Review: 2015 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion

The folks at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy - trusted friends who are worthy caretakers of the Trail - popped me a review copy of the 2015 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion that they publish in conjunction with the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA). The Companion is a fabulous Trail guide for long-distance hikers and flatlanders too.

Are there any books you love? The Companion is one of my favorites. Yes, it's a reference work. Not the kind of reading you curl up with by the fire on a cold night. I do anyway.

I have not thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), nor will I; however, my simply dandy job pays me to travel the AT from end to end to discover strange new worlds ... new lives and new civilizations. When I travel the AT, I never leave home without my Companion.

The only problem I have with the Companion is the impression some have that it's only for "thru-hikers." When I rule the world, I'm going to delete the word "thru" from the title and make it The Appalachian Trail Hikers' Companion.

Most of us live paycheck to paycheck. Not many of us have enough cash stashed away to (hello?) quit our jobs; spend a grand or more on gear; travel all the way to Georgia or Maine to hike the Trail; and, then support ourselves on the Trail for (hello?) six to nine months. That's about $30,000 in lost wages, supplies and life on the Trail - maybe a lot more.

In 2014, fewer than 3,000 hikers attempted a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, according to the ATC. An estimated 800 hearty souls - or about 25% - trekked the entire Trail in 2014. The most common guess about how many people hike the Appalachian Trail each year is "about 2-3 million." My opinion is more like 3-5 million a year, but don't ask me to prove it.

Not all hikers finish the Trail in a single year. Only the strong survive.

Not all hikers finish the Trail in a single year. Only the strong survive.

The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion is not just for the one-in-a thousand hikers who walk the Trail end to end in a year. For every thru-hiker, there are a thousand men and women and kids who hit the Trail for an afternoon, weekend, vacation or a section hike who could benefit from the Companion.

Thru-hikers will truly appreciate the Companion's epic listing of post offices up and down the Trail. There are more spartan Trail guides that are, in my opinion, better suited for a thru-hike, but the Companion simply has more material for the average hiker, to my eye.

More information about where to begin in Maine, for example. Did you know you cannot just waltz, hike or saunter up Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine, camp overnight atop the summit and wend your way down the mountain sipping champagne with your dog and 20 of your friends and family? Camping is restricted. The size of groups is limited. Reservations must be made - in advance. Dogs and alcohol are not allowed. The Companion tells you what the rules are - along with what happens if you flaunt them.

The Companion warns you about the dangerous ford at the Kennebec River and how to cross safely, and where you're most likely to find carnivorous plants along the Trail (try page 209). You'll have to go to page 45 to find out if Curley Maple Shelter in North Carolina has a privy available to its 12 potential occupants. Some things are better known in advance.

The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion from ALDHA & the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion from ALDHA & the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Descriptions of trail features, town maps, points of elevation or tables showing distances are on each page. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

By my count, there are 264 pages in the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion filled with all things Appalachian Trail.

Hoping for a weekend hike in one of the 14 states along our Beloved Path? Not a problem. The hiking maps - with distances to Mt. Katahdin and/or Springer Mountain - will show you how far apart the shelters or hostels or towns are ... and what kind of terrain you can expect.

Vermont's Teago General Store is a cool place to stock up on treats, cheese and delicious sammiches. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Vermont's Teago General Store is a cool place to stock up on treats, cheese and delicious sammiches. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Hoping for pizza and a shower in the next 20-30 miles of the Trail before you head home? Bang! The Companion will tell you where to get it, how to get there and probably their phone number too. Resupply spots are in there too.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is about ... hiking the Appalachian Trail. You'll need much more than town trivia.

How can you tell which parts of the Trail are steep? Maps, maps and more maps in the Companion.

Dragging along Grampa, a kid or a newbie? You'll want to skip Mt. Katahdin, the approach trail in Amicalola State Park or most of New Hampshire's White Mountains. Want something comparatively more flat? Consider the Little Gap portion of the AT in Pennsylvania, among a hundred others in Virginia and elsewhere.

If it's on the Appalachian Trail, the Companion can lead you to it. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

If it's on the Appalachian Trail, the Companion can lead you to it. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Don't worry about running out of water when you're near the home of "Crayon Lady." She'll let you use the spigot behind her house (page 141). Who doesn't want to meet Crayon Lady?

Just about every gap, flat, creek, river, town, pond, parking lot or road that crosses the Appalachian Trail marks your spot on the AT. If you stay on the Trail, you cannot get lost and you'll always know how far it is to your next shelter, water source, outfitter or Snickers bar.

If you section hike, you'll need your own road maps to get to your starting point. That's one way the Companion could be improved, I think. It would be handy to have road maps for states or sections, instead of having to rely on an atlas or Google maps. Of course, that makes the Companion bigger ... and heavier ... and more expensive.

Michael "WingHeart" Wingeart - a 1996 AT Thru-Hiker who is affiliated with ALDHA recently told me, "There are over 40 volunteer ALDHA field editors that graciously give their time and mileage on their vehicles to [compile the Companion] for the hikers on the Appalachian Trail. And we have been doing this for the last 22 years! And we will continue to do so because we want to not because we are financially compensated for it. We take a lot of pride in our work and are more than happy to do so for the AT hiking community! "Live to Hike and Hike to Live!"

The Companion is written and published months ahead of time, which means a few items might be out of date. There's a new detour of the AT at Fontana Dam, for example. Updates on stuff like that can easily be found on the websites of ALDHA and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

If you ever drive to or around Alaska, you'll need a copy of The Milepost. If you are looking for a nice place to hike for a picnic or the adventure of a lifetime, get a copy of the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion to guide your steps.

Or stay home and read it by the fire. It's a vital reference book and a faithful companion. Don't hit the Trail without it.

Get the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion from the ATC

Get the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion from ALDHA

Tags: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail, Hiking Gear, News, Appalachian Trail Clubs, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, Entertainment, Books, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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Tom Bielecki on Jan 17, 2015
The White Mountains are now in Vermont?
Robert Sutherland on Jan 20, 2015
No, they're in New Hampshire. My mistake. Sorry.

But you can see them from Sarah Palin's house on a clear day.