To Hike the Approach Trail or Not?

Originally posted on The Trek on August 2nd, 2016

To Approach Trail, or Not to Approach Trail? That is the Question. The Answer… Entirely up to You! I did it in 2016 and I can see it from both angles. Here are my experiences and arguments for both.

Why You Should Go For It:

But first, Storytime… I woke up in Max Epperson Shelter in Amicalola Falls State Park after talking all night to a bunch of new friends about what we were getting ourselves into, and how exciting this new adventure was going to be. First thing in the morning, I got checked in at the Visitor Center with a demented smile on my face expressing my pure enthusiasm over what I was about to do over the next 5-6 months.

After passing through the archway, and taking an instant at the reflection pool to reflect on how long I’ve waited and dreamed of this moment, I worked my way up the 604 metal steps to the top of the falls. It’s difficult, but I think about the 6 pack abs I’m going to have at the end of this! Why, this experience is simply practice for what’s ahead, right? The 8.8 miles to Springer Mountain are brutal, but by golly, I feel accomplished!

A little humor on the steps, "Mangos are yummy! (distraction. keep going)"
A little humor on the steps, “Mangos are yummy! (distraction. keep going)”.

Concluding Argument:

It’s only 8.8 miles which you don’t have to do to reach thru-hiker status, however I did notice a playful hierarchy where you seem to get Trail Cred if you do. Doesn’t that make your thru hike that much more bad ass? You are going to be hiking a lot of extra miles to views, hostels, shelters, towns, etc., so what’s a few miles more? You can get shuttled to Springer Parking lot, but what’s the fun in doing that and retracing your steps? It’s seriously nice practice to see if this is what you really want to get involved in and if you should commit. If you have second thoughts after the approach, you won’t be far from society to find your escape route.

My husband and I starting at the Approach
My husband and I juiced up and ready at the Approach.

Why You Should Skip it:

I woke up in Max Epperson Shelter in Amicalola Falls State Park after getting absolutely no sleep. All I could think about were all of my anxieties about what I was about to get myself into and meeting new people who will probably judge me for not being so experienced. First thing in the morning, I got checked in at the Visitor Center with a demented smile on my face expressing my pure nervousness and terror over what I was about to do over the next 5-6 months.

After passing through the archway, and taking an instant at the reflection pool to reflect on why in the hell I’m doing this to myself, I worked my way up the 6 million bastard steps to the top of the falls. It’s difficult, and I take my time because I’m out of shape, winded, and if I catch up to my husband who’s ahead of me, I might murder him (this was his idea!). Why, oh why in the fuck am I doing this? It’s extra credit! This doesn’t even count! The 8.8 miles to Springer Mountain are brutal, and by the time I make it to the top at snail speed, I realize, I still have 2,189.1 miles to go! ***

We smile because we haven't begun the steps of Hell yet
We smile because we haven’t begun the “Steps of Hell” yet.

Concluding Argument:

It’s 8.8 miles that you don’t have to do to reach thru-hiker status… PERIOD! You are going to be hiking a lot of extra miles to views, hostels, shelters, towns, etc., so why the extra effort? You can get shuttled to Springer Parking lot to hike the one mile to the southern terminus and only have to retrace your steps one-mile back to continue hiking NOBO. You’ll have plenty of time to reflect on whether or not this is worth committing to over the 30ish miles to Neel Gap. If you decide it’s not for you, you can at least partake in the tradition of throwing your shoes in the tree outside of the outfitter!

Tree of Boots at Neel Gap
Tree of Boots and Sadness at Neel Gap

*** Side note: I tell the positives of the approach trail with optimism and the negatives with pessimism strictly for symbolic reasons. A lot will go through your head during any long distance hike and no matter how hard you try to think on the bright side, you will get frustrated and overcome with anxiety at times (regardless of whether or not you include any extra miles). It’s all part of the journey!

3 thoughts on “To Hike the Approach Trail or Not?

  1. I am glad that I did not hike the approach trail. I saw so many young hikers that it really effected. By the time I got to NC I already wasn’t going out of my way for vistas. I do feel I added enough extra miles with the walks to shelters, towns and shuttles. I am satisfied that walked every step of the trail between Springer and Katahdin. I blue blazed twice where bridges were wash out over raging streams.

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    1. Ya, it’s not for everyone. I did it again this year anyway though. I think it’s a good idea for those who are still uncertain if a thru hike is right for them or not since it gives a little preview of what’s in store. Plus you get a little trail cred for doing it haha! Some regret doing it, other thru hikers I’ve hiked with actually regretted not doing it in the end. It’s all a matter of preference. Thanks for reading! 😊

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