Sunday, June 24, 2012

Steering Clear of the Appalachian Trail

When I was a kid in my late teens, the thing that I most wanted to do was to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Life being what it is, I never got the chance to accomplish this feat. I did end up hiking pieces of the old AT, but only completed one entire section--that being all of the Trail that lies within Georgia. Then it was about 83 miles or so. The Trail has had a couple of minor re-routes since those times, so I'm not sure how many miles lie within Georgia these days.

Today, though, while I love to hike and backpack, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. In fact, I have almost no desire to hike any stretch of that trail at all. There are a number of reasons for this, but first and foremost is that the goddamned thing is just way the fuck overcrowded.
Blaze Marker.

Yeah, there are sections of it that you can backpack and not bump into a lot of folk. And there are times when you can backpack it and not meet up with lines of humans marching in either direction. But by and large, the thing is just way the hell too populated for me to even consider backpacking there any more. I go backpacking to find solitude and try to witness a little bit of nature in its purest state. Spending time with dozens, sometimes literally hundreds of other human beings jammed into a small space is the opposite of what I try to achieve when I go backpacking.
An empty shelter! Wait a couple of hours and humans will be spilling out of it.

The system of sleeping shelters on the Appalachian Trail are the worst. This is where most of the people who travel the Trail go to sleep at the end of a tough day of hiking. In my experience there is rarely enough space inside these shelters for all who wish to use them. They get so crowded that the grounds around each shelter end up being packed cheek by jowl with tents of the late-comers who thought they were going to spend the night under a roof.

And then there are the privies. The AT has become so popular that now there are toilets built at most of the shelters. And, of course, these toilets are very primitive and are so overused that the stench can be smelled sometimes from more than one hundred feet away. Forget about using them. Plug your noses and take your chances. I don't want to think of the cat-holes that have to be dug all along the Trail corridor for the multitudes of humans having to do like the bears and shit in the woods. It goes without saying that you very damned well better boil your drinking water.

DON'T GO IN THERE! We could smell this one from about 100 feet away. But I had to get a photo of it.

And worse than just the presence of the crowds is that they're all, it seems these days, a bunch of morons and idiots. The unwashed herds tramping up and down the Appalachian Trail are like the worst of geeky comic book and science-fiction movie fans. In days gone by, when you met someone on the Trail and asked their name you'd get a straight answer. Not so, now. It has become--in the years since I began backpacking--a sick tradition to have a "trail name". These are silly, stupid, ridiculous names that the backpackers choose and which become their "names" while they're backpacking. Don't expect to hear someone's actual name on the AT if you should bother to ask. You'll get some stupid response like "Slow Walk" or "Flower Girl" or "Dirt Man" or some silly fucking shit like that. "Idiot Bonehead Fuckwads" the lot of them.

Typical stone shelter, complete with fecal stench.

Me, I tend to steer well clear of the Appalachian Trail these days. I don't want to step in a pile of human fecal matter if I can avoid it, and so my backpacking and hiking is done elsewhere. I travel to National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and even National Parks where it's less crowded than the pitiful freaking Appalachian Trail.

Yes, it's all very sad.



Joe L said...

I just got a divorce and was thinking of doing the northern half of the AT to get my mind right again. I'm from NM and always dreamed of doing the AT, but now that I've done a lot of backpacking in remote areas I kinda sensed what you wrote about here and second guessing myself. Last thing I wanna do it fly across the US and end up on an overcrowded trail of people mostly consisting of, well as you put it, fucking morons. Thanks for the post.

James Robert Smith said...'s not my favorite place any more. Just way too crowded. We do have plenty of wilderness areas and National Forest trails that don't get any traffic, but the AT is just a highway now.

Seems to me that New Mexico would be packed with great long-distance loops. Or just head to a big wilderness area in Colorado.

Gene Cochran said...


James Robert Smith said...

I hiked it for many years starting when I was 15 years old (1972). So I've seen it getting more and more crowded and more and more degraded. It's not just the crowds that bother me, but the encroachment of noise and development and the trashing of the trail. I just get depressed most of the time when I hike or backpack on it. I have found a few stretches where I see only one or two other people over the course of a day, but rarely. I have to admit I've stayed completely away for the past five years or so.