"If anybody was lost out there, if they knew this they could find north"
May 19, 2017 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Until the National Park Service took it over in 1968, nobody had ever formally surveyed the trail; a story about the massive project to set survey markers along the entire Appalachian Trail. The trail is also marked with many kinds of less formal AT art. No one is certain if the AT monogram was initially intended to be used as a directional arrow.
posted by jessamyn (10 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a simple man, if I see a multi-link FPP about the AT, I favorite it.

Surprised I haven't seen that poster before, it probably belongs on a wall of a few friends of mine apartments. Thanks Jessamyn!
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:45 AM on May 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Neat. I've seen a ton of those markers but I guess I never realized the AT pointed North. Everything everywhere should point to Mt. Katahdin because everyone should go to it at every opportunity.

Neat post! Thanks.
posted by bondcliff at 7:58 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

No one is certain if the AT monogram was initially intended to be used as a directional arrow.

That's so interesting because there's no way it reads as anything else to me when I look at it so much so that this one with the logo and (another) arrow makes me very uncomfortable.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:07 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

That other blue arrow is probably separate from the AT symbol. Blue is used on the AT to mark side trails to shelters, water sources, trailheads, scenic overlooks, etc. So if that post is at intersection, a hiker would read it as "side trail to the left, AT ahead."
posted by peeedro at 8:27 AM on May 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I flew to Maine to hike Katahdin as a present to myself after graduating. Unsuccessfully tried to summit via the Hunt Trail on my first day, had to turn back at the tree line, it was shockingly cold, wet, and windy, and I was vastly underdressed. Def thought about just going to Acadia and returning home defeated, but the next day the sun came up. I ended up going up via the Helon Taylor trail, along Knife's Edge, and down Hunt. It was so fun. Exhausting, also yes. But very beautiful. Met people of all ages and levels of experience. Slept well that night. Highly recommend.
posted by balmore at 8:37 AM on May 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

balmore, the first time I climbed Katahdin we were hiking up and it was absolutely miserable. Cloudy and wet and I was just kind of dreading getting above treeline only to have to turn around, defeated. Amazingly, before we got up that high the gloom blew away and by the time we got to the summit it was an absolutely crystal clear day, one of the most amazing days I had ever had in the mountains. We continued across the knife edge with the same clear skies.

The second time I climbed it we woke at 3:00 AM and climbed to the top of Pamola peak via headlamp to catch the sunrise. Just as the edge of the sun crested the horizon we heard all these whoops and hollers from the main summit on the other side of the Knife Edge. Turns out they were AT thru hikers who got up there to finish their hike and summit at sunrise.

I've summited it four times now and it's been perfectly clear every time. That mountain is magic for me. I second your recommendation.
posted by bondcliff at 9:05 AM on May 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Bill Byrson's book "A Walk in the Woods" is an excellent story about walking the AT.
The movie....not so much. The movie came off as preachy and there was no "sort of love interest" in the book.
posted by jaded at 10:23 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I hiked a really short section near West Point with a friend who was working on a flip flop like fifteen years ago (she came off the trail early due to injury, I drove her back, and hiked with her for a few days). What I learned then was that everything you think you know about equipment will turn out to be wrong once you spend enough time with the stuff you bought, thinking it was best for you. Since then I have replaced everything but my sleeping bag, and I still kind of want a different tent than the one we bought last year.

My wife and I have now spent some time in Shenandoah National Park, where the park trails intersect and overlap with the AT in many places. We took a detour on one infinitesimal section just so she can also claim to have hiked on the AT, but she kept asking me, "is this what it's like? Is this what it's like?" I was like, "yes? Sort of? It's wider here because more people come through this section. Also, fewer rocks."
posted by fedward at 10:55 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

As someone with a fascination for the AT without even a shred of desire to thru-hike, I greatly enjoyed this post. I wonder if they put up blazes for southbound hikers as well?
posted by Kangaroo at 8:34 AM on May 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wonder if they put up blazes for southbound hikers as well?

Yes, the AT is marked with blazes both northbound and southbound. The blazes for the AT are 2x6 inch vertical white rectangles painted on trees or posts. Above the treeline the trail is marked with rock cairns instead of blazes. The full specifications for how the trail is marked is chapter 11 of this trail maintainer's manual (pdf). That's the guide for my trail club, The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club; the trail is maintained by 31 different trail organizations, so there are some regional variations on how the trail is marked.

The first link in the FPP is about the trail's survey monuments. Marking the trail itself with survey monuments wouldn't be very useful because they aren't readily visible to hikers and because the trail moves from time to time. The markers in the article are cadastral monuments which mark the edges of the trail corridor. From this volunteer guide (pdf), "Monuments are located at every change in direction along the boundary line and on boundary lines of great length (1,000+ feet) at approximately every 500 feet (except in Maine)." Part of the job for the trail maintainers is to bushwhack off-trail along the corridor boundaries to look for any illegal encroachment onto trail property, here's a blog post with a description of that work. Mountaintops will frequently have USGS markers, for example Mount Katahdin, Blood Mountain. These are not necessarily at the highest point on a mountain and the arrows on these do not point North, they point instead to a nearby triangulation marker. Hikers will see a lot more of these than the AT boundary monuments.

If you want to nerd out on survey markers, geocaching is a good place to start and this pdf thoroughly covers the history and use of survey markers. If you're already a GIS nerd you can download the most recent AT GIS data (google earth will open these), or just see the trail as an overlay on google maps here. The National Geodetic Survey has their data online with an interactive map if you want to find your local USGS benchmarks.
posted by peeedro at 1:58 PM on May 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

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