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  1. #1
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    Default Advice for first hike on AT (Duncannon - Harpers Ferry)

    Hey,

    I am planning to do my first section hike of the AT. Looking at doing the stretch between Duncannon and Harper's Ferry and had a few questions:

    1. Is ten miles a day realistic for a couple of newbies on the trail over that route? We have about ten days to do 100 miles which seems ok but wanted to check.

    2. How bad are black flies/mosquitoes/ticks in that area in June? We are from the UK so not so familiar with this. Also, how cool can it be in the night time?

    3. Is it worth taking a tent? Would prefer to be independent, but there seem to be shelters, and no point lugging extra weight if there are plenty of places to stay. Also, am used to just sleeping under a tarp basha but need trees for that to hang the tarp. From the maps it looks pretty wooded, but don't want to get caught out.

    4. In terms of water, is it worth bringing water purifying tablets or are there enough places to refill along the way?

    5. We can do northbound or southbound. Any suggestions as to which is better/harder?

    Sorry for the basic questions, but any help would be appreciated...

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by DH42 View Post
    Hey,

    I am planning to do my first section hike of the AT. Looking at doing the stretch between Duncannon and Harper's Ferry and had a few questions:

    1. Is ten miles a day realistic for a couple of newbies on the trail over that route? We have about ten days to do 100 miles which seems ok but wanted to check.

    2. How bad are black flies/mosquitoes/ticks in that area in June? We are from the UK so not so familiar with this. Also, how cool can it be in the night time?

    3. Is it worth taking a tent? Would prefer to be independent, but there seem to be shelters, and no point lugging extra weight if there are plenty of places to stay. Also, am used to just sleeping under a tarp basha but need trees for that to hang the tarp. From the maps it looks pretty wooded, but don't want to get caught out.

    4. In terms of water, is it worth bringing water purifying tablets or are there enough places to refill along the way?

    5. We can do northbound or southbound. Any suggestions as to which is better/harder?

    Sorry for the basic questions, but any help would be appreciated...
    1- assuming you have any sort of hiking experience in the past (it sounds like you do) you should be able to do this section in 7 or 8 days, maybe even only 5
    2- i seem to never encounter bugs even when hiking at the worst possible times in areas known for terrible bug problems, so others may have better information. it will likely be hot, even at night
    3- a tarp is fine if you know how to use it and are comfortable doing that, but bring something and don't count on more formal places to stay, though one can do that section with very few, if any, nights spent outdoors if one were so inclined.
    4- bring some means of purifying, especially in june. if its hot youll drink faster than youll come to places to refill from (in the sense you mean) unless you like lugging gallons of water around
    5- nope

  3. #3

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    You seem pretty new to backpacking, based on the questions. The only truly reliable pace indicator is from your own experience. However, if you're in good shape and you aren't overloaded with gear, 10 miles per day there is a reasonable goal and you may go faster. But if newer hikers get ailments (such as blisters), are overloaded, aren't quite in shape for backpacking, etc, then all estimates go out the window.
    I would suggest having a fairly open schedule, so that you really enjoy your hike.

    Definitely yes for some sort of shelter and water purification.

  4. #4
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    You'll be surprised how far you can hike in a day. 10 miles should be fairly easy (the distance, not necessarily the hiking part).
    There's critters everywhere, but shouldn't be too bad. Don't get crazy with spray and carry a whole can. It's just 1 more thing to carry, they're not that bad anyway. Just check for tics on you every night, those are probably the worst enemy out there.
    Always, always, always carry some form of shelter with you. You never know when the scout troop or another group took over the shelter. Not to mention (hopefully not) if an emergency arises. But don't carry that 15 pound 5 person tent either.
    I'd definitely bring some form of water purification. There's people like me that rarely filter water, but some sources I do. To be safe, you should filter but that debate's in another thread somewhere.
    You should take a look at AWOL, Guthook, or now Whiteblaze has their own guidebook (I'm going to purchase this one soon) on the home page. They're all very informative and show where the water sources are at so depending on how much water you drink, you can plan out the next water source by whichever guidebook you choose.
    NOBO or SOBO? You can look at the elevation charts in the guidebooks and decide for whichever section you want to do.
    Hope this helps a bit.
    Last edited by Christoph; 02-19-2019 at 13:37.
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  5. #5
    I plan, therefore I am Strategic's Avatar
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    A couple of pieces of advice, from someone who's done these sections and lived in Pennsylvania.

    1. Ten miles a day is quite easy on this section, but there are considerations. There is a long stretch from Darlington shelter south of Duncannon to Alec Kennedy shelter south of Boiling Springs, mostly across farmland where there is no place legal to camp. You should plan on that day being somewhere on the order of 16-17 miles (it's actually 18.2 miles from shelter to shelter, but there is camping possible a bit closer together at each end) of hiking. Fortunately, it's also the easiest part of the entire section (mostly flat farmland) where it's pretty easy to make that kind of mileage.

