Appalachian Trail Won’t Recognize Thru-Hikers Until Pandemic is ‘Under Control’

by Josh Lanier

Anyone that wants to traverse the nearly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail should probably wait. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the group that oversees and certifies thru-hikes, will not recognize the feat until the pandemic is “under control.”

“Due to the pandemic and the risk that interstate travel could spread COVID-19 (including the emerging variants that could be even more contagious), the ATC has been advising hikers to postpone their hikes until the CDC has deemed the pandemic ‘under control’ or a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment is widely available and distributed,” the ATC said on its website

The trail stretches from Georgia to Maine. Hikers consider it one of the most daunting and difficult trails in the country. The Conservancy began discouraging hikers from taking on the thru-hike — traversing the entire 2,190 mile trail — last year. It also stopped issuing hangtags last year. Those bright plastic tags that hikers usually put on their packs signify thru-hikes, Fox News reported.

“Our advice, as long as the pandemic is raging and vaccines aren’t widely available, and the CDC hasn’t given us the all-clear signal, we’re recommending that long distance hikes not be taken on the AT,” Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director, to the Asheville Citizens Times.

“We’re concerned about the safety of AT volunteers, AT hikers, of the members of AT communities and of course ATC staff and staff of our federal partners.”

The ATC didn’t recognize any thru-hikers last year, and it will not award any this year, Sommerville said.

Hiking groups are discouraging longer treks this year. Instead they ask that people stick to shorter day hikes for the near future.

Two Hikers Had Hoped to Complete ‘Triple Crown’ in 2021

The news may come as a shock to two Stanford students who are attempting to complete the “Triple Crown” in 2021. Sammy Potter and Jackson Parell had hoped to become the youngest people ever to hike the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide. It’s about 8,000 miles of walking.

The started hiking the Appalachian Trail on Jan. 1. But it’s unclear how the ATC’s decision may affect their plans.

“Nature isn’t different now than it was when COVID started. It’s probably the only thing that isn’t different,” Potter told the LA Times. “I’m not saying that I want to forget that or anything, but it does feel like a crazy opportunity to just get in touch with something that has been the same for hundreds of years and is doing its own thing.”

The men are documenting the trip on Instagram. You can follow along here.