Three pairs of hiking boots, five and a half months, 2,193 miles. That is how far Mora High School alumnus and recent University of Morris graduate Jackson Lennox, age 22, traveled as a solo “through-hiker” on the Appalachian Trail. A through-hike is known as a continual “end-to-end” backpacking trip on a trail.
On June 6, Jackson began the trek at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine (known as one of the most gruesome climbs of the journey) which was the first of what would be 14 states upon completion.
For those unacquainted with Appalachian Trail through hiking, it is important to note that about 20% of those who attempt a through hike actually finish the journey that takes an average of 5 to 7 months to complete.
While the majority of hikers begin in Georgia and end in Maine, Jackson took the path less traveled and went “southbound” ending at Springer Mountain in Georgia, which actually accounts for only about 10% of all through hikers.
His experience on the Appalachian Trail is an exhilarating story, as can be seen through his responses in the Q&A below.
What surprised you most about the trail?
I was surprised by how hard the terrain in southern Maine was. It was very technical and was mainly
boulders or steep rocky slabs with pretty small spots to step.
When I came through it was raining almost every day. This made everything super slippery and as a result I had to go slow to minimize hard falls.
There were cold streams to forge about 50 meters across. There were several tropical storms or hurricanes while in New England states.
What gear did you bring with you?
The majority of my gear list was my pack, water filter, tent, boots, trekking poles, sleeping bag and pad, Jetboil MiniMo (cooking stove), headlamp, two stuff sacks and two dry bags.
How often did you pass through a town to restock up on food or necessities?
Generally I was able to resupply every 4-5 days. I stayed in a hostel every second re-supply stop on average so I could shower and do laundry.
How did the country/terrain change as you went from north to south on the trail?
The terrain was much rockier and steeper in the north. Then it somewhat flattened out from New York to Virginia. Pennsylvania had basketball-sized rocks through most of the trail and is referred to as Rocksylvania, but wasn’t too bad.
In Virginia the climbs started to get long again but they were switched back more and the trail was more level (no rocks, roots or rivers) than the north so it felt easier.
The largest mountains were in the Smokies. After the Smokies the mountains started to decrease in size.
What was the mileage you hiked per day or per week?
I averaged 15 miles a day over the course of the trail including rest days.
From the start through Vermont (known as Vermud) the mileage was less, but picked up after that.
My highest week was 148 miles. My longest day was 33 miles. I also did four other marathon days with a 26.2, two 27 days, and a 31 as part of the 148 mile week. My last month on the trail was 570 miles.
How did you adjust to the hiker diet, and what did you eat?
The adjustment wasn’t too hard. I just had to drastically increase the quantity of what I was eating. I also had to cut out fresh fruits, meats and veggies which was tough.
I ate two blocks of ramen noodles, two honey buns and a bag of gummy candy every day.
I also ate peanut butter and jelly on tortillas, goldfish, fruit snacks, granola bars, pop tarts, and pepperoni and cheddar cheese frequently.
I had to consume about 5,000 calories a day, but I couldn’t carry that much food so I usually targeted about 4000 a day which ultimately resulted in me losing some weight.
Did you hike with anyone and how was that compared to solo hiking?
I hiked with two guys up in Maine for the first couple weeks. I then hiked solo for the next 1,300 miles until I met up with three other people in Virginia that I hiked the last 700 miles with.
Both ways had their advantages. The miles were a lot easier when I had people to talk to, but planning our miles/ days between resupplies got more difficult with a bigger group. However, we all had similar daily mileage goals so we just naturally stuck together.
What were top highlights of your through hike?
I thought the 100 mile wilderness in Northern Maine was absolutely incredible to see. I also loved most of Virginia, especially the old growth forests and the Grayson and Roan highlands. In a mountain in New Hampshire I turned a corner and about 50 feet away saw a mama moose and her two little moose munching on foliage.
Another highlight was encounters with “trail angels” that generously surprise through hikers with food and beverages left in the woods or given at trail heads.
Other than that it was pretty awesome to just spend time in the woods and meet some cool people.
Would you do it again?
I really loved the A, and I’m very happy I did it. However, there are other long trails all over the world including America, New Zealand, Australia and Spain that I would rather experience first.
The others in America are the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. The PCT, AT and CDT form the Triple Crown of American long distance hiking. And I would do the PCT before the Appalachian Trail again.
What is your next adventure?
I don’t currently have anything planned, but the Triple Crown isn’t entirely out of the question.