Thinking about…the downhill side of the Appalachian Trail


Wesser Bald from Bear Pen Ridge

Wesser Bald from Bear Pen Ridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me share this fact up front: hiking downhill is always…always…always harder than the uphill climb! Now you might doubt this, but consider the following.  Backpacking uphill you have much more control.  You can lean into the load, pause with better balance, lean on your staff or hiking poles, or grab onto stout branches for support.  Downhills are quite different.  Falls seem to occur much more easily, especially if the terrain is wet (i.e. rocks, wet leaves, roots, etc.).  Self-arrest on the downhill descent may or may not prevent a fall.  Most of all, climbing downslope forces your knees to use muscles you did not know you had.  Plus, with each footfall, the weight of the pack you carry only seems to add to the pounding your knees take.  The best (read: most memorable) example of this was the climb off Wesser Bald toward the Nantahala River.  It was about a thirteen mile continuous drop at the time, and it seemed relentless.  By the time I stumbled into the Nanatahala Outdoor Center I was completely washed out.  More than once I was grateful for the hiking staff I carried and the availability of rhododendron branches to hold on to.  Even so, the pace was punishing and forever settled my view about whether or not it was easier to climb or to descend.  While your lungs will not labor as much while walking down, your balance and leg muscles and knees will be challenged like never before.

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1 Comment

Filed under The Appalachian Trail

One response to “Thinking about…the downhill side of the Appalachian Trail

  1. I agree, I definitely prefer hiking uphill better than down.

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