This year, about 2,652 hikers hope to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and complete the 2,200-mile hike that stretches from Georgia to Maine within one year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization that keeps track of the number and starting point of all hikers on the trail each year.
The people who hike the A.T. come from all walks of life — some are taking a sabbatical from high-pressure lives, others are students seeking adventure before they get down to the business of finding out who they want to become.
But for one A.T. thru-hiker, this year's hike is neither an escape or an adventure — it's simply a chance to hang out with mom and dad.
Ellie Quirin is 1 year old. On March 21, she began her own A.T. thru-hiking journey along with her parents, Bekah and Derrick Quirin. If the Quirins are successful, baby Ellie will become the youngest person to ever thru-hike the trail.
The Quirins are doing what's called a flip-flop hike through the A.T. They started in Virginia and proceeded south. They reached Springer Mountain in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest on May 13, marking the end of the first third of their hike (Spring Mountain is the southern terminus of the A.T.). Now the Quirins are working their way back up the trail, this time to reach Mount Katahdin in Maine, the northern terminus for the trail.
Flip-flopping through the A.T. offers a few advantages over just starting from Spring Mountain (northbound hikers, or NOBOs) or from Mount Katahdin (southbound hikers, or SOBOs). Per the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, flip-flopping allows hikers to more easily customize their trips according to desired weather for certain parts of the trail and, since the A.T. is a bit easier in the middle, it gives them the opportunity to get their trail legs. There are other positives as well, including reducing the overall environmental impact of hikers all going in the same direction and at roughly the same time.
For the Quirins, this approach the trail makes a lot of sense. It'll give Ellie time to get used to the long walks, but it'll also give Bekah and Derrick a chance to really get used to carrying Ellie on the trail as well. This was probably a big help when they scaled Blood Mountain, the highest peak in the Georgia portion of the A.T.
Another perk? As the summer warms up, they'll be heading north and will able to avoid some of the Southeast and Chesapeake regions' heat and humidity, definitely a plus when hiking with an infant strapped to your back.
Best time for baby's first A.T. hike
We love it! Well.. Most of us do. We finally got around to setting up our @zpacks Triplex ultralight tent. We have fondly named it Casa Verde. I am super impressed with this tent! The craftsmanship and attention to detail results in a superior shelter that cuts weight but not corners. Perfect for our AT thruhike! Did I mention we have 48 days until our start date? 😳
Some may think the Quirins are crazy to attempt such a trip. But I think they're brilliant.
When my eldest daughter was 6 months old, my husband and I packed her up along with our dog and drove from our home in coastal North Carolina to Maine's Acadia National Park for two weeks of camping and hiking. Most people thought we were insane. Who takes a baby camping?
I don't think I heard a single encouraging word the entire time we were planning that trip. But after six months of round-the-clock feedings, diaper changes and interrupted sleep, that camp-out reminded my husband and I who we were and who we wanted to become as a family.
Were there challenges to camping with a baby? Sure, but there were also a lot of things that went more smoothly simply because our baby was so young. And it's exactly these reasons that make the Quirins so smart to attempt this trip now.
Because she's so young, Ellie isn't walking yet. She may take her first steps along the trail. But for now, she's content to ride along on her mom's back. By next year, that will have changed completely. And then it will be five or six years (more if the Quirins decide to have more children, which they'd like to do) before they can make the attempt again. Currently, the youngest person to hike the A.T. is 5 years old, and that's actually pretty darned young for such a grueling adventure.
Ellie's other needs are also relatively simple right now. Her taste buds are developing but she has not yet reached the age where she will demand certain foods for certain meals. According to her parents, she also still takes long naps and she's more than happy to take those naps in the baby carrier. That means Bekah and Derrick can cover a lot of miles while Ellie sleeps. As for entertainment, they plan to let her do lots of playing in the tent. And what could be more entertaining than the constant variation of scenery along the trail?
The biggest issue — and the challenge that the Quirins are asked about most frequently — is the diapers. The Quirins' current plan is to double wrap the diapers in Ziplock bags and then carry them (outside their packs) until they can dispose of them.
Weather also might play a defining role in the Quirins' trip. A common saying on the trail is "no rain, no pain, no Maine," meaning that trekkers who can't withstand such challenges are unlikely to complete the length of the trail. Will Ellie be as willing to sit in that baby carrier on a cold and windy day? Probably not. But while most A.T. hikers complete the journey in around six months, the Quirins are giving themselves the full year's time to complete their trip, so that they can make allowances for days when it wouldn't be wise or fun to hike with a baby.
The Quirins are both in their mid-twenties and very experienced with hiking (Derrick was a local outdoor guide in South Carolina), so this is the perfect time and age for them to embark on this big adventure. I, for one, can't wait to see them cross the finish line.
This story was originally published in March 2017 and has been updated with new information.