Tag Archives: Weather

Stirrings — the Appalachian Trail “early crew”


Photo courtesy BottleLeaf @ Flickr

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!


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Appalachian Trail winter skill…building a quinzee snow shelter

Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance.

Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a three-season hiker and backpacker when on the Appalachian Trail.  That said, I’m always conscious that during any season at high elevations weather conditions may reshape into a survival situation with alarming rapidity.

As the first snowfall blankets New England, I’m reminded of a useful winter wilderness skill I learned some years ago: building a “quinzee” (also, “quinzhee” – from the Athabaskan) or snow-hut.  In constructing this emergency shelter I found it to be easier than any other type I’ve tried.

When you’re out with the kids making snowmen, consider adding this to your skill set.  Even if you never need to make one in under emergency conditions, you will find it fun for backyard overnight camping forays or winter weekend getaways in the woods.

The following link gives clear directions on how to build one.

Quinzee Shelter.

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Thinking about…hiking in autumn on the Appalachian Trail

Bigass Poplar Leaf

Poplar Leaf (Photo credit: carobe)

There’s no finer season for hiking or backpacking the Appalachian Trail than the fall months. It’s a superb time for hiking, especially for the curious who may be unaccustomed with the trail.  Day hikes are popular, as well as multi-day and multi-week expeditions. Yet while autumn is perfect for hiking and backpacking, the rules are different from those which apply in summer.

Keeping tabs on weather before you set out is crucial in fall.  At most elevations of the Appalachian Trail snow, sleet, and cold rain can occur any time.  It may be dry and temperate when you leave home, yet turn threatening by the time you clamber toward the summits.  Learn the signs of approaching bad weather and respond accordingly.  Make sure you carry clothing suitable for fall travel; include wool gloves, woolen sweater (not down) and proper rain and wind gear.  Be prepared to leave the trail or cancel your trip if foul weather sets in.

Carry mandatory equipment; a compass and map (don’t rely on a GPS), lighter and matches, extra food, a knife, first-aid kit, headlamp or flashlight, and a space blanket.

Leave word where you are and when you expect to come back.  Do not trust a cell phone, especially as inclement weather and cold temperatures may decrease or cancel a reliable signal.

Alon with anti death gear.

Hunters are afield in the fall months, so follow these additional safety rules:

Make certain you are visible!   Put on clothing in colors which are highly visible.  Shy away from dark clothes.  Select bright colors like orange or red.

Walking too quietly in hunting country in ill-advised.  Chat with fellow hikers.  This will make your presence known to hunters.  If you’re alone you can put a bell on your pack to make sound.  Singing and whistling is also a way to alert others to your presence on the trail.  If you hear gunfire be extra certain to make yourself known.

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Thinking about wind, snow, sleet, rain, and cold on the Appalachian Trail (in early spring)

View from Springer Mountain

View from Springer Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s late February or early March.  You’ve been packing and planning your Appalachian Trail thru-hike for months.  Everything is ready and you’re itching to tackle the footpath.  Looking at the weather forecast, you see fair conditions and mild temperatures have enveloped the South.  Now, you think, it’s time to go.  But, before you shoulder your pack and head for Springer Mountain, consider these facts.

While the low elevations of Georgia and North Carolina bask in sunshine, the Appalachian summits are still subject to radical changes in weather and temperature.  Blasts of rain, fierce winds, paralyzing sleet and cold, and significant snow are as common as would be found in the loftier New England mountains, and it’s wise to prepare for severe weather, or delay your departure at least until mid-April.  Even then nights can be cold in the mountains and low temperatures, rain, and wind combine to create ideal hypothermia conditions.

When I set out mid-April I carried wool gloves, a wool sweater and knit cap, and a rain and windproof jacket.  I needed them all.  You will also want reliable, warm clothing for a safe journey on the trail.



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