Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiking Class of 2013 Facing Wettest Year Since 2003
“Twenty-four straight days of rain,” they lament proudly. I’ve heard the Class of 2003 many times get together to reminisce ad-infinitum about their thru-hikes. There is nothing unusual about that. Heck, that was the specific reason the annual Trail Days Festival was started in the first place–for hikers from prior years to reunite with their old trail comrades. It has been a smashing success; long-distance hikers are the greatest raconteurs I ever saw. But the peculiar thing the Class of 2003 always brings up first is RAIN. Yes, every Appalachian Trail thru-hiker has tales of slogging their way through wet, cold days. The worst of these moments usually occurs in the southern Appalachians in the spring months. Hikers from up north are often shocked at how cold it can be. But to have it rain 24 straight days as it reputedly did in 2003 gives that year’s class a special place in the annals. Incidentally, that was the year of Baltimore Jack’s last of eight thru-hikes and seems to be the one he most enjoys reminiscing about.
The Class of 2013 now seems fated to share the same type of experience as the Class of 2003. The rain has been unrelenting this spring, and now extending until summer. Nor’esters, tropical storms, and just plain old heat storms have been the rule. Thru-hikers are getting their money’s worth out of their rain gear. One question is whether the especially wet conditions will affect the thru-hiker dropout rate. First, it already has, according to stories I heard at Trail Days. The state of Georgia claimed even more than the normal 25% of dropout victims that it normally does. Believe me, I don’t pass any judgment. “Rain changes everything,” I wrote in my trail narrative, Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. I mean that, especially when it’s cold rain. You have to use up a much greater deal of energy than normal just to ward off hypothermia. Your backpack weight goes up and morale heads down. Of course, hiking in the rain is existential to thru-hiking. It’s simply one of your tasks. But it should not be viewed lightly. Even the best of hikers will tell you how much of a challenge it can be.
My times hiking in the rain are the moments I remember most of my thru-hike. In fact, it is so deeply engraved in my mind that every time it rains I think about AT hikers. Honest to God, I often try to walk in it. But it’s not the same. Because even when I get really wet I know I am headed right back inside to a warm house and an even warmer shower. Yes, my fellow hikers. Thru-hiking is very special. I’m sure the AT Classes of 2003 and 2013 would especially agree with that!
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, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.