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Starting An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike On New Year's Day

Deb thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and is a Search & Rescue volunteer and writer living in Flagstaff, AZ.

Passing The First White Blaze On January 1st

Choosing the day to begin a thru-hike of more than 2,100 miles over an average of six months' time is a big decision for many who set out with that goal.

Each year, about 1,500 to two thousand people attempt to do just that: a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. The majority begin at the southern terminus on Springer Mountain, Georgia, between mid-March and mid-April. Beginning at that time of year, though still often cold in the mountains, is commonly referred to as "walking with spring."

But, each year, it seems that a small number of hearty souls choose to take that first step on the A.T. on New Year's day.

Below, you'll find links to trail journals by hikers who began their thru-hike attempts on New Year's Day and/or hiked the Appalachian Trail during the winter. Know of one I've missed? Let me know where to find it in the guestbook below.

Winter on the Appalachian Trail

Winter on the Appalachian Trail

Walking with Winter on the Appalachian Trail

A special time of year on the A.T.

In January, the Appalachian Trail is largely deserted. The lean-tos along the way often are uninhabited as well. Daylight is in short supply and the temperature frequently below freezing, especially at night and in the early morning hours. Some of the trail town amenities and resupply options that later hikers will make use of are yet closed for the season.

Winter in the Appalachian mountains is also a beautiful and unique time of solitude that relatively few people experience in such an up close and personal way as do thru-hikers starting their journeys at the beginning of the year.

What Do You Think About Winter Backpacking?

They Started on 1/1

Rocky & Swamp Fox started their Appalachian Trail thru-hike on January 1st, 2009.

You can read their journal on Trailjournals.com.

Starting A Thru-Hike On New Year's Day

Starting A Thru-Hike On New Year's Day

Hiking The Triple Crown Beginning New Year's Day

The Appalachian Trail -- Continental Divide Trail -- Pacific Crest Trail

On December 31st, 2000, Flyin' Brian Robinson hiked the approach trail from Georgia's Amicalola State Park to the summit of Springer Mountain, where the southernmost white blaze of the Appalachian Trail is located. He spent the night there, to his surprise, in the company of four other hikers, three of whom he knew from an online Appalachian Trail discussion group.

The following morning, on New Year's Day, Brian officially began his quest to hike America's Triple Crown of National Scenic Trails -- the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail -- in one calendar year. On October 27th, 2001, he successfully completed his 7,371-mile journey, becoming the first person to accomplish this goal.

Another January 1st Start

Bluevist hiked to the summit of Springer Mountain on New Year's eve and began her A.T. hike the next morning. Read her journal here.

Winter On The A.T.

Winter On The A.T.

Beginning at the Very Beginning of the Year

Stumpknocker started at midnight on January 1, 2008.

No Matter When You Hike The Appalachian Trail.... The Thru-Hiker's Companion Is A Guidebook To Have

Pros And Cons Of Hiking With Winter On The Appalachian Trail

On the plus side for many hikers:

  • Solitude
  • No crowding at trail shelters and campsites
  • More far-reaching views without leaves on the trees
  • The sheer beauty of winter in the mountains
  • No thunderstorms (meaning, no lightning)
  • No bugs (ie. mosquitoes, black flies)
  • No poisonous snakes

Some possible negatives:

  • Fewer daylight hours
  • Cold to frigid temps
  • Snow and ice, meaning potentially hazardous hiking conditions
  • Slower hiking
  • Possibly frozen water sources
  • Some services near the trail will be closed (some stores, hostels, etc.)
Appalachian Trail in Winter, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Appalachian Trail in Winter, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Santa's Helper also began an A.T. thru-hike on January 1, 2007.

Appalachian Trail Information At A Glance - The Data Book

I used this book many times each day, pulling it out of my hip pouch to check the distance to the next water source, lean-to, road crossing or other significant feature. It helped me plan how much food to buy for the next stretch and figure out where to camp each night.

I used this Data Book so much, in fact, it fell apart at the seams well before the end of my hike. That's okay, though, I kept the loose pages in a zip-loc baggie with the page or two of the day at the front for easy reference.

She Also Went for It on 1/1

Hikernutt began her thru-hike attempt on New Year's Day, 2007. See how it went here.

Forum Discussions About Winter On The Appalachian Trail

  • From WhiteBlaze.net
    A perspective thru-hiker asks, "Is there anything terribly wrong by leaving in January? I realize that I will end up experiencing the winter more so than if I leave in March. However, most of my camping and hiking experience has been in the winter. A
  • Another discussion on WhiteBlaze.net
    A hiker from Florida asks about starting his thru-hike in January.

The Ranger Said....

On December 31, 2005, a Ranger at Amicalola State Park told Hydro Heidi that New Year's isn't exactly the smartest time of year to begin a thru-hike. Find out if she listened to that advice on TrailJournals.

