Appalachian Trail Kickoff Sees Record Turnout

Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Skywalker--Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, Skywalker--Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail | 2 comments

The Appalachian Trail Kickoff at Amicalola Falls, Georgia saw a record turnout this weekend. First, let me say thank you to Lauretta Dean for doing such a boffo job at arranging the whole weekend, as well as inviting me to speak. But much more importantly, this event–which is just a few years old–has now become one of the marquee events in the hiking community, along with Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia (May 17-19) and the Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff.

There were seminars on various topics relevant to the thru-hiking class of 2013 (as well as many aspiring thru-hikers for future years. David Miller–AWOL–author of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, was a guest speaker, as well as Winton Porter, the owner of the Walasi-Yi outfitter at Neel’s Gap, and Gene Espy, the second thru-hiker ever in 1951. Many thru-hikers timed their opening day to coincide with this event, and Old Lady Luck was on their side. Lauretta Dean also arranged for them to camp in the field right across from the visitor’s station.

The only red flag that was raised all weekend came from Miss Janet. She, of course, is the renowned hostel owner in the trail town of Erwin, Tennessee, as well as many other places she has worked along the trail over the years, making her a big part of AT culture.

“This is fabulous,” I remarked to her about the swelling crowds that showed up on the opening night.

“Yes, but what’s it going to do to those of us who have to take care of the hikers.”

Well, good point Janet. I hadn’t thought of that because I’ve always benefited from the likes of people like her who ‘take care’ of us hikers. It’s worth noting that Donna Saufley, who runs the popular hostel, Hiker Haven, on the Pacific Crest Trail, raised the same red flag about the wildly popular PCT Kickoff. Specifically what they are referring to is that the more popular these kickoff parties are, the more difficult it is for them to accomodate the rush of hikers all arriving at the same time at their respective locations. Further, there is the question of where everybody is going to camp the first few weeks on the trail while so bunched up. So I acknowledge and sympathize with their viewpoints.

Having said that, I’m such a big fan of the well-developed culture of the Apppalachian Trail (as well as the developing culture of the Pacific Crest Trail) that I still feel the advantages of having a smashing opening event that brings lots of people together, outweighs the disadvantages. Because along with the great personal challenge of thru-hiking, as well as the majestic scenery along the way, the great thing about hiking on the Appalachian Trail is the rich hiking community. Hiking, by its very nature, is a great unifier. After just a few days together on the trail–without cell phones, televisions, and computers getting in the way such as in ‘real life’–you really do feel like you know people well out there. And given how atomized and divisive American society feels in the early 21st century, anything that brings us together is highly constructive.

So despite the bottlenecks and rush of traffic that a popular season opening kickoff party will inevitably create, I hope the Appalachian Trail Kickoff becomes as popular as the Pacific Crest Trail kickoff.

Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.



  1. I voiced those same concerns in my book Bill, about the heavy traffic showing up on the trail, early in the season. In fact, when I set out on my thru-hike, I planned on doing either a flip-flop or a leap-frog hike. Since I was starting in May, I avoided the “March Madness.”

    If I were to start following the Amicalola Kickoff, I’d be inclined to shuttle up to say, Damascus, or at least Erwin, TN, and walk back to Springer, then shuttle back and continue from the town I started at. This would allow enough time for the early dropouts to disappear from the trail and the traffic to spread out.

    It would put one out of sync with the main flow of NOBOs, but then you would sync up with them upon returning to your start point.

    If groups would do this, it would give the hostel owners a better chance to deal with the traffic, and it would stress the trail less.

    • Apparently, the bears are now so active around Neel’s Gap that you are required to have a bear canister in the five miles b/f and after.

      As for starting times, I’d simply never do it now. It’s going to be in the mid-twenties tonight in Asheville—and obviously colder up in the mountains.

      My inferiority complex is acting up again!

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