Monday, January 3, 2011

Start Dates and Training for Trails

Heading north on the Appalachian Trail has begun as early as January 1st, by Flying Brian in his successful Triple Crown in One Year (2001).

However, unless you're prepared for serious cold, snow and ice, starting early March is recommended. Georgia is one of the most difficult states, if only 69 miles. Also, if you get to the Smokies too early you'll be floundering in snow and can easily break a leg or worse.
Head south after the black fly season, in Maine, mid July all the way to end of August. Be careful to be out of the White Mountains by late September.

Most north bounders on the Pacific Crest Trail or Continental Divide Trail begin late April. There are several high mountains early on, and trail angels aren't caching water until spring.
South bounders start early June. You can expect snow any time of the year, but pay especial attention to the High Sierras. In low snow years, you can enjoy lush fields of flowers on the John Muir trail in mid June.

The Colorado Trail is notorious for summer thunderstorms. You'll be hiking in elevations above tree line much of the time. Snow, hail and unpredictable weather make the 468 miles incredibly interesting. Start in June, running through August, some even go into September. Heading south you'll have more time to acclimate to the elevations than if you headed north from Durango.

You can hike the Bartram Trail, Foothills Trail in the Carolinas any time of the year. Water may freeze, but check out the Winter Hiking Page linked with this blog for skills dealing with that.

The Florida Trail is a winter trail. Hiking mid summer can be exhausting in temperture and bugs.

When in doubt, e-mail members of the hiking club associated with the trail you plan to do. Check the average precipitations and temperatures from the Weather Channel page.

I trained for the Pacific Crest Trail by working 12 hour days in a hospital kitchen. Not ideal, but while earning needed cash, I was on my feet most of the time, dealing with stress, and lifting up to 50 pounds daily.
Hiking in the mountains with a pack helps to prepare, but bottom line, if you're short on time, plan your first month on trail to be a slower start until your muscles get hardened and you feel stronger. Let the "trail runners" go ahead. I met several like that, and farther up the trail would read the register where they had to leave due to shin splints or blown out knees.
Start with light pack, resupply in near by towns as needed, and you will get stronger without injury.
If you can, loose those extra pounds and get used to walking where ever you can.

Mental preparation is just as important as physical. Where the body will get stronger, sometimes the resolve to hike gets weaker. We'll talk more about motivation, inspiration and appropriate mantras in another post.

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