Altitude and the Appalachian Trail

We had a great time on the Ramsey Cascade Trail, and wanted to hike more. We were planning to hike Porters Creek, but our guide let us know that what we’d see would be pretty much the same as what we already experienced. We had several people suggest we hike out to Charlie’s Bunion from Newfound Gap. We had wanted to take photos with the AT sign anyway, so this sounded like a terrific plan.

We drove up the next morning and parked at Newfound Gap. It was windy and super cold. I was glad I had my puffer and soft shell jacket. It was awesome watching all the backpackers coming through the area. I’m certain a healthy percentage of them were thru hikers and we enjoyed seeing what packs and accessories they were carrying.

We got our coveted sign pics! We hope to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020, so have been reading and learning everything we can about the journey. Most of what we know about backpacking has come from the research about the AT. We had planned to hike it sooner, but we have been scheduling too many other exciting excursions, and we had to push it out. Ultimately, we would love to be triple crown hikers. (AT, PCT, CDT)

Hiking on this venerable trail was exciting, and incredibly beautiful. It was a perfect day, with the sun out and the view on either side of us. I was super excited about reaching the incredible photo op at our destination.

Unfortunately, I started feeling off. I was getting slightly dizzy, short of breath and my vision turned into a ‘fish eye lens’ perspective. I pushed on for a while, but started to feel insecure. With the steep drop offs and uneven trail, I began reconsidering the day’s hike.

Thom convinced me to try a little longer, and I’m glad that I did, because the surroundings were amazing. Ultimately, I decided that it was entirely unsafe for me to continue. We had hiked about a mile out, and I was feeling pretty stupid. I had just killed the 2,000 elevation gain the day before and couldn’t even manage an easy 4 mile trail. The tears welled up, and I compounded my embarrassment by crying.

We headed back, and all I could think about was our upcoming trip to Idaho with Hell Hike & Raft. Newfound Gap has an elevation at 5,049 feet and our time in the Seven Devils Mountains would take us to 8,300 feet! If I was having issues here, I was worried that I was going to fail at the big trip of the year.

After talking with others, we learned that dehydration may have been an issue as well. We were super glad we had decided to hike here, instead of Porter’s Creek, if only so we could learn about potential pitfalls for future trips. We try to take every experience as a learning exercise, and all of them are valuable. We knew from this hike that we were going to have to study up on elevation prevention in order to succeed in Idaho. That alone was worth the price of admission.

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