over sixty federal, state, and local parks and forests. It is probably one of the busiest trails in our entire nation. Over 3,000 potential thru-hikers start each year at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, where most pick up the 8.8 mile approach trail to the terminus of the AT, Springer Mountain.

A thru-hiker is the hardiest animal in the hiking and backpacking crowd. Everyday, rain or shine, this breed of hiker puts one foot in front of the other for months on end. My husband and I took the AT challenge six years ago. We didn't make it to Maine, but we did walk a little over 500 miles of the beautiful southern mountains. We met people from all over North America and the world, some thru-hikers like us, and some just enjoying a special place on earth. Of course, there were others who thought we were out of our minds and observed us as a tourist attraction! Every day we experienced beauty and solitude ... and also dealt with blisters, mice, steep slopes, slippery rocks, driving rain, and lots of bugs. It was wonderful.

If months on end of "roughing it" isn't your cup of tea, then you stand with the majority of people we met along the trail. Luckily, there are many ways to delve into the beauty of the AT for a few hours or days. Georgia has 75.2 miles of the AT within its borders, all in the Chattahoochee National Forest. A great taste of the trail can be found in a seven mile round trip from Neels Gap (U.S. 19/129) to the top of Blood Mountain 14,461'), the second highest mountain in the state. You can even spend the night in the shelter there! This time of year is perfect for exploring Blood Mountain Pick up supplies: food, water, extra film, first aid kit materials, map, etc, for your hike at the Walasi-Yi Inn in Neels Gap, about half a mile south from the trail head.

If you want to spend a few days in the woods and are good physical shape, check out the section from the Nantahala River (US 19) to Fontana Dam (near NC 28) in the Nantahala Forest in North Carolina. Each end has a great store where you can pick up last minute gear and supplies and a restaurant where you can treat yourself after your long hike. Plan for about three to four days of hiking on this thirty mile section of trail, make sure to drop a car off at your destination, and above all make sure you are fit enough to carry all that is needed for this hike. You need to have a sleeping bag (rated thirty to forty degrees even in the summer), tent, high energy/lightweight food for three-plus days, cook stove, flashlight, water, a water purification system or iodine tablets, extra clothes including a warm hat and rain gear, poop shovel, a comprehensive first aid kit, a map, and compass. All of this adds up quickly and requires a strong person to carry it for ten miles a day. At no point should your pack be heavier than one-third of your body weight. Remember to drink plenty of water; if you aren't hitting the bushes every two hours, you aren't drinking enough. There are springs along the way, but ALL water needs to be treated.

One other place not to miss is Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You can approach in many ways, including driving in with an easy half-mile hike.

This is the highest point on the AT. Stand at 6,643 feet and survey the Appalachians. As you look into Tennessee and Georgia from here, you will truly appreciate the grandeur of our Southern Mountains.

Practice Leave No Trace Ethics for an Eco-Friendly Hike

1. Plan ahead and prepare. This includes giving the itinerary of your hike to someone else and not overestimating your fitness level,

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and camp in designated areas.

3. Dispose of waste properly. Dig a hole six inches deep when nature calls. Pack it in. pack it out.

4. Leave what you find. If everyone took one rock or flower there would be nothing left.

5. Minimize campfire impacts. Some places won't allow fires at all. Pay heed to burn restrictions.

6. Respect wildlife. Don't feed the animals, as they will become a nuisance or a threat to other hikers and other hikers and possibly have to be put down. Keep your dogs on a leash, but note that no dogs are allowed in the Smokies.

7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Teresa Soule who lives in Asheville NC works as the Layout Manager, Editorial Manager and Office Manager for New Life Journal. In her spare time she hikes and explores the mountains with her husband Eric and two dogs. For more information on the AT, including specific directions to trailheads, visit www.appalachiantrail.org or write to Teresa at submissions@newlifejournal.com.
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Title Annotation:TAKE A HIKE
Author:Soule, Teresa
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:932
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