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I had intended to stay out of the debate on the extensions of the AT, mostly because I am ambivalent about it. Making the trail longer would cut the thruhiker community in half, or more. As one of those who would not have tried the AT if it had been that much longer, I would be sad not to have had the opportunity, as the experience was one of the best in my life. (I never considered anything but going the whole way. Either it was a thru-hike or it was a vacation. Thru-hiking is no vacation, it 's hard work!) On the other hand, I've seen how much trail over use and abuse has changed the trail since my first thru-hike, and I think that cutting down the number of users is a good idea. However, stopping construction of new shelters, hostels etc. is another way to cut the numbers down, without changing the character of the trail too much, and still allow those that want to hike the AT the chance, with or without extensive previous experience.
Which brings me to my point. Someone said that extending the trail wouldn't be a problem, since both the PCT and CDT are much longer. How many of you, as your first long distance hike, are planning to hike the PCT or CDT? Neither is a trail for beginners. The AT is, since it is so forgiving in many ways. There are road crossings frequently, towns every couple of days, hostels and motels within easy reach of the trail. It is easily possible to thru-hike without ever having to hitchhike (as a lone female, that was a consideration). There are enough people that an accident would bring quick assistance (again a major factor in my decision to solo hike the AT).
None of these are true for the PCT and CDT. If you don't have serious backpacking experience, you will not finish the trails. Both trails require average mileage of 20-25 miles per day. The AT only requires 12-13 in order to finish before snow falls on Katahdin, and that was not always possible. The Stecoahs, the Whites, the Mahoosucs allow only 8-10 miles per day. Time off in town lowers the average a lot.
A lot of people are able to thru-hike only because the AT is so hiker friendly. There are many people out there who have never been out longer than a weekend, some who have not done even that much. Many of them finish the trail, despite the lack of experience. Part of the reason is the fact that it is feasible in 5-6 months, with only limited winter hiking. A lot of experience in extreme weather is not necessary. This is not comparable to the PCT and the CDT.
I intend to thruhike both the PCT and the CDT, using what I learned on the AT as a base. I realize that I still have a lot to learn. I was lucky to have the AT to learn from.