They’re out there. They’re getting ready. Some of them will set out from Springer Mountain before snow has left the ground. They’re the ones I like to call “the early crew,” getting out the door and down the trail before the annual army of thru-hikers has departed.
April 1st is the traditional “start day” for most thru-hikers. Plenty of time to get to Maine, lots of time to admire the view. But in recent years a small herd has chosen to take to the Appalachian Trail for their thru-hike beginning in March or even February. I’ve yet to hear of a backpacker out in January, but that day will likely dawn.
Heads up from a Southerner. I can, does and will snow on the AT during February-March. Be under no illusion that somehow just because it’s “down South” that spring flowers will be in bloom and bees will be buzzing. Having been born in North Carolina and now living in New England for some years, I can attest that the weather in the southern highlands and New England mountains is comparable. Were I starting a thru-hike in February or March I would have snowshoes or Kahtoola micro-spikes at least. During the February-March window, and even April-May, the southern Appalachians can be host to severe winter weather. Be advised and prepare accordingly.
I’m not sure what brings out the early crew. Perhaps the magnetism of the trail is too great to resist. It certainly does “call” to hikers and backpackers with a burning romance and the promise of adventure. It may be that simple.
So here’s to the early crew, blazing the trail for the mainstay crowd of seasonal thru-hikers who will join them in the weeks and months to come. Be happy, hike safe, and stay warm out there!