Matt HealeySunday,5 January 2014

The Snap:

The AT is hard. It is rugged terrain and difficult climbs. The weather amplifies the difficulty of hiking any section of the trail. That is why the unofficial opening of the thru hiking season is April 1st. If you go sooner than that you risk getting stuck in very bad weather.

The Download:

So when I read this story about three hikers getting stuck in snow and freezing conditions in the Great Smokey mountains a few days ago, I had no sympathy for them. Let’s start with the obvious. Even though it is North Carolina/Tennessee, and most people have this vision of sunny skies and warm weather, a brief search of revealed that the average low temperature is 23 degrees (F). That is cold. So if you are going to go WINTER hiking the Smokey Mountains, be ready for WINTER conditions. That means warm weather gear, dry fit clothing, water proof jackets and pants, either snow shoes or boots based on trail conditions and a 4 season tent and sleeping bag. These three hikers started out on a 10 day hike wearing cotton. The general hiker perception of cotton is avoid it at all costs. The reason for this is that when cotton gets wet it stays wet for a longer period of time than a synthetic. This will greatly increase your chances of hypothermia. So starting a 10 day hike wearing a fabric that increases the chances of getting hypothermia in an area where the average low tem is 23 degrees seems like a death wish to me ().

Now let’s look at the terrain they were planning to hike. I hiked that section of the trail. Started at Fontana Damn and went to Russell Field shelter. These three were found close to Mollies Ridge, the shelter I passed to get to Russell Field. The climb out of Fontana Damn is aggressive. I cannot remember exactly what it was but I do remember a friend, who is a very experienced hiker who was tracking my progress, being very impressed with the altitude gain and mileage that day. So we have a clearly inexperienced group of hikers trying to hike an aggressive section of the trail, without proper perpetration. OK – show of hands – who is surprised by this result ()?

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Hat Tips:, Image Credit: Matt Healey

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