Almost any day of the week in North Georgia you will find groups of people hiking. It doesn't matter what season of the year, someone is walking the trails. Most of the hard core hikers will be traveling the Appalachian Trail which start at Springer Mountain and ends in Canada. The majority of weekend hikers will plan weekend trips based on the time it takes to travel each section of the trail. At any AT crossing of a major road, you will find parked cars in designated areas that are the starting point or end of a group hike. A group can be two or more people hiking just a portion of the trail
The trails are well marked and on occasion you find an interesting landmark like this Geo Marker that provides valuable navigation information. One of the benefits of walking the Appalachian Trail are the people you meet along the way. Information is freely exchanged, good locations for replenishing water, food, etc are popular topics. Possibly a comment about an upcoming landmark or view is also exchanged.
If you are out overnight, the story exchanges are even more interesting. You will be surprised at the distances folks plan to travel, or has already traveled. Some folks start in Georgia while others are going further north.
Getting Ready for the Trip:
- Check Appalachian Trail (A.T.) guidebooks and maps for guidance and note that camping regulations vary considerably along the Trail.
- Travel in groups of 10 or fewer. If you are traveling in a group of more than 5, avoid using shelters, leaving them for lone hikers and smaller groups.
- Bring a lightweight trowel or wide tent stake to dig a hole for burying human waste.
- Bring a piece of screening to filter food scraps from your dishwater and pack them out with you.
- Bring a waterproof bag and at least 50 feet of rope to hang food and other scented articles. Or, carry a bear-resistant food container (“bear canister”) to store these items.
- Repackage food in re-sealable bags to minimize waste.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies – especially the cold – to avoid impacts from searches, rescues, and campfires.
- Learn when areas are most crowded and try to avoid those times. If you are planning a northbound thru-hike, avoid starting on March 1, March 15, the first day of spring, or April 1.
There are Sanitation and Waste Considerations:
- ”Pack it in, Pack it out.” Don’t burn, bury, or leave litter or extra food. This includes cigarette butts, fruit peels, and hygiene articles. Keep your trash bag handy so you can pick up litter left by others.
- Use the privy for human waste only (feces). Do not add trash. If there is no privy, dispose of human waste by burying it in a “cat-hole,” a hole 6-8 inches deep, 4-6 inches wide and at least 200 feet (80 steps) from campsites, water sources and shelters, and well away from trails. Add dirt to the hole, and stir with a stick to promote decomposition. Push toilet paper to the bottom of the hole, and leave your stick in the hole. Don’t hide your waste under a rock – this slows its decomposition.
- Note that most “disposable wipes” are made from non-biodegradable material that must be carried out rather than buried, burned, or left in privies. For those willing to go the extra mile, consider packing out your toilet paper, too. Animals’ curiosity often brings toilet paper and other trash to the surface, where it’s left for volunteers and other hikers to deal with.
- Wash dishes, bodies, and clothing 200 feet away from water sources. Use biodegradable soap sparingly, or not at all. Avoid polluting the water by rinsing off at a distance to remove your excess sunscreen, bug repellent, etc., before going for a swim in a lake or stream.
- Disperse dishwater and toothpaste, and urinate well away (at least 100 feet) from shelters and popular campsites. In this way, wildlife is not attracted close to camp. Animals sometimes defoliate plants to consume the salt in urine, so urinate on rocks or bare ground rather than on the vegetation. Where water is plentiful, consider diluting the urine by adding water to the site.
- If you wish to donate items to other hikers (food, extra gear, clothing, books, etc.), don’t leave them at shelters – where they can attract wildlife and become an eyesore – use the hiker donation boxes at motels and hostels.
Food Preparation and Campsite:
- Use stoves for cooking – if you need a fire, build one only where it’s legal and in an existing fire ring. Leave hatchets and saws at home – collect dead and downed wood that you can break by hand. Burn all wood to ash.
- Do not try to burn trash, including foil, plastic, glass, cans, tea bags, food, or anything with food on it. These items do not burn thoroughly. They create noxious fumes, attract wildlife like skunks and bears, and make the area unsightly.
- Where campfires are permitted, leave the fire ring clean by removing others’ trash and scattering unused wood, cold coals, and ashes 200 feet away from camp after the fire is cold and completely out.
- Bears inhabit or travel through nearly every part of the A.T. Sightings have increased at shelters and campsites and even small food rewards teach bears to associate humans with food. When that happens, they often have to be killed to protect human safety.
- Dropped, spilled, or improperly stored food also attracts rodents to shelters. Even a few noodles or pieces of granola are a large meal for mice. Clean up spills completely and pack out all food scraps.
- Store your food according to local regulations. Store all food, trash, and scented articles (toothpaste, sunscreen, insect repellent, water purification chemicals, balm, etc.) out of reach of bears and other animals. A safe distance is 12 feet from the ground and 6 feet from a limb or trunk.
- Protect wildlife by keeping a respectful distance so as not to cause a change in their behavior. If you are hiking with a dog, keep it on a short leash. Do not follow or approach animals. Particularly avoid wildlife during sensitive times, i.e., when mating, nesting, raising young, or during winter.