Happy 75th Birthday, Appalachian Trail

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  (To be precise, it was finished on August 14, 1937.)  The trail is 2,180 miles long, has over 250 three-sided “shelters,” and links innumerable other trails through 14 states.

180 Degree View as the A.T. Approaches Thomas Knob Shelter, Mount Rogers, Virginia

For three-quarters of a century people from all over the United States–indeed, from all over the world–have been trekking up and down the Appalachian Trail, or A.T., as most folks in the know refer to it.  In commemoration of this milestone, this weekend I hiked a section of the A.T. between Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain.

View from A.T. approaching Mount Rogers’ Spur Trail, at 5500′

Founded by a small group of hikers, particularly one forester named Benton Mckaye, who envisioned an East Coast “super trail”, the Appalachian Trail Conference started work on the A.T. in the 1920s.  By 1930 the trail began to take form as small groups of volunteers worked up and down the mountains of the East.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, this was not a government project but the accomplishment of private, local clubs who mapped and routed sections of the trail, negotiated with private landowners and governmental agencies, and did the physical labor to build it in their respective areas.

To this day, although the A.T. is now owned by the governnment, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the many volunteer organizations are critical to the maintenance of the trail. 

View from A.T. into North Carolina it approaches the Mount Rogers’ summit

After World War II, volunteers renewed development of the A.T.  In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer, an Army veteran who served in the Pacific Theater, completed the first “thru hike,” or continuous hike of the entire A.T., reportedly in order to “walk off” the stress of the war.  In the years since, the A.T. has become a cultural phenomenon in addition to being an outdoor experience.  Every year hundreds of individuals from all walks of life attempt to thru hike or section hike part of the A.T., seeking solace, self-exploration, or temporary escape from urbanity on the trail.

Balds on Mount Rogers – Whitetop Mountain Looms to the South

In 1968, the United States Congress passed the National Trails System Act, and the A.T. was the first completed national trail designated a National Scenic Trail.  This added the A.T. to the system of national parks.  The A.T. links two national parks (the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Shenandoah National Park), and includes Abingdon Outdoors’ own Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.  While the A.T. has always crossed the MRNA, the trail used to traverse the Iron Mountains to the north of Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain.  It was re-routed over Mount Rogers and Whitetop due to scenic beauty of these highest mountains in Virginia.  The old shelters on Iron Mountain are still maintained as part of the Iron Mountain Trail.

Cabin Creek Bald Panorama in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

Most folks—like myself—have no intention (at least no immediate intention) of hiking the entire length of the A.T.  Most folks hike part of the trail in a day, or at most over the course of a weekend or for a week or two.  The trail is also frequently utilized by the Boy Scouts and by church and civic groups for hiking and camping trips.

Southbound on the A.T. on Mount Rogers

The trail is designed not to be easy:  It randomly meanders and seldom takes the easiest path from point “A” to point “B”.  At points it certainly appears as if the A.T.’s designers purposely placed obstacles such as rocks and roots in the way.  This keeps the trail challenging.

Root Strewn Section of the A.T.

The A.T. is different things for different people:  A place for solitude and meditation; a place for a communal outdoor experience; a training ground for other pursuits; a naturalist’s place to study flora and fauna.  Perhaps Benton MacKaye best answered the question, “What’s the ultimate purpose of the Appalachian Trail?” 

He said, “To walk.  To see.  And to see what you see.”

Happy Birthday, A.T.  . . . See you on the trail.

View from the Appalachian Trail on Mount Rogers
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Road Trip to the American Southwest

Last month we loaded the family van and drove across the United States for an adventure in the great outdoors of the American Southwest.  I planned a circuitous route with our ultimate destination being the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

All told, we spent 15 days together and drove 5000 +/- miles. 

“Grand Canyon or Bust”

With apprehension-inducing thoughts of National Lampoon’s Vacation running through our minds, one 4:30 AM morning we bravely set off with our three children, a 50-quart cooler, travel provisions and enough outdoor gear to outfit a field battalion.  We drove across Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado to reach our first High Southwest “basecamp”—a motel room—in Durango.

We experienced some seriously fun times, some true adventure, some not-unexpected “meltdowns,” and all of it through tons and tons of incredible scenery.  Then, abruptly, we turned around and trucked back to Virginia via a southern route across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee. 

Safely back home, we were a bit worn out, but have indelible memories. 

In due time, as work and other commitments allow, I am going to write a series of articles about the trip for Abingdon Outdoors.   

To get started, I’ve put up a first gallery of photos from the trip.

The Next Season Approaches

Hiking today with my daughter and faithful hound up on Forest Road 90 and the Iron Mountain Trail amidst the still lush, dark green foliage I saw a few leaves (just a very few, mind you), that seemed to be anxious for the next season. 

First Fallen Leaves on Iron Mountain, August 4, 2012

Most traveling for summer vacations is finished or nearing completion;  we are well into the 2012 Summer Olympics;  young people and teachers are gearing up for a new school year;  and here in Abingdon the Virginia Highlands Festival is in full swing.  I can sense a collective sense of just a bit of anticipation all around as we know the summer is slowly drawing to an end.  There’s still time to get outdoors and enjoy this season, though, which I encourage you to do.