Monday, May 14, 2012

When To Start a Sobo Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

Oil on Canvas painting of Katahdin by Frederic Edwin Church

I started a northbound (nobo) hike in Georgia on the spring equinox, and hiked 114 miles before leaving the trail with an injury. I'm in physical therapy, healing fast, getting stronger every day, and have been considering my options to finish my thru-hike. At this point, it's reasonable to assume I can be ready to go some time in June - Maybe, possibly early June ...

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's web site has all kinds of strategies listed beyond the traditional northbound thru hike. Flip-flops, southbound (sobo), leapfrogs, head starts ... All with their own pros and cons, and optimum starting times. A June start means I could flip-flop by starting at Harper's Ferry, WV, hiking to the northern terminus in Maine, hopping a train back to Harper's Ferry, then hiking south to Georgia. Or I could go for a more traditional southbound (sobo) hike.

The latter has a lot more appeal to me.

It's a more traditional trek. It's also a tougher start. A 5200' climb up Katahdin and back down is day one. On day two you're heading into the 100 Mile Wilderness for which one needs to be prepared with 8-10 days worth of food. Once thru Maine, New Hampshire is home of the White Mountains and the Presidential Range. It's a tough start.

Nobo's have to get to Maine before Baxter State Park closes in mid-October. Sobos have to wait for the park and the trails to be opened. The can open as early as May 15th, but the trails up Katahdin open when weather conditions are safe, and when the trail is dry and firm enough to prevent damage to both the treadway and to the vegetation alongside it.

So, when can one start? Based on data on recent trail openings recently posted by Teej on,  Jun 4th seems like a relatively safe bet for those making advanced airline/train/rental car reservations.
2010  May 25th
2009  May 20th for both Hunt and Abol.
2008  May 29th (Park had canceled May 15th opening)
2007  May 31st
2006  May 18th (Abol May 15th)
2005  June 4th
2004  May 16th
2003  May 24th
2002  May 15th (Day hikers summited via Abol May 10th)
2001  Prior to May 20th
2000  Memorial Day Weekend
1999  May 18th (per South Walker '99)
There are several web cams on which one can watch the snow melt:
But to stay up to date with trail conditions and openings straight from the deciderers, keep your eyes on Baxter State Park's Trail Blog.

There are other factors to consider. June in Maine means infamous hordes of ferocious black flies, high water at stream crossings, and a wet and muddy trail. On the other hand, waiting for better conditions means looking forward to colder temperatures, snow and ice in the southern Appalachians. But then, Springer mountain never closes, leaving a sobo trek open-ended.

I'll be waiting a week or so to start locking in plans. I'm inclined to start as soon as possible in an effort to be home for Thanksgiving. If I'm ready to rock Katahdin on that first full week in June, then that's what I'll do.


  1. why don't you attempt a flip from damascus or Harpers?

    - pages

    1. A flip from Harpers Ferry would certainly allow me to ease into the hike with some easy miles before I start getting into mountains again. Depending on how my recovery goes, I might just do that. But I'm drawn to a more traditional trek that starts at point A, and goes to point B. Besides, getting from Katahdin to Harper's would be a PIA, and add significantly to the cost. We'll see. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this on SOBO travels. I have been reading and researching and watching so much on the trail over the past few weeks and this has answered a lot of my questions. I live in MD and could do any of the three easily or at the same cost. I don't feel comfortable with the time restrictions going NOBO. I hate schedules. Plus mud and water make it more of what I like. Not much for walking in the woods. Thank you again. Take care.


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