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Blog - Applachian Trail

Mona Lisa Flip Flop

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The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) defines a thru-hike as completing the entire Appalachian Trail in 12 months or less. Each year more people attempt a thru-hike, and increasingly, hikers are choosing to start somewhere in the middle of the Trail. Generally, these alternative itineraries offer a gradual progression from easier to more difficult terrain and more frequent resupplies. You can also avoid crowds and the party atmosphere, follow favorable weather conditions and reduce crowding and minimize resource damage to the Trail.

This year, Deborah Coleman completed a flip flop thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and she shared with us the pros and cons of her alternative hike.

Mona Lisa on McAfee KnobTrail Name:
Mona Lisa

Age:
55

Itinerary:
NOBO - Harpers Ferry to Katahdin
Summit of Springer Mountain
SOBO - Harpers Ferry to Springer

Dates:
May 2, 2017 - September 30, 2017

I am so happy that I chose a flip flop for my thru-hike. In addition to wanting to avoid overcrowded conditions and wanting to lessen my impact on the A.T., I had a long-planned family vacation in late April, so a flip flop seemed like a great option. I chose to start in Harpers Ferry, because I liked the idea of checking in at the ATC headquarters first. I was familiar with the Harpers Ferry part of the A.T., and I hoped to meet other flip floppers just starting their hike.

Pros...

  • I only once arrived at a full shelter.
  • I started on a relatively easy part of the Trail.
  • My body was strongest at the most difficult part of the Trail. I haven't seen this discussed anywhere, but my fellow flip floppers and I talked a lot about this. By the time that we reached New Hampshire, we had our trail legs and the Trail had prepared us for the tough stuff in New Hampshire - we had experience with rocks, boulders, increasingly large elevation changes, and wet feet. We were ready for New Hampshire, but we hadn't been on the Trail so long that we were feeling run down. Many NOBOs that I met at that point expressed that they were tired and felt that they were getting weaker, not stronger. When I was 3/4 through my hike, I started to feel a little tired, lost a toe nail, got my first blister, and was really happy that I wasn't facing New Hamshire and Southern Maine as NOBOs would have been.
  • In the early days of my hike when I was refining what I was carrying and how I did things, there were lots of experienced NOBOs around to learn from.
  • Although it wasn't crowded, the northern part of the Trail was plenty social - lots of NOBOs and at some point I started meeting SOBOs.
  • I think it would have been psychologically difficult to see a great number of people leaving the Trail as NOBOs do. I certainly know of flip floppers, NOBOs and SOBOs that got off the Trail, but it never seemed like an overwhelmingly large number of people (as I imagine it must seem for NOBOs).
  • I seemed to avoid most of the weather extremes and the worst of the bugs.
  • I enjoyed having two "big" summits - Katahdin and Springer. Even though it was only roughly half way, Katahdin was still very exciting for me and felt like a big accomplishment. Even though the Springer summit wasn't as epic, I was very excited to reach it.

Cons...

Mona Lisa Boots

  • In the early days of my hike, NOBOs flew by, and it was sometimes frustrating that I had no hope of doing the same kind of miles that they were doing.
  • Early on, I felt that NOBOs might be looking down at flip floppers, thinking that a flip flop was somehow less of a thru hike. After we had about 500 miles under our belts, though, it seemed that we had earned their respect.
  • When non thru-hikers on the trail asked what we were doing, it was harder to explain what a Flip Flop thru-hike is.
  • The southern part of the hike was definitely quieter. I ended up hiking near a small group of flip floppers and was very happy about it, because the NOBOs were mostly gone at that point and there weren't many SOBOs yet. There were some nights when I was in a shelter with just one or two other flip floppers, but usually there were other hikers that were out for a few days or a section.
In my opinion, the pros of a flip flop far outweighed the cons. I recommend it whenever anyone asks if I have any advice for a thru-hike. I have a friend who is planning to thru-hike next year. He was determined to do it NOBO, but after asking about my experience, he is seriously considering a flip flop.

For more information on Appalachian Trail thru-hikes and alternative hikes, visit appalachiantrail.org and check out these resources from the Ultimate A.T. Store:

*All photos courtesy of Deborah Coleman



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