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Appalachian Trail, USA

The American Appalachian Trail is one of the most well-known and challenging hikes in the USA. Hiking the entire 3292km length, from Georgia to Maine, can take several months. However, smaller portions of the trail may certainly be tackled.

The Appalachian trail was first conceived by Benton MacKaye in 1921. He was a regional planner, and he saw the Appalachian trail as a means of bringing together communities around America. He was particularly interested in seeing people break away from mass urbanisation, and linking in small, cohesive communities.

The trail was finished in 1936, but was quickly damaged by 1938 by a massive hurricane that devastated northeastern America. After that, World War 2 further interrupted plans to rebuild the trail, as attention was focused on the war effort. The Appalachian Trail then lay in disrepair until Earl V. Shaffer became the trail's first through-hiker, walking the entire length in 4 months in 1948, using only road maps and no guide book. At first no one believed that Shaffer had actually done the hike, but cross-questioning and his detailed descriptions backed his claim. In 1955, Emma 'Grandma' Gatewood became the first woman to hike the trail alone in its entirety. She walked in sneakers and carried her gear in a duffel bag.

The Appalachian trail starts in Springer Mountain, Georgia. However, since Springer Mountain is inaccessible to motorised vehicles, most hikers start on Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls State Park. The 13km trail is a very tough climb, reaching Springer Mountain at 1152m, and many people simply abandon the trek, thinking that if the rest of the 3,292km is like that, better to stay home!

The Georgian woods are used by the US Army to train ranger units, so don't be alarmed if you hear gunshots and see camouflaged men roaming through the woods. The gunshots are blanks. The Wilderness Act prohibits the use of power tools, so courageous and dedicated volunteers have to use manual tools to maintain the trail.

The Appalachian trail crosses over Blood Mountain (1360m). The name of the mountain comes from Native American accounts of a fight between Cherokee and Creek Indians, which stained the mountain red with blood. From that time on, the mountain's lichens remained red.

Most of the Appalachian trail runs along the Blue Ridge mountains. The trail winds over Tray Mountain, Standing Indian Mountain (1676m), where stands of catawba and great rhododendron may be seen. The Appalachian trail then drops to Nantahala River 'Land-of-the-Noon-Day-Sun' in Cherokee language, so-called because of the deep narrow gorge through which the river runs.

The Cherokee were mistreated from the time of contact with Hernando de Soto in 1540, eventually leading to the infamous "Trail of Tears", a forced march of 17,000 Cherokee to Oklahoma, escorted by the US Army. On this path, 4,000 Cherokee died, while 1,000 escaped, and later established Qualla Reservation.

The Appalachian Trail then crosses Fontana Dam into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Only a day and a half drive from 50% of US population, the park nonetheless harbours a great variety of fauna and flora: 1570 flowering plant species, 200 species birds, 48 freshwater fish, 60 mammals. 2000 fungi, and 78 amphibians and reptiles, including an astonishing 25 salamander species.

You will then reach Clingmans Dome, at 2024m, the highest point of the Appalachian Trail. The trail then reaches Snowbird Mountain, passes by Hot Springs, North Carolina, and ascends to Lover's Leap, so-called after a Cherokee legend. In Tennessee, the trail crosses over Nolichucky River near Erwin, Tennessee to the picturesque Unaka Mountains. After Hump Mountain, the trail drops down to Laurel Fork Gorge, passes over Holston Mountain, and enters Virginia by way of Damascus.

From here, the Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park, parallel to Sky Ridge Drive. It passes into Maryland, leaves the Blue Ridge Mountains, crosses Delaware River, into New Jersey, climbs Kittatiny Mountain, then enters New York State. The trail proceeds via Fahnstock State Park, along Taconic State Parkway, then finally reaches New England.

Useful addresses:
Appalachian Trail Conference
P.O. Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Georgia Appalachian Trail Club
P.O. Box 654
Atlanta, GA 30301

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