View Full Version : Starting southbound

steve hiker
2003-01-25, 16:17
Anybody here ever do the AT southbound, or thinking of it? I'm thinking of going southbound for a few reasons, including:

1. Less crowds.
2. Will hit the southern Appalachians in fall or early winter, my favorite seasons there.
3. Less crowds.
4. Will get the hardest part over with first.

What about start time? I'm thinking late June or early July to avoid the worst of the black flies. Am I right on this? From my reading it seems the black fly season is mainly May and June.

Anybody have any southbound experiences or nuggets of wisdom they want to share?

SGT Rock
2003-01-25, 16:22
Good question, I have started to think along the same lines myself after hearing about the crowds at the start of the normal NOBO Thru-hike season.

2003-01-25, 17:00
Steve Hiker,

I did a flip-flop when I hiked the entire trail. I left Katahdin August 7th and it was a great time to be hiking. However, I realize that you will be leaving earlier so I don't know if this will be much of a help. I never had a problem with black flies at all, and even going through the Mid-Atlantic states I had no problems with the heat and bugs that most north bounders had to deal with. It is much less crowded going south, and even leaving when you plan to leave I am sure it will not be crowded with thru hikers. The weekends may be somewhat crowded if the weather is nice but that would be all I expect. There was not very many people in front of me as I was hiking in August. If you want to avoid the crowds, I would recommend going south. I am sure someone on here can tell you more about the black fly season, but I know in August they were none.

Hope this helps... Happy Trails...


Team GAK
2003-01-25, 21:58
Steve -

I live in New England and I can tell you that black fly seaon is in full swing May thru June. You should go to the TrailJournals web site and check out some of the SOBO's journals from last year and before that. You should get a good idea when they started and what to expect.

Good Luck

2003-01-26, 10:39
First, to give you a direct answer, conventional wisdom says that if you plan to go southbound, don't start before July 1. The reason is black flies and high streams to cross in Maine that are still cold from the spring runoff.

But, I don't necessarily concur with the other reasons either. Get the toughest part over with? Don't fool your self. Georgia is plenty tough, and so is North Carolina and Tennassee.

Less crowds? True that there are far fewer southbounders. But, if you ask almost any thru-hiker what the best part of the experience was, the reply will be the people. A lot of that is the pod of people who you hike with every day. And there just isn't enough "critical mass" going south to develop the fellowship of northbounders. I know. Prior to doing a thru-hike, I had done section hikes for decades. I never make the people connection until I hike for months going northbound.

Crowds? What crowds? According to a survey by Roland Muesser and published in his book "Long Distance Hiking," 50% of the northbounders start between April 1 and April 15. So, just start on either side of that date and you will avoid what ever rush there is. And incidentally, 80% start between March 19 and April 16.

But, the best reason for going north is Katahdin. It truely is a kick a$$ goal that everyone works for. Hard to describe, but believe me, finishing anywhere else is anti-climatic.

R. W. Jeffcoat
2003-01-31, 15:08

I'm planning a Southbound starting the first week in July. An employee at The Backpacker, a local hiking/camping store, did a southbound last year and highly recommends it. If you're interested in hooking up let me know. I have a little more flexibility as to the start date than I originally thought. My retirement date is May, 16th. A little earlier than I expected. After a lot of experimenting, I have finalized my choices of gear. I plan a few more shakedown's, but for all practical purposes, I'm ready. After years of dreaming about, I can hardly believe it's here. Can hardly wait for May. If we don't hook up, perhaps I'll see you on the trail.

steve hiker
2003-01-31, 20:29

I probably won't make the AT until 2004 or 2005. Would like to do it this year, but committments won't let me. Early July seems like a good time to start at Kathadin. Miss most of the bugs, get to the southern mtns. in the fall leaf season.

Just me--

When did you you arrive in Virginia? Also were you a fast or slower hiker? From SOBO journals it seems about 3 mos. to get past PA at an average to relaxed pace.

2003-01-31, 22:32
Steve Hiker,

I am not really a fast hiker, but I was very slow from MA thru New Jersey, since a lady that had hiked some down south and gotten off the trail, wanted to join me in the southbound hike. At any rate, she intended to do about 15 miles per day which was fairly easy through there but she could not do it. She had been off the trail too long and could not get back into the groove. So we parted company in New Jersey and I hiked the rest of it somewhat fast. I did most days thru PA at 20 miles or more since I wanted to be finished before Thanksgiving. I left Katahdin on August 9th and finished at Skyland Lodge, in the Shenandoah November 20. I did Maine at a slow pace, and then New Hampshire I hiked with a guy and we took quite a few very slow days and into towns. I went through Vermont fairly quickly since I was alone, and then at North Adams, MA I hooked up with the lady I mentioned above. I think normally it would be a nice 3 month trip and at a leisure pace. Maine is pretty difficult and slow as is some of New Hampshire, but other than that you can do some good mileage days without being totally exhausted. The biggest problem I had was the short daylight hours in the fall, so a lot of times I would leave before daylight and stop just at dark or later.

Hope this helps..


steve hiker
2003-02-01, 01:36
Justme, I'll bet that in retrospect you're glad something slowed you down. In more than one journal I've read where hikers realized halfway through that doing the AT is a once in a lifetime thing, and they need to slow down and let themselves look around more. By that time however they were in the habit of hoofing it and looking mainly at the ground, and were often back to doing 20 mile days again. That's a real challenge that most people miss, not so much sticking it out but learning to slow down and relax.