Humans are the only mammals that walk exclusively on two legs. With this unique bipedal tendency, we can do some awesome things like ski or wear heels. We also have the ability to put everything we need for survival into a pack and trek across the continental United States in a thru hike. The “big three” distance hikes in the US are:
1. The Appalachian Trail (AT)—2,200 miles between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Katahdin in Maine.
2. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT)—3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada along the Rocky Mountains.
3. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)—2,650 miles between Mexico and Canada following the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range.
If you’re from the East, you might have heard of the AT. If you’re from the West you might have heard of the PCT or the CDT…but what do you know all three of them? Well, if you put them all together, you have the Triple Crown of Hiking. This is an award presented by the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-West). To get this award, you don’t necessarily have to have thru hiked all three trails in a year. So long as you have fully completed all three in their entirety, you are actually entitled to an award regardless. Though recognized while the award is presented, it is possible to hike all three in sections or in disconnection. You can hike the trails with a pack or without one, backwards, or without shoes on. The Triple Crown Award is for anyone who has completed all three hikes.
The challenge the trail varies for each of the three. For example, the CDT has no official route, so one must navigate it with topographic maps and GPS. In regards to the AT, the close proximity to roads and houses means more resupply points and trail shelters…that also attract a lot of mice searching for a handout. For the PCT, icy conditions can make it extremely difficult to continue at high altitude, making crampons and ice picks necessary.
To do any of these hikes is an incredible feat (think along the lines of walking, walking, walking every day for 4-6 months). Now, think about doing them all in one year. Few people of done this. What I mean to say is, only a few have. Like 2. That’s about 7,900 miles, crossing nearly the entire country 3 times. These trail warriors are “Flyin’ Brian” Robinson, and Matthew Hazley, a hiker from Northern Ireland. You can find the trails on this map from the US Forest Trails Website.
Also shown are others of the National Scenic Trails in the US. The longest trail in the country, after completion, will be the North Country National Scenic Trail at 4,600 miles.
Many have completed the big three in all sorts of physical conditions. Tall, short, quick, slow…and even disabled. Bill Irwin is known to have completed the entirety of the Appalachian Trail completely blind with his Seeing-Eye dog, Orient. It takes desire, fortitude, and a little bit of luck. Some go through 13 pairs of shoes, while some go barefoot. There are those who heave 25 lb. packs, and those who carry 11 lb. packs. These kinds of decisions are completely up to you. Now are you ready to start planning your thru hike?