February 14, 2015 — I’m packing up and headed for some training in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has a base camp there used for training year round and for trail crews in the summer.
I’ll be joining a group of ridgerunners. Ridgerunners patrol in season the Appalachian Trail (AT) from beginning to end. The onset of thru hiking season is just around the corner, and it’s time to get ready.
My role is to test the use of volunteers to augment the paid seasonal staff. The difference is that I’ll be there only for the month of March. Everyone else is there for the duration of hiking season – until autumn.
The need for the test is that AT (and other trails) is expected to see a large increase next year in thru hike attempts in response to the movies “Wild” in theaters now, and “A Walk in the Woods” which will be in theaters before summer’s end.
Historical data establishes a direct correlation between increases in thru hike attempts and popular mass media about hiking or the AT. Books, television, videos have done it every time. Now we have Hollywood to help drive up the numbers next year.
My patrol area is the AT’s 78 miles in Georgia. We walk five days and spend four nights on the trail. The sixth day is off. Of interest, we hike southbound (SOBO) for the purpose of meeting as many thru hikers as possible. Once we reach Springer Mountain, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club shuttles us back north to do it all again.
Among our duties is to help hikers as we can, educate them on Leave No Trace™ principles and trail etiquette, pick up litter, do minor trail repairs, and report issues we cannot handle. These hikes are not about miles. They’re about the smiles.
The forecast isn’t friendly, at least for next week. It’s going to be colder than a well digger’s backside in the Smoky’s. So much so that we’ve been told that we’ll be spending our nights at the basecamp and none sleeping outside. Yea! No sense practicing being miserable.
The weather in Georgia will probably whip back and forth between ugly and nice with huge improvements toward the end of March. Still, the southern Appalachians are high enough that snow can fall into April, even when the temperatures in Atlanta and points south are cooking.
I’m looking forward to some former stomping grounds. Dick’s Creek Gap is just short of the North Carolina border and the northern edge of the patrol area. Blood Mountain is in the center of the sector. It’s got some interesting native American history with some ornery bear activity on the side.
I plan to blog daily, but publish them as every fifth or sixth day as time permits just like I did on my thru hike. So stay tuned. If anyone has read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods, you know this could be interesting.