Orange azaleas. Photo: EllemM1/Flickr
Safety is not the only advantage to hiking in a group, and it was not the Carters’ only reason for inviting others along. They also gain camaraderie. Sharing the breathtaking beauty of the wilderness along the path brings the group together. Everyone has his or her own favorite vista along the A.T., from the purple rhododendron and orange azaleas lining the woods in spring that Sherry Carter fondly remembers to Crowell’s favorite 360-degree view from Rocky Top, N.C.
Jeff Byrd says, “When someone told me about camping in the Southern Appalachians in North Carolina, I remember thinking that sounded like heaven, so I was thrilled when the Carters invited me to go camping with them.
“The hike up to Spence Field was really a rough reintroduction to backpacking for me, and I was really huffing and puffing,” says Byrd about a strenuous hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “Jeff Carter stood at the bend of each switchback, encouraging me that it was not that much more to go — for the last two hours. I was beginning to disbelieve him,” he recalls, adding that it was worth it once they reached the ridges and camped high up in the Smokies.
PROTECTING THE TRAIL AND FORESTS
Fellow hikers are not the only ones who rely on each other’s kindness on the trail. The natural environment also needs the respect of those who pass through. All hikers, whether there for a few days or the long haul, can have both a positive and negative impact on the woodlands that line the trail. Hikers can ensure that they preserve the natural setting and its creatures by following the “Leave No Trace” principles.
These principles include staying on the trail as much as possible to avoid trampling vegetation, says the ATC’s Laura Belleville. The seeds of invasive species may attach to hiking boots or clothing and can crowd out the native plants that inhabit the area.
Respecting proscriptions against campfires is also an important part of Leave No Trace and can prevent wildfires that can have a devastating effect. In May 2011, an illegal and improperly extinguished fire at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Ball Brook Campsite in Connecticut demonstrated the importance of Leave No Trace when it spread south along the plateau toward the Riga Shelter half a mile away.
“Conscientious hikers who are aware of the threats to forests can be a very important voice in helping to conserve and manage them,” says Belleville. Well-conserved and managed forests bring A.T. hikers — 2,000-milers and day hikers alike — closer to the “fellowship with the wilderness” that they seek.
Freelance journalist Robin A. Edgar is the author of In My Mother’s Kitchen. She writes from the Carolinas.
For more information:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy www.appalachiantrail.org
Appalachian Mountain Club www.outdoors.org/conservation/trails/at