Our long-awaited summit day finally comes, albeit two years later than we anticipated it would be! We leave Katahdin Stream parking and hike up the Hunt Trail to summit and then hike down the Abol Trail to the Abol Campground. Thanks so much for following along on this great adventure with us for these past three years!
WEST UNION, Ohio — Every year thousands of people hike the Appalachian Trail, but only a few hundred will complete the full length of the roughly 2,200 miles of trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Those who finish the entire trail in 12 months or less are called “thru-hikers”.
This year, Ron Birt from the West Union area was one of them.
Setting off from Springer Mountain on Feb. 24, Birt arrived at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine five months and one week later on Aug. 1.
Weeks ahead of schedule, he became one of the approximately 19,000 people who have “thru-hiked” the trail since it was established in 1937.
64 Year Old Hikes the Appalachian Trail
Every year, more than two million people hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail – one of the most famous and longest hiking trails in America. Referred to as the “Appalachian Trail” or the “AT”, the route is approximately 2,181 miles long – making it the longest continuously marked footpath in the world.
As it follows the Appalachian Mountain range, the trail passes through the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Virginia boasts the most miles of trail – about 550 miles, while West Virginia claims the least with only four miles.
While maps are useful for trekking the AT, according to Birt, hikers can follow the trail simply by keeping an eye out for marks on trees and stones called “paint blazes”.
A former Bellefontaine police officer, 64-year-old Birt and his wife Denise moved to Adams County shortly after his retirement in 2013.
Looking for a challenge, he attempted to thru-hike the AT at that time, but was turned back when he developed a blister on his foot.
“I only made it half way,” he says. “But I learned from my mistakes and this time I knew how to prevent blisters so I was able to make it the whole way.”
To prepare himself physically for the trek, Birt trained on a treadmill and spent weeks packing a backpack on extended walks near his home.
“You can’t just jump up off the couch and start walking the AT,” he says. “As much training as I did, when I got out there, I decided to take it slow in the beginning, so I was able to increase my miles per day as the weeks went by.”
Starting out, Birt carried a 30-pound backpack filled with heavier winter supplies, a tent, a sleeping bag, cook stove, blow-up air pad for sleeping, one change of clothes, hiking poles, a water filter, and a four-day supply of food. When summer arrived, he lightened his load by sending his winter supplies home.
He never allowed the enormity of what he was attempting to discourage him.
“I didn’t think about that,” he says. “I took it one week at a time and always kept my goal simple – reach the next town.”
Trekking up and down unfamiliar mountainous territory isn’t without its dangers.
Hikers must be wary not only of the terrain, but also of the wildlife they’re likely to meet.
“I ran into four different bears, but they didn’t pay much attention to me. I saw rattlesnakes and copperheads, but they didn’t try to at strike me,” says Birt. “There was all kinds of wildlife, but I had no problems at all from that.”
The greatest danger Birt would face came not from animals, but from the weather. He awakened one morning in the Smokey Mountains to find himself buried under a heavy blanket of snow.
“I woke up in my tent, and it was completely dark. I thought it was night time, but in fact, it was daylight,” he says. “I dug myself out and hiked to the nearest cross roads through thigh-high snow until I got to New Found Gap where I called to have a shuttle come pick me up, but it was so bad, the roads were closed, nobody could get in or out.”
Birt, another “thru-hiker”, and a family of eight who were also hiking the trail, were forced to find shelter for the night.
“There was a heated restroom at the Gap which was unlocked, so we took refuge there and the next day, I tried to walk into Gatlinburg,” he said. “I got about six miles down the road then a snow plow picked me up and took me the rest of the way in.”
While most people who hike the AT start out alone, they don’t remain by themselves for long. During his trek, Birt met a young couple from Alabama.
“I began hiking up with them, and we ended up summitting together, even though they started after I did.”
All hikers on the AT earn unique trail names – Birt’s was Buckeye, and his two companions were called Pickles and Blueberry.
He says the hike is somewhat easier when it’s shared with others.
“You look out for one another, even though you don’t necessarily hike together,” he says. “It’s like a trail family. At the end of the day, it’s not unusual for 10-15 hikers to stop at the same spot. Some sleeping in shelters, some sleeping in tents, but you’re all in the same area because you try to camp together where there’s water spots.”
Passing through the southern states hikers come across multiple towns where they can rest and refresh their supplies.
However, in the northern states, the towns appear less frequently.
“Once you get into new Hampshire and Maine, the towns become more sparse,” says Birt. “You have to travel a lot further before you can resupply.”
Especially trying is the “100-Mile Wilderness” section of the trail which runs through the state of Maine.
Birt and his companions could only carry enough to last through half the trek.
“We had to make arrangements for the remainder of the trail,” he says. “When we got half way, we had a hostel drop off food to re-supply us for the second half.”
A group known as the Trail Angels also look out for the hikers. Along the trail they leave supplies for hikers known as “Trail Magic”.
“Sometimes they’ll even set up a tent and cook hamburgers and hotdogs to feed the hikers,” says Birt.“ They’re really a great bunch of people.”
Birt says his most awe-inspiring moment along the trail came when he reached the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where he climbed the AT’s highest point at Mount Washington, elevation 6,000 feet plus.
