The 100-Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a 2000-plus mile trail that winds its way through the hills, valleys and mountains from Georgia to Maine. Each year, hundreds of thousands of hikers spend time walking on various parts of the Appalachian Trail. Accessible in hundreds of locations, many will seek to do day hikes, while others might choose to camp out near the trail for a weekend getaway. Still others might choose to hike the length of the trail through an entire state, taking several weeks to do it. Amazingly, there are hundreds of hikers each year to plan, train, and set out to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. While few actually finish the trail in one year, many will ultimately cover it in several years or at least once in their lifetime, hiking bits and pieces of it as they can.

The most popular way to hike the trail is to go from south to north: from Georgia to Maine. This way, hikers can begin in the early spring in Georgia, when the weather has turned warm and hiking conditions are favorable, and reach Maine by September or October, in the height of fall foliage season, before the winter snows begin. But even the most ambitious hiker who has hiked from Georgia to Maine has found that the most difficult part of the Appalachian Trail is the dreaded 100-mile wilderness in Maine.

After hiking more than 2000 miles in five months or more, it would seem that nothing could deter a hiker. They are used to having little food, carrying a heavy pack, and sleeping in sometimes dire conditions. They are oblivious to the weather and they have even learned to live off the land. But when a hiker arrives in Monson, Maine, he will find warning signs after crossing the road and finding the next trail head. The signs warn that the last 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail are inaccessible; meaning, there are no towns, no stores, no homes, no telephones, no food sources, no help. Lying just past that sign are 100 miles of pure wilderness. Hikers may be privileged to see moose, bald eagles, and black bear, but they won’t see any convenience stores or phone booths; and hikers might just as well leave their cell phones off because there is little or no reception, except on the tops of mountains, and that only sketchy at best.

Hikers from all over the world often forego the rest of the Appalachian Trail and set out to conquer just the 100-mile wilderness. Books have been written and websites set up to teach hikers how to carry at least ten days worth of food on their backs. They are taught what to bring, or more importantly, what not to bring. Minimalizing is obviously best, and learning which foods are the lightest, but which also will give the most energy.

Ironically, the 100-mile wilderness is also the most difficult part of the Appalachian Trail. Hikers who have hiked the wilderness are shocked at the steep inclines, the many water crossings through cold, Maine rivers, and the true “wilderness” of it all. The trail markers are maintained, but the trail is not; more often than not, there are roots or even small trees growing in the trail, and if hikers do not pay attention, they can easily become lost.

If you or anyone you know wishes to tackle the 100-mile wilderness, plan ahead. Train hard, as if you were going to run a marathon. Study and plan about which foods to take, and how to carry your bed, your kitchen, and your personal items on your back. Have an identification on you and never hike alone. Though you will meet other hikers on the 100-mile wilderness, injuries and illnesses can happen and you will want to have a safety plan.

If you set out to hike the 100-mile wilderness of the trail and you are successful, you will experience things unlike anything else. You will see things beauty and the ruggedness of nature that only our early ancestors saw. And when you reach the end, the summit of Mount Katahdin in central Maine, you will feel pride and accomplishment unlike any other.

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