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Re: which direction?

The advantage of south to north is that you have less time pressure 
than on a north to south hike.  If you start in Maine in June, (after 
snow melt), then a six month hike has you finishing in December.  
The Smokies are high enough that you will probably get snow 
there in November and December.  Do you really want to be hiking at 
Thanksgiving and Christmas?  In June, Maine has heavy heavy mud and 
black flies (nasty!)  so the first few weeks are not much fun, 
especially since you start out carrying enough food for 10 days to 
two weeks.  If you start in the south, you cross roads that will take 
you to town within the first week, so you can dump weight at the post 
office, and you don't have to carry as much.  You can get used to the 
trail more gradually.  The hostel/store at Neels gap (35 miles out) 
is run by the nicest people you will ever meet (the Hansons) and they 
can help you to mail home surplus gear, or reequip if you discover 
that your kmart tent isn't keeping you dry.  Although Keith Shaw will 
do likewise, you don't reach Monson for more than 100 miles.  That's 
a long way to go with a 70 lb. pack.  If you go out and decide 
you hate the trail, it is a lot easier to leave in Georgia than in 
That being said, the next time we do the trail, if we do, will be 
north to south because it is less crowded.  You may miss some of the 
community spirit (though there are enough southbound hikers now,  
they are getting their own community together), but not having to 
fight for space at a shelter is probably worth it.

Spirit Walker