“It was magnificent,” he says. “Once I got on the ridges above the tree line, I just sat and spent a couple hours enjoying the view.”
Birt says the best things he took away from his AT experience were a sense of accomplishment and the friendships he formed along the way.
“The last four or five days on the trail you’re anticipating that’s it’s coming to an end, and part of you wants to get it done because you’ve been away from home for five months,” he says. “On the other hand, I was sorry to say goodbye to the young couple I was hiking with. It was bittersweet, but I was glad to be going home.”
64-year old former police officer walks 2,000 miles in five months
Patricia Beech [source]
Proceeds will benefit the park and Friends of Baxter State Park programs.
Friends of Baxter State Park is holding a sign auction through Dec. 6.
The nonprofit organization that helps support and preserve the wilderness of the 209,644-acre park, is auctioning off retired Baxter State Park trail signs as a fundraiser.
The auction includes 15 signs from favorite locations like Mount OJI, the Saddle Trail, Katahdin Lake, the Freezeout Trail, the Appalachian Trail, Kidney Pond and Mount Coe.
A special addition to the auction is the dinner bell from Kidney Pond Camps, a historic Maine sporting camp that is now one of Baxter State Park’s most popular campgrounds.
“These signs are one-of-a-kind keepsakes for anyone who enjoys hiking and camping in Baxter State Park” said Aaron Megquier, the executive director of the Friends group, in a news release. Many of the signs are well-worn, showing their exposure to harsh alpine conditions — or in some cases, the park’s resident wildlife.
The organization will donate half of the auction proceeds directly to Baxter State Park. The remaining proceeds will support Friends programs such as the Baxter Youth Conservation Corps, a new program that hires teens from the Katahdin region for summer trail work in the park.
Bidding closes at midnight Wednesday, Dec. 6. The auction is entirely online and may be accessed at 32auctions.com/fbsp.
A hiker from South Jersey had to be rescued from one of Maine’s highest mountains on Saturday afternoon.
The unidentified 29-year-old woman from Moorestown was medevaced off Pamola Peak in Baxter State Park when she fell ill while hiking with five other people, park officials said in a news release.
It took a park ranger 80 minutes to reach the group after a 911 call was placed at 11:57 a.m. The Maine Army National Guard Air Evac unit removed the woman at 4:20 p.m. and flew her to Millinocket Regional Hospital after it was determined she’d require further treatment.
Officials noted that had there been lower cloud cover or rainy weather, an evacuation by helicopter would not have been possible. Instead, transporting a patient from the 4,919 foot mountain to the nearest road would have required 30-40 people and would have taken 24-36 hours to complete, according to park officials.
Pamola Peak is about a mile away from Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine at 5,267 feet.
The more than 200,000 acre park is in the wilderness of north-central Maine and is roughly the same size as Middlesex County, New Jersey.
When Pennsylvania Police Captain Michael Yanchak of the Peters Township police department retires Jan. 6, the 33-year department veteran will be anything but idle.
“Being able to walk through a piece of history intrigues me,” said Yanchak, 64.
Besides Maine and Georgia, the trail goes through parts of New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It is also in close proximity to major battlefield sites such as Antietam and Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.
“The United States is very large and I have gotten to see it in bits and pieces,” said Yanchak, an avid hiker. “But, I feel like I’ve missed a lot.”
Yanchak has been busy prepping for the excursion at his Canonsburg home. For months, he has been dehydrating food, pouring over maps, reading and talking with people who have hiked the trail for tips. He said his wife Melody, their daughters, Meredith, 33, a theater teacher in Texas and Melissa, 35, a keyboardist in Arkansas, and their son Michael, 36, a one-man vocal band who lives in Pittsburgh, have been extremely supportive. In fact, Meredith plans on hiking with him in June, when she is on summer vacation.
“My kids have all back packed since they have been 4 or 5,” he said. “They have all been hounding me for my daily itinerary.”
Yanchak said he will begin his hike somewhere in southern New England in May and walk 15 to 20 miles a day. To prepare for his journey, Yanchak said he will begin taking progressively longer hikes with a 35-pound backpack to make sure he is in shape.
“Bears won’t bother me,” he said.
Besides fulfilling his goal, Yanchak said he views the upcoming trip, which should last six to 10 months, as cathartic. He said he doesn’t know whether he will miss police work, despite being a police officer half his life. He also doesn’t know whether he will go back to work, or remain retired.
“When I come off the trail, everything should be clearer,” he said.
Yanchak started out his law enforcement career as a state corrections officer in Montgomery County. After three years, he left that position and enlisted the military and became a military police officer. Following a three-year stint in the service, he returned to work as a corrections officer, but when an opening on the Peters Township police was posted, he applied and got the job. It also gave him an opportunity to return home to Western Pennsylvania.
“I believe we all have to give something back to society,” Yanchak said. “Me being a police officer is my way of giving back.”
Yanchak said he has been on a number of interesting calls over the years as a police officer, including one on a hot Memorial Day weekend several years ago. He was called to administer CPR on a man who was having a heart attack. Yanchak said he saved the man’s life. But a month later, the man shows up at the police department.
“He wanted to complain to the chief I broke his ribs,” said Yanchak, who was the only person in the station at the time. He said man did not recognize him. “I took his name and said I would leave a message for the chief and I did.”