14.2 miles on Appalachian Trail, snowy
Elevation gain: 985'
Every so often, something really special comes along that changes your perspective forever. This happened when I first started running four years ago, and again when I finished my first marathon in 2010. I felt that familiar feeling again today when I stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail for the first time.
On Friday, I made the spontaneous decision to ditch my usual Saturday long run at Wissahickon Park in favor of exploring the AT for the first time. My friend Janine has been making weekly trips to hike the trail, which is about an hour and a half north of Philadelphia. So when she invited me to accompany her, I jumped at the chance.
Janine planned our north-south route from Smith Gap to Little Gap, which totaled about 7 miles. She drove one car with our friend Sean, and I drove another car, so we could park one at each trail head. We all started at Smith Gap together. I decided to run out and back, which gave me 14.2 miles for the day, while they hiked the 7 miles point to point.
Most of the run was fairly easy by trail standards. There was little elevation change, although it was also rocky and technical. One thing I did not account for was the 4-6 inch layer of snow that covered the entire trail. The snow out there today was light, fluffy, and perfect for snowboarding, but not exactly ideal for running. It felt a bit like running on wet sand on the beach. Next time, I'll be sure to pack extra socks in my hydration pack, because my shoes and socks were soaked through after about 5 miles.
I was a bit nervous about going out without a paper trail map, but Janine had assured me the trail would be very well marked. I also had my iPhone with me in case I got turned around, but I did not want to rely on it. I looked out for the white blazes on trees, and was pleasantly surprised to see them about every 20 feet on the trail. There were also a few signs indicating distances to nearby points of interest.
There was one treacherous descent located right before the 7 mile halfway point, leading down to the parking lot where Janine parked her car. On this downhill, there was at least a half mile of snow and ice covered boulders, which took me at least 15 minutes to make my way down. Although the descent down the rocks was terrifying, I had a much easier time climbing back up.
Section of rocky climb
Running on the Appalachian Trail is like nothing I've ever experienced. There is something truly awe-inspiring about running on a revered part of American history. Today was my first time on the AT, but I know it will certainly not be my last.