Winter in the Appalachians

Winter in the Appalachians

More About Winter On The Appalachian Trail

An Even Longer Thru-Hike That Started on January 1

Another great adventure that began on a New Year's Day was Nimblewill Nomad's Odyssey 1998, beginning at the southern end of the Florida Trail, continuing along the Appalachian Trail to Maine and then the International Appalachian Trail to it's northern terminus in Canada.

Welcome to Winter on the Appalachian Trail

Welcome to Winter on the Appalachian Trail

Hiking With Winter

While their southbound A.T. adventure didn't begin on New Year's Day, Alaskan Pam Flowers and her dog Ellie hiked the trail through the winter. Read updates from Pam & Ellie on the Appalachian Trail.

Information On Winter Hiking And Camping

  • Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping
    A comprehensive article from Princeton's Outdoor Action, covering everything from trip planning and equipment to food, winter water and shelters, Leave No Trace winter camping and winter hazards, snowshoeing and avalanche basics, and more.
  • Winter Camping Tips
    An article from The Lightweight Backpacker at backpacker.net

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury

Have You Ever Stood On A Mountaintop On New Year's Day?

Kostyantin from Kiev, Ukraine on March 22, 2018:

Wow! Thanks for sharing. I like to spend the weekend in a tent near the sea. But only in the summer.

blestman lm on March 11, 2014:

I love hiking the AT in the winter moonlight. It feels magical to me

Bob Zau on April 08, 2013:

2100 miles... now that's a hike.

TransplantedSoul on January 08, 2013:

What a beautiful place. You took some great photos.

sunriseyes on November 23, 2012:

An amazing idea! I'm going for it this time around. I have a 9000 foot peak behind my home. I night hike it all the time with my dogs but haven't attempted the peak during night. I'm going for it. Thanks again for the idea.

thomanna on March 02, 2012:

No, but it seems like somethimng to add to the old bucket list. Nice lense.

SayGuddaycom on January 13, 2012:

Your experiences are just incredible.

Susang6 on January 03, 2012:

Your photographs are gorgeous. I would love to experience a hike like this. I take short 1 mile hikes every day in the woods by my home. I enjoy going up and down the ridge as it is great exercise. I have never camped overnight while hiking but do enjoy day trips. I enjoyed your lens. Shared on twitter.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on December 28, 2011:

I thought I had already blessed this lens. Glad I stopped back by so I could add some angel sprinkles to the sparkling snow already dusting your trail. Happy New Year!

lensesbyjames on December 19, 2011:

No I haven't but it is one my to do list one day.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on April 23, 2011:

I would do this in a heartbeat... winter on the AT. I love the solitude, peace, and beauty of winter. Also love no crowds and no poisonous snakes! :-)

anonymous on January 02, 2011:

No I have not, but I have thought of the idea a few times!

julieannbrady on December 26, 2010:

Well, my dear -- may the wind be at your back! The wind here in Brooksville, FL has surely set new records since last night -- I've been a seriously rockin' and rollin' ... I am dancing without lifting a foot. Hugs! I'd say "break a leg," but YOU know?

anonymous on December 13, 2010:

will at the beginning of my thru-hike "hopefully" still a few years away!!!

scar4 on October 18, 2010:

I love walking in winter. You have very nice pictures. The lens is very informative.

Indigo Janson from UK on January 22, 2010:

Came back to let you know I've featured this great lens on my blog (The Custard Bowl).

greenerme on December 22, 2009:

I've never stood on a mountaintop on New Year's Day... I'm more of a warm weather person! It's certainly commendable for anyone to go out there and do this, I'm sure it's stunning scenery and excellent exercise. Well done!

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on December 02, 2009:

This would be amazing and beautiful! Of course, the most amazing part would be if I walked more than a block in the ice and snow:)

Bambi Watson on November 27, 2009:

I'm a total freeze baby, but my brother loves winter camping & would love this!

Excellent lens!...Blessed!

Indigo Janson from UK on November 26, 2009:

It looks so beautiful. And no... but I'd love to! I wanted to step right into some of those pictures.

Patricia on November 25, 2009:

Brrr! It looks so cold!

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on November 25, 2009:

I haven't been here, but it looks like a trip to take. 5*.

Sensitive Fern on November 25, 2009:

I had a friend who hiked the trail and had unexpected health problems come up, especially with her feet. I can't imagine having the added risks of winter on top of that. Fascinating lens. 5*

Trina Sonenberg from Nucla, Colorado on November 25, 2009:

Nope, but I can see them from my house every day. ;-)

clouda9 lm on November 24, 2009:

I'd ONLY go if you were with me...otherwise I'd be one of those lost in the woods statistics :) Great photos, plus really brave and wonderful stories!

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