Loc: Nacogdoches, TX, USA
I've read some trail journals of AT through hikes (and others), and I've viewed a smattering of video journals as well. One common occurrence is that hikers don't stay exclusively on the trail. They'll walk or hitch to nearby towns for resupply. Often, they'll even stay in a hotel for the night to recuperate, do laundry, charge their phone, write blogs, etc.
So it occurred to me, if they can segment up their hike like this and still call it a through hike, what's to prevent them from staying a bit longer in town and still call it a through hike. What if they stayed a week? What if they got a temporary job and went back in a month? Next season? What if they stayed in several towns before getting back to the trail?
Here's what I'm really getting at: if someone were to hike the entire AT, or any other long trail, one section at a time, but did each section in order, say one weekend or week at a time, even if they spread it out over ten years or twenty, could they still call it a through hike?
Typically a thru-hike is completed in one year. How a person breaks it up is their decision.
What constitutes a thru-hike is a constant source of discussion on White Blaze. As long as a person isn't trying to set a record, I say a thru-hike is whatever a person says it is.
For myself, I lean towards the White Blaze mentality. For myself, I wouldn't call it a thru-hike if I had to miss a section due to a hurricane, forest fire, or other cause. This is an extreme view, but I feel luck should play a role. If others want to skip sections and call it a thru-hike that's up to them. People often do that on the Colorado Trail because of snow conditions.
Usually people who spread a trail out over years are called segment hikers.
In my opinion, the adventure is what matters and not some arbitrary concept of a thru-hike. I've read many books on the Appalachian Trail, and some of the best books are about people who didn't complete the trail.
(I'm practicing to be a politician, so I took both sides. Later, I'll deny I ever took the less popular view.)
Loc: Nacogdoches, TX, USA
That actually clears things up. I already knew the term "section hiker", but googling the term "segment hiker" also led me to the term "flip-flopper" (a segment hiker who does the sections out of order). It seems all this stuff is already well defined. I like having classifications and labels to neatly organize everything in my brain, but in the end, I agree that it's the experience that matters.
Once when on an overnight backpacking trip on the Colorado Trail, someone asked me if I was thru-hiking. I said no, we were going to keep going until later that afternoon. That left them scratching their head.
Loc: Portland, OR
Gershon is correct that the most basic determiner of a thru-hike is that it gets done within one calendar year. For a very long time it was only applied to a hike that completed one of the Big Three long trails: AT, PCT or CDT.
None of this would matter one whit if there weren't a certain amount of prestige or status attached to the term "thru-hike". All the squabbling over defining who is a 'true' thru-hiker vs. who 'cheated' is really a fight over who gets to be in the clubhouse and wear the secret decoder ring.
I say it's all hiking and if it isn't rewarding enough for its own sake then you probably should change how you are doing it.
Road walkers seem less concerned with White Blazing. Parts of the American Discovery Trail are difficult to follow as it's not marked well. The section in Nevada is potentially lethal without support. Part of the trail through Colorado is backpacking and not road walking. It's impossible to predict what month this part of the trail will be passable due to snow conditions.
People reroute on the American Discovery Trail all the time and nobody says they aren't doing a thru-hike -- that is nobody except the people on White Blaze. Now they don't pay much attention to it.
In the motorcycling world people say, "Show me a picture or it didn't happen." I don't think a thru-hike of a long trail should count until the book is published. Just kidding, but I thought I'd stir the pot for conversation.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I do know that the associations involved with the three trails (AT, CDT, PCT) plus ALDHA, give out completion certificates for those who do the whole trail, regardless of how or in what time frame. You could spend 5 years on each of the three trails and then get your Triple Crown award from ALDHA-West. After all, most people cannot take 5-6 months away from whatever they normally do when not hiking (usually working for a living), and the general feeling is that they shouldn't be penalized because of this.
Detours in effect for the specific year (mostly due to fires) are OK as they are part of the official trail at the time. In my area, nobody condemns thru-hikers for taking the spectacular Eagle Creek alternate from Wahtum Lake to Cascade Locks instead of the relatively boring PCT. Nearly everyone roadwalks from the north side of the Bridge of the Gods to Carson and up Forest Road 30 to the PCT to avoid the extremely arduous climb of Table Mountain preceded by many ugly wall-to-wall clearcuts and followed by losing most of the elevation gained going up Table Mt. Of course those on the PCT and CDT don't generally bother with White Blaze, which is almost entirely an AT forum and whch does have a number of "purists" posting. The CDT folks are resisting the idea of a "standard" trail because the many alternate routes are equally interesting and, to them, valid.
There have been plenty of incidents of thru-hikers leaving the trail for a week or even a month due to illness or injury or a family death or wedding, and coming back to complete the trail.
I personally have never had the thru-hiker mentality. I prefer to go slow, frequently stopping to admire the view and smell the flowers. While I do admire their accomplishments, I personally think that thru-hikers miss a lot. YMMV and HYOH, of course!
Edited by OregonMouse (09/03/1410:23 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey