Sunday, January 23, 2011
Thru Hiking trails in the United States
Thru Hiking is considered hiking a long distance trail from end to end. The three most well known thru hikes in the United States are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. On average, each trail takes about 5-6 months to complete and many hikers choose to "section hike" rather than complete the trail as a continuous thru hike. Each thru hike takes time and preparation in terms of buying the right gear, planning your resupply and food drops, collecting the appropriate maps and actually taking time to complete the hike. I always say that the first step is the hardest!
My husband, Eric's, first thru hike was the Appalachian Trail, which he completed in 2002. It is approximately 2,181 miles and goes from Georgia to Maine touching 14 different states. It is the most well known thru hike, designated in 1968 as the first National Scenic Trail. White blazes mark the trail and more than 10,000 people have reported hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.
My first thru hike was the Pacific Crest Trail which goes from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The trail is roughly 2,700 miles through the Southern California Desert, the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Northern Cascades. I often get asked why I thru hike. The answer, thru hiking is the definition of true freedom in my mind. It is a million different smiles and a million different tears, it is hiking to the top of a mountain and seeing the most incredible sunset, absorbing all that is ahead of you, but never forgetting what is behind you. I completed the trail with my Eric in 2007. It was a physical, mental and emotional test that was truly life altering. I published a book called Light Hearts and Heavy Packs, a reflection of our journey across the country.
The third trail is the Continental Divide Trail. This was my second thru hike and Eric's "Triple Crown". The CDT is only 70% complete so having the right maps and a good sense of navigation is a must. The trail is about 3,100 miles reaching from Mexico to Canada. The trail follows the Continental Divide as closely as it can through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Very few people attempt the Continental Divide Trail as a thru hike. It is a very demanding trail which tests every aspect of your being. For me, it was the most incredible journey I could ever imagine. The right mindset is essential. You must be prepared for anything and everything; varying weather, hiking and camping in Grizzly Bear country and being able to navigate the unforgiving terrain.
Thru hiking is definitely an extreme and is not for everyone but on the flip side, I encourage everyone to consider getting out in nature and taking a breath of fresh mountain air. Hiking in general can be a very rewarding and humbling experience. I urge everyone to get out, get lost in nature, try something new, different, challenging and exciting. There is something special about standing on top of a mountain in silence and taking it all in on your own terms.