Let’s get right to the point: my girlfriend and I are planning a Mountains-to-Sea Trail attempt in 2023. We will attempt to thru-hike the whole trail in about three months.
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Last week we were on vacation. We traveled out to North Carolina and did a couple hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park/Pisgah National Forest. While there we were determined to see Clingman’s Dome, the start of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). We have been planning the MST trek for a couple of months and we wanted to get eyes on the trailhead. We did and it made the whole thing seem a bit more real.
Our Mountains-to-Sea Trail Attempt: 5Ws
Many of you probably haven’t heard of the MST. It certainly isn’t as famous as the Appalachian Trail. Here are the 5Ws of our trip, along with some general info about the trail.
My girlfriend and I are thru-hiking. Some friends may join us for sections and we’ll definitely have some support here and there. This isn’t a snap-decision for us. We have been loosely planning for a couple months by the time this comes out.
What (is the MST) & Where
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is 1,200 miles long and is confined to the state of North Carolina. It starts at Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and zig-zags, east-to-west across the state. It terminates at Jockey’s Ridge in the Outer Banks. The trail covers four National Parks, three National Forests, ten State Parks, and traverses 37 counties. Part of the route can be traveled via canoe (we’re not sure if we’ll do that, or just walk). If you want to know more there are two books out there (as opposed to the dozens about the Appalachian Trail). I haven’t read either yet, but I have both on order. They are The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina by Danny Bernstein and Hiking North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail by Allen de Hart.
We are planning for a 2023 thru-hike attempt. We’ll likely begin our hike in April. At an average of 15-miles per day (some shorter, some longer) we should finish in about two and a half months. Of course we’re planning for some no-mile days in there, too. That puts us finishing in July. We will probably traverse the trail from west-to-east, though the idea of starting at the beach and climbing the mountains is pretty compelling, too, so this could change.
Why do a hike like this? First, we love hiking. It seems only right that we would do an ultra-long distance hike of this nature. We also want to push our endurance and do something that makes us a bit uncomfortable. We want to see a broad spectrum of terrain up close and personal. There are a bunch of reasons. So why the MST?
Nothing against the Appalachian Trail but it’s super crowded. We’ve hiked on it in several states. Aside from thru-hikers you have section hikers, day-hikers, weekend warriors, overnighters… The AT is a very busy trail. While parts of it are busy it’s not a very popular thru-hiker’s trail. This also seemed like a little something different.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is also easier to plan in some ways; the shorter duration makes weather at the beginning and end less of an issue. It also makes finances and jobs a bit more forgiving. On the other hand, some of the trail is incomplete and just borders roads. And maybe mentally it was easier to commit to 1,200 miles than 2,100?
Logistics: this is pretty far out but we both have to take several months off work. I’ll likely take a leave of absence, while my girlfriend’s job is letting her take an extended vacation (maybe?). We also have home expenses to save up, etc. Our house and dogs need to be taken care of while we’re gone, so we’ll have to find someone willing to house-sit/dog-sit. We’re working on it and confident we’ll make it happen.
We have a gear to accumulate. We have camping stuff and we have hiking stuff. We don’t have a lot of backpacking stuff. So, in the next two years we need to accumulate gear. We both need backpacks and sleeping bags. To save weight (and money) we’ll share a tent and cookware. We need stuff like bear canisters. Not only do we have to buy all that stuff, we have to start using it and getting comfortable under it. That’s going to be a lot of work. I’m sure you’ll see some of that reflected in gear reviews here.
We also have our physical fitness to worry about. Getting serious about a Mountains-to-Sea Trail attempt has lit a fire under both of us to work out and get on the trail more. We have a bunch of conditioning hikes planned, and we would like to invite some of you to consider doing one with us: the Bataan Memorial Death March in March, 2022. We planned to do Bataan in 2020 but it was cancelled for obvious reasons. Bataan is a 26-mile course over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. If you’re interested in meeting up with us out there (or hosting us along the way) get in touch!