Updated: Nov 17
Not often, maybe twice if you are lucky, there is a moment. You are presented with a view extending to the horizon. Seemingly out of nowhere, even if you kind of knew it was coming. At the end of an uphill, thighs burning, sweat creating a chill from fall temperatures.
This is when you pause, throw on a jacket, and take it all in.
AT Section Hiking
Of all the years, 2020 has been my best for hiking. I’ve recorded over two hundred miles of section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT). I even managed a few other hikes. Yes, there is fun to be had on trails other than the AT.
Hiking the AT, whether short sections, long ass section hikes (LASH), or you intend to thru-hike someday, you will become familiar with a well-deserved AT nickname. The Green Tunnel.
There is a reality to hundreds of miles hiking the AT. The majority of your time is spent inside the tree-line. Sweating those uphill, endless switchbacks. You are pleased when your lunch break includes an open, flat area with a log.
And then, doggonit, Mother Nature throws you a curveball. My solo section hike in June of this year was essentially spent in the clouds. The top of Standing Indian Mtn, and Albert Mtn with the famous fire tower, presented me with a big mass of gray.
Yet I look forward to my next hike with the excited anticipation of a child on a long drive as the car nears Disney World. In the summer months I don’t even bother checking the weather forecast. What’s the point? I am going anyway.
This, for me, is part of what it means to section-hike the AT. Everything presented to me in nature is a gift. Even a chilly, gray rainy day at 5,000 feet in June.
Ah, The Fall Season
I love sleeping in a chilly room. All snug beneath layers of blankets. Getting up the next morning? Oof.
Now think about emerging from a warm sleeping bag when it is 34 degrees, deep in a forest, and your coffee is hanging high from a branch. Getting out of bed takes on a whole new meaning.
Going on backpacking trips this fall was a bit outside my comfort zone. I had not camped in cold weather since the early nineties. Having completed two section hikes this fall, and another coming up soon, I am pleased I decided to extend my season. Camping in chilly weather is fun and has many advantages over summer hiking.
I made two purchases for the fall hiking season. A heavier raincoat and a closed cell foam pad (to go beneath my inflatable pad). I did not purchase any fancy, lightweight jackets or other clothing.
This is the day our group found the perfect place, with the perfect timing, for a lunch we will not soon forget.
We had decided Halloween weekend was a great time for a section hike. For me, it was an opportunity to finish Georgia. I had saved the first part for the last part. Our section would take us from Springer Mtn to the famous Neel Gap.
Sorry to disappoint, even with this being 2020, there are no ghost stories to share from this trip.
We made a semi-aggressive plan to hike 7.4 miles for lunch on Saturday. From the maps, and the Guthook app, this was the distance to a known viewpoint. So yeah, we had a plan. And then the plan exceeded our expectations.
The day never warmed. Not really. The breeze was just on the side of too much. Temperatures hovered at the perfect point for not-quite-sweat and an irritating runny nose.
I dropped my backpack while keeping an eye on the never-ending horizon. I found a spot in the sun and lit my propane stove, then sprawled on the warm rock. I do not like ramen enough to eat it at home. On this day it was the best lunch ever.
The remainder of the day’s hike was more than pleasant. As if the hour long lunch provided so much that nothing could spoil the afternoon. Better yet, the winds calmed as we strolled atop the fall leaves hiding the trail. Our campsite, Lance Creek Restoration Area, was secluded. We gathered near our tents for hot drinks and warm meals. The evening was an extension of a perfect lunch.
Days like this do not happen often on the trail. They are a special gift, and they are burned into my memory.
About The Author
My name is Jerry. Trail name is Monsoon. In addition to running a hiking club, I also own and operate a coffee shop & bookstore. Check it out here.
What I Learned This Fall
My sleeping bag, the Hyke & Byke zero degree, which I review here, is probably not required for temperatures which remain around 30 degrees or higher as a low. If I come across some extra funds, I may purchase a 15 degree bag for fall and early spring backpacking. It could save me some weight. Then again, why spend the money when my zero degree works great?
For The Curious
In addition to my minimal summer items, I carried the following; thermal pants, baggy workout sweats to wear over my hiking pants in the morning, a long turtleneck sweater for camp, a long sleeve nylon shirt to wear over my summer short sleeve nylon shirt, and as I mentioned, a raincoat more suitable to chilly weather.
When in camp, I wore my thermals beneath my hiking pants, and then over that I wore my thin baggy workout pants. At camp I also wore a cotton shirt, and my turtleneck, and my raincoat for additional warmth. Even during summer hikes I carry a knit cap.
Hiking in the morning I merely wore my hiking pants beneath my baggy sweatpants. I do not wear thermals when hiking in the fall. Before lunch I have usually shed my sweatpants.