    2. You will encounter some mosquitoes that time of year, but not black flies (those aren't found in Penn.) and should have some repellent just in case. Ticks aren't usually too much of a problem. It will be very warm during the day (27*C to 35*C) and not very cool at night (18*C to 25*C) depending on the weather that particular week. If you're lucky it will be in the lower of those ranges, but it can get quite hot in June in Penn.

    3. A tarp is fine and you won't have any problem finding trees for setup. I'm a hammock hanger myself and have never had a problem anywhere in Penn. That said, the shelters in this section can be quite nice (Quarry Gap is famous for how well it's maintainer keeps it up) and give you a very good social experience of the AT, if that's what you want. I like that and often stay at shelters, even though I don't sleep in them and hang my hammock in the adjacent camping areas.

    4. You must bring water purification, at least chemical and preferably a filter. Not only is Giardia common in U.S. water sources but much of this section passes through farmland where other contamination is possible. Never drink directly from a water source in this area, but be prepared to use natural water sources, since that's most of what you'll have available and you will need lots of water due to the relatively warm temps.

    5. North or south is pretty much up to you, but the southern part (south of Boiling Springs) is a bit harder hiking (not that any part of this section is really hard.) For the social side of the hike, June often sees a lot of the later thru-hikers in this area, so if you want to go with the flow, going south to north is the answer.
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  6. #6

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    Your daily mileage is set primarily by the spacing shelters. There are not very many established campsites between shelters due to a number of factors. Some shelters are close together and some are far apart. Spacing is mostly dependent on where the water is and where is practical to put them. I averaged about 13 miles a day in that section, with a couple of 18 miles days, basically going shelter to shelter.

    A tent is highly recommended. June is when the Scout, Church or other youth groups start showing up in large numbers and that is a popular section for them. You don't want to get to a shelter and find it full of kids.

    It will be hot in June. If it's late June it could be very hot and humid. Heatstroke hot. Get an early dawn start, take the afternoon off and if not already at a shelter, finish the last miles in the late afternoon or early evening.

    Bugs shouldn't be a big problem since your almost never near a body of water to breed mosquitos. Still, I prefer to be in a fully enclosed tent then under a tarp.

    However, this area is ground zero for Lyme infected ticks, so be sure to spray everything down with Permethrin. I treat my pants, socks, shoes, backpack and around the bottom of my tent. I avoid going into high grass or into the brush. Tenting on well trodden ground is the best insurance. You'll find a lot of poison ivy, poison oak, and thorny vines growing along the trail. Be careful where you sit. If you wear shorts, there is a good chance of being infected with Chiggers. They burrow under the skin and itch like crazy and are hard to get rid of.

    I would go NOBO. Otherwise you have to do the 18 mile Cumberland Valley crossing on day 2 or 3. If you leave Duncannon late, you'd most likely only go to the first shelter south, which is just 4 miles. A fairly rough 4 miles since it's a bit of a rocky climb out of Duncannon. Then the next day you have a choice of doing 7 miles or 25 miles. Unless you want to pay for a motel room in Carlisle on your 2nd day out. Do not stay at the "backpackers" tent site at Boiling Springs. It's 50 feet from railroad tracks with frequent freight trains coming by all night. You will get no sleep there. You can hear them coming while still miles away. Just as you start to doze off, the you hear the next one coming.

    Water treatment is a good idea in this section, but a lot of the sources are springs which are usually safe. I wouldn't drink out of a stream along the side of a road. That's tempting fate even with treatment. I use the Sawyer filter, as do many others. I hate waiting for chlorine treatments to work.

    It took me exactly 10 days to go from Harpers Ferry to Duncannon last time I did this section.
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  7. #7
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    I did not see what time in June. Late june can be very warm, and on the other hand early june can sometimes still be cool, I would hope for cool. My brother and I did this the last week of May a year ago and I would not count on getting a spot in any shelters. I can't say if it gets better in late June, as I think we were seeing the faster thru hikers. I suspect the bubble is several weeks long by then.

  8. #8
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    I am planning the same section in June.

    I am wondering if anyone can tell us if there are bear poles, lines or lockers at the shelters and at the
    campsites such as Pogo, Dahlgren and Annapolis Rocks.

    Thanks
    Last edited by PGH1NC; 02-17-2019 at 17:24. Reason: spelling

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strategic View Post
    A couple of pieces of advice, from someone who's done these sections and lived in Pennsylvania.

    1. Ten miles a day is quite easy on this section, but there are considerations. There is a long stretch from Darlington shelter south of Duncannon to Alec Kennedy shelter south of Boiling Springs, mostly across farmland where there is no place legal to camp. You should plan on that day being somewhere on the order of 16-17 miles (it's actually 18.2 miles from shelter to shelter, but there is camping possible a bit closer together at each end) of hiking. Fortunately, it's also the easiest part of the entire section (mostly flat farmland) where it's pretty easy to make that kind of mileage.

