Stranded Hiker Rescued on Appalachian Trail (Did She Start too Early?)

Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson | 4 comments

You may have seen my tweets and posts relating to ‘Beware the Ides of March’. I was referring to those thru-hiker candidates on the Appalachian Trail who begin in March. To be sure, this has its advantages. If you’re a hiker of modest strength, this gives you an extra month to make it all the way to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine. But the perils of bad–even dangerous–weather loom.

Yesterday a hiker was rescued off Unaka Mountain in Tennesee, after getting caught in a snowstorm. She was trying to make it to the Maple Gap Shelter, when she got caught in heavy drifts of snow. Finally about 8:00 last night she gave up. Her friends became concerned and called a First Aid Group late that night. Fortunately they were able to contact her by cell phone about 6:30 this morning, and then begin to search for her. Because of the intense winter conditions and heavy snow, the group took several hours to locate her. They evacuated her and have now taken her to the hospital to be examined. Hopefully, she will be okay.

To be sure, the woman deserves credit for sticking her neck out and ardently pursuing her dreams. But the stark fact is she could have lost her life out there. In Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, I recount a situation I got in on my fourth day on the trail in which the weather became so bad, I had to abandon my backpack to make it to a road, whereupon I hitched into a small town (the next day I awoke at first light and retrieved it). And that was in April. Storms that envelop you in March (like the one right now) can be even more dangerous.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson recounts how he and Katz were grounded for several days by a snowstorm. Of course, they started in March as well.

Dealing with bad weather is existential to any thru-hike. However, there are bound to be a couple days where the weather not only is inclement, but potentially dangerous. Fortunately, the AT has shelters running every nine miles on average. But, of course, this woman was trying to get to a shelter and unable to make it. Yes, the weather can be diabolical in April. But it is extremely unlikely that you would ever hit anything as bad as what we’ve seen this week. My strongest advice is to not begin before April 1st, unless you happen to be a really experienced mountaineer.

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 (2012).


  1. Interesting. I started my hike in January of 2006. Greatest experience of my life. You definitely have to monitor on-coming weather. I just bought your book on Kindle and will give it a read. All the best.

    • Steffan,

      I hear about people like you. January! Obviously you have a background for something like that (I wasn’t able to access your entire post). Because you really have to be ready. Even for the standard April 1st beginning, you are bound to have a couple days of not just cold, but hazardous, weather. But if you began in January, it sounds like the CDT is for you!

    • Wow, it would have been perilous beginning in March this year. They’ve already carried a couple people out of there. I don’t remember what the weather was like in Jan. 2006; but I bet you do!

  2. I remember it vividly. There were *a lot* of miles hiked in knee deep snow and a few night hikes where I was pushing through hip deep just to get to a better, less frozen water source. There was literally no one on the trail then and all the hostels were always shocked when I showed up, LOL. Elmer seemed ‘bothered’ when I knocked on his door, but Miss Janet was fantastic and accommodating. Greatest hike ever.

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