AT Hike Plan: Section 1

In my opinion, planning out Section 1 of the AT is a big big big big big deal. Why? Historically speaking, approximately 25% of all NOBO thru-hikers quit the trail during this 75-mile stretch. I don’t have any formal statistics to back this up (since all data collection is voluntary), but the theory certainly sounds reasonable – unprepared, unconditioned, and unsettled hikers will fondly look at Neels Gap as an easy escape clause to their plans. Even David AWOL Miller, whose guidebook is gospel on the AT, had a backup plan to save his old job if things didn’t feel right in Georgia. As for me, short of a major injury early on, I have every intention of happily and eagerly finishing Section 1 like this:

  • Start of Section:  Amicalola Falls State Park
  • End of Section:  GA/NC Border
  • Total Miles: 75.6
  • Total Days: 8.5
  • Average daily miles: 10.6
  • Town Stops:  2

General Strategy for Section 1

  • Amicalola Falls is 80 miles from Atlanta.  Through a combination of planes, trains, and automobiles, the adventure begins at the State Park Lodge.
  • Although I hope to average 20 miles a day on my journey, that’s not the plan yet. With only partially conditioned legs, partially tested gear, and partially convinced mindset to get out of a warm hammock during freezing March temps … I plan to ease in with just 10 miles average per day.
  • This is both for my benefit, but also for that of my expected hiking partner. Not to question his ability, if he is able to join, the guy is in much better physical shape than me – doesn’t eat meat, runs every day, can lift a small Volkswagen over his head, etc.  But, he has never been on a long backpacking trip that I know of, and our only other travels together took place in a Winnebago. It will be smart to give us time to acclimate to the trail, and to our partnership. 
  • I’m not going to be a purist, insistent on putting feet on every inch of the trail, but I’m also not going to start my hike skipping miles – I plan to hike the controversial 8.8-mile approach trail from Amicalola Falls State Park to Springer Mountain. Even though the trail doesn’t technically start until you reach the summit, most thru-hikers include the approach trail and I will too. I want to earn that emotional first day’s end on the AT’s southern terminus!
  • From there, we’ll do casual days on the trail and nights at the shelters, leading up to the first major peak – Blood Mountain.  At 4,500 feet tall, it is a steep beast to summit before making your way to the first anticipated town crossing.
  • Enter Neel’s Gap. Here, hiker’s can get the infamous gear shake-down, a warm bed for the night, and an expensive resupply. I will do all 3 and then keep moving.
  • A couple more days on the trail, then we’ll try to find a warm bed at Dick Greek Gap’s famous Top of GA Hostel. I’ll pick up a mail drop here and take my first Nero Day to evaluate Section 1 and consider changes for what comes next.
  • After that, it’s a quick 1.5 days to the GA/NC border.

Will it all happen as simply as this?  Most definitely not.  Am I excited for this plan regardless?  Oh ya, you betcha.  Hello Neiman!

AT Hike Plan: Introduction and Strategy

On the Hike Plan page of this blog, you can find a detailed breakdown of my preliminary strategy to hike 2189.2 miles in under 5 months. As explained in the introduction, I know pre-planning can seem taboo, as things will certainly change once on the trail. But, I feel one of the best ways to prepare oneself for this trip – mentally, strategically, financially, logistically, not to mention for the sanity of friends and family – is to have a detailed plan in advance that I can best hold my myself accountable to.

Over the next few months, I will walk through each “section” of this hike, as broken out by the by Map Man and labeled in Column A of the Hike Plan spreadsheet. The purpose of each of these preliminary posts will be to provide 3 valuable assets to me and my followers before hitting the trail:

  1. Expectations.  By doing a descriptive walkthrough of the trail section, I can try to understand (and share) what to anticipate during that section: Difficulty of terrain, towns to pass through, sights to see, festivals to participate in, trail milestones to look forward to, budget to account for, etc.
  2. Timing.  This baseline will act as the barometer for all logistics planning to my support network: When to send mail drops, when to expect me off-trail (for pre-planned events such as a wedding in June), and when to join (if interested) for section hiking alongside me. Many friends and family have shown interest and (if they can keep up) would be a great addition to the adventure.
  3. Safety.  If for some reason I am unable to post daily updates from the trail, you will know where to expect me next. If (god forbid) I don’t show up, you’ll know where to go look for me. This is unlikely to happen – but better safe than sorry.

Future AT Hike Plan posts will break down each section of the Hike Plan (1-11).