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The Appalachian Trail takes those who tread it across some of the highest, most untamed parts of the eastern United States' largest mountain range. It begins in the rustic outlands of Maine at Mt. Kitadin and spans fourteen states to the forested reach of Springer Mountain in Georgia. These snapshots are a window into a different world, one that exists in tandem to the technological one most humans enjoy; the natural world. I chose one picture, taken by either me or my hiking companions, that can best capture the geography of a particular state on the Trail to bring some of that natural magic into our human world..
What better place to represent Maine than the crown jewel of the north, the start, or end, of the Appalachian Trail (depending on your direction) at Mt. Katahdin? The climb is relentless, rocky, an rewarding. There are plenty of breathtaking bald (treeless) summits in Maine, but none are quite so stunningly mystic as Mt. Katahdin.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are widely hailed as the most beautiful part of the Trail and boast some of the most spectacular views. The rocky ridges of the Whites carry you thousands of feet above the state's rugged forests, lakes, and rivers to the volatile peak of Mt. Washington, the Trail's second tallest mountain
For southbound thru-hikers, Vermont is often called the last great challenge, before the Trail adopts a very level geography. Vermont is a mix of lush, thick valley forests and wooded peaks known popularly among hikers as "puds" (pointless-up-and-downs). Aside from the incredible precipice at the side-trail summit of Mt. Killington and the watchtower on Stratton Mountain, there are few opportunities to peek above tree-line.
Compared to the first three states heading south, Massachusetts is shallower camping in every way, but no less dramatic or surreal. The mountains are less steep, less prominent, and the distance across the span of the state on the Trail amounts to ninety miles, about a third of the mileage of Maine. Massachusetts is home to vast marshy mud-flats, exposed ridge hiking, and Greylock Tower (as shown), a travel way-point from which hikers can see Connecticut.
Appalachian Trail hikers are hardly in the rolling hills of Connecticut long enough to form an opinion of them. The Trail crosses through Connecticut for about forty miles, from Sage's Ravine (above) on the border of Massachusetts to the jagged St. John's Ledges to the mighty Housatonic River. Then it's gone.
The fields and swamps of New York are among the lowest parts of the Trail. It isn't uncommon for hikers to pass through a herd of cows when the path takes them over the fence of a local farm. New York's humid, marshy terrain means traversing many boardwalks, one notably vast section lasting several miles. The lowest point on the Trail is in New York, in front of the bear enclosure at the Bear Mountain Zoo.
The Appalachian Mountains in New Jersey are home to long ridges and forest ponds, like Sunfish Pond (shown). The Trail in this state is known for its gentle, yet scenic terrain and consistent crossing with roadside delis. Whether going north or south, hikers hit this state in the middle of their journey, and many are seduced to shake out their pockets for a hearty sandwich and some coffee.
The rocky fields of Pennsylvania are notorious among Appalachian Trail hikers for the torture they inflict on the feet of anyone who walks them. In this state, the way so often takes you across jagged, knife-edge rocks that most people neglect to mention just how flat it is. Pennsylvania's completely level ridges can extend tens of miles, sometimes unveiling incredible views of endless farmland or clouds trapped in a valley. The exact midpoint of the Trail is found here.
Time spent in Maryland on the Trail is brief, but beautiful. Everything about this state is polished and well maintained, walkway and shelter alike. Aside from Raven Rock, Maryland is forty miles of field, meadow, and stream. The crossing of the Mason Dixon Line on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania is a huge landmark for hikers on the Trail, no matter the direction of their voyage.
Thru hikers spend only four miles in West Virginia, yet it is home to one of the most iconic locations on the Trail. The path runs directly through the town of Harper's Ferry, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has its base of operations. It is a tradition for thru hikers to stop by the Conservancy to get their pictures taken and added to the wall as credit for their attempt, independent from their completion of the Trail. Due to the after-dark nature of my visit to Harper's Ferry, I missed getting my picture taken, or taking any pictures of my own. I owe credit for the photo of the town above to the Editors of Encyclopaedia Brttannica.
Virginia is a behemoth of a state that brings hikers back to the world of five-thousand foot peaks. It's length is equal to nearly a fourth of the whole Appalachian Trail. Known for its ability to inflict what's called the "Virginia Blues", this section can wear a hiker down if they fail to appreciate the beauty in the monotony that many call the "Green Tunnel". While most of Virginia consists of thickly wooded mountains, it is also offers distinguished landmarks like Shenandoah National Park, McAfee's Knob (where I pose above), Dragon's Tooth, and the Grayson Highlands.
When southbound hikers cross the border from Virginia to Tennessee, they are greeted with steep climbs through dense forests. If one persists, though, they come to the gates of some of the most gorgeous scenery in the Appalachian Mountains: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park is home to massive mountaintop spruce forests, bald ridges, stony summits, and a plethora of animal life like black bears and even the elusive elk. The highest point on the Appalachian Trail, Clingman's Dome (above, with my two hiking partners), is in the Smoky Mountains.
The Trail criss-crosses the border of Tennessee and North Carolina along the Great Smoky Mountains, but it lets out in latter of the two. The mountains of this state are well recognized among hikers for their grass-cloaked summits. Open fields, raised up thousands of feet to the sky, watch over the surface of North Carolina. Hump Mountain is among the most notable of these "Grassy Balds".
The southern end of the Appalachian Trail is rich with creeks, hills, and hostels. This state is full of opportunities for northbound hikers getting started or southbound hikers finishing up to find rest, rides, and supplies. Georgia's most famous mountain peaks are Blood Mountain and Springer Mountain, the southern terminus (shown) where my friends and I ended our journey.
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