    2. You will encounter some mosquitoes that time of year, but not black flies (those aren't found in Penn.) and should have some repellent just in case. Ticks aren't usually too much of a problem. It will be very warm during the day (27*C to 35*C) and not very cool at night (18*C to 25*C) depending on the weather that particular week. If you're lucky it will be in the lower of those ranges, but it can get quite hot in June in Penn.

    3. A tarp is fine and you won't have any problem finding trees for setup. I'm a hammock hanger myself and have never had a problem anywhere in Penn. That said, the shelters in this section can be quite nice (Quarry Gap is famous for how well it's maintainer keeps it up) and give you a very good social experience of the AT, if that's what you want. I like that and often stay at shelters, even though I don't sleep in them and hang my hammock in the adjacent camping areas.

    4. You must bring water purification, at least chemical and preferably a filter. Not only is Giardia common in U.S. water sources but much of this section passes through farmland where other contamination is possible. Never drink directly from a water source in this area, but be prepared to use natural water sources, since that's most of what you'll have available and you will need lots of water due to the relatively warm temps.

    5. North or south is pretty much up to you, but the southern part (south of Boiling Springs) is a bit harder hiking (not that any part of this section is really hard.) For the social side of the hike, June often sees a lot of the later thru-hikers in this area, so if you want to go with the flow, going south to north is the answer.
    I live very close to this section and have done most of it four times. The advice above is spot on. If you are starting at Duncannon then don’t be discouraged by the opening climb. It is worth it at the top and once there the trail runs the ridge for quite a ways.
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  10. #10
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    Suggest the AWOL guide and Guthook app.


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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by DH42 View Post
    Hey,

    I am planning to do my first section hike of the AT. Looking at doing the stretch between Duncannon and Harper's Ferry and had a few questions:

    1. Is ten miles a day realistic for a couple of newbies on the trail over that route? We have about ten days to do 100 miles which seems ok but wanted to check.

    2. How bad are black flies/mosquitoes/ticks in that area in June? We are from the UK so not so familiar with this. Also, how cool can it be in the night time?

    3. Is it worth taking a tent? Would prefer to be independent, but there seem to be shelters, and no point lugging extra weight if there are plenty of places to stay. Also, am used to just sleeping under a tarp basha but need trees for that to hang the tarp. From the maps it looks pretty wooded, but don't want to get caught out.

    4. In terms of water, is it worth bringing water purifying tablets or are there enough places to refill along the way?

    5. We can do northbound or southbound. Any suggestions as to which is better/harder?

    Sorry for the basic questions, but any help would be appreciated...
    1- yes

    2- It will hot and humid. Bugs will be out. Anyway to schedule for early may or October? I don't know exact temps but I could just categorize it as high of 83 low of 55.

    3- Depends on what kind of person you are. Some walk the whole trail with no tent, hopping from shelter to shelter. Be warned, the area at that time of year could have a large population of thru hikers, and shelters could be full. I personally would sleep in my tent every night even if the shelters were empty.

    4- Buy a sawyer squeeze and be done with it.

    5-I would personally do this section northbound purely for the logistics of flying home out of Harrisburg, which is 10 minutes or so from Duncannon, has a hotel on site, and is not a busy airport.


    Overall the stretch is a very very nice one. You will get to experience the feeling of walking over state lines. The MD section is short, but crammed full of history right out of the gate in HF. Walking beside the Potomac river, the town itself, and then on into MD there are some historical state parks. The drop down to PenMar Park is a rough one and you will wish for fair weather to make your way down the rocks. Once you get to penmar, you have a more or less smooth sailing trip to Duncannon. It is actually 1 of my favorite sections of the trail so far as it is very forgiving and easy going.

    If you have heard of the infamous rocks of PA, do not fret. They are not in the sections you are pursuing, and they really aren't even that bad where they do consume the trail further north.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by PGH1NC View Post
    I am planning the same section in June.

    I am wondering if anyone can tell us if there are bear poles, lines or lockers at the shelters and at the
    campsites such as Pogo, Dahlgren and Annapolis Rocks.

    Thanks
    Dahlgren has a bear pole.


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  13. #13
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    Awesome, thank you everyone who took the time to reply. Some good advice and information.

    The distance sounds good, and think we will do NOBO and if we make better time, we might just push on and figure it out from there.

    Checking out the AWOL guide - looks good so will see if can get it in the UK.

    Reckon will go with the tarp as saves weight and will heed the advice and bring a filter/water purification. Mosquitoes I can live with as long as it is not a plague... Chiggers and I have experience together having picked up a whole bunch in Africa some years ago, so appreciate the heads up.

    Nothing I can do about the dates, but will pick the lighter of the sleeping bags and hope it is not too hot.

    Thanks again, looking forward to it.

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