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re: i just joined, my questions

>7. My husband wants to bring climbing gear and find places along the way
>to climb.  Is this as impractical as I think it is?

  Thought I might answer this one since most of the other responses did not 
seem to be from climbers, and so therefore might not be as understanding of 
the need to "feed the rat" as climbing is known in some circles.
  I hiked the AT in 1974 which I had planned as a thru-hike but it turned out
that I went from Georgia to Virginia then Massachusetts to Katahdin.  I started
climbing at about the same time, have climbed throughout North America since
(rock, ice and snow), have lived in Alaska since 1977 (came here to climb among
other reasons) and, in my early 40's now, am as active as I have ever been.  My
older son (his first name is Walker - that should tell you something) who is
12, is also a rock climber; though I am a 5.12 leader on rock (if that means
anything to you), I expect Walker to pass me in ability within a few years at
which point he will be totally bored with his old man and I will have to start
training my now 5 year old son to belay me ;-)  There are some excellant rock
climbing areas near the AT but none that I am aware of directly on the trail;
you will pass within a few hours drive of places like New River Gorge in West
Virginia and a beautiful granite area (the name escapes me now) not too far
from Ashville, North Carolina, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway east of the
Smokies; very close to the trail in New Hampshire in the White Mountains are
Cannon Cliffs and other areas near Franconia Notch; Bear Mountain State Park
in New York has some small granite outcroppings (where I have climbed a little
bit) and the nearby Palisades overlooking the Hudson River also have some
climbing; there are numerous outcroppings along the trail in most states and
some will even have developed climbs; oops, almost forgot, Katahdin itself has
some great long routes, but is best in winter - some of the ice routes are
  Now that I've said all this, let me tell you that I personally, as much as I
love to climb, would NOT carry climbing gear on a thru-hike.  Others have
pointed out the weight issue, which is very serious, as shoes, harness, rack
and rope easily add up to 20 to 40 pounds (beleive me, I have been CRUSHED by
the amount of weight I have had to carry in order to do remote Alaskan climbs
and that was cutting everything I could risk leaving behind).  Even more
serious though is the issue of focus - that is, if you and your husband want to
truly thru-hike the AT, you need all the mental strength you can muster, and
in my experience, it can be self-defeating to want to do too many things.  On
a long hike I did with a friend in 1977 thru the Canadian Rockies, we made the
mistake of trying to do too much - we were hiking for hundreds of miles along
the Continental Divide (the Great Divide "Trail" which we sadly found out was
more of a bushwack than a established trail) while climbing lots and lots of
mountains along the way (roughly 1 climb for every 3 days of hiking).  Our
packs were real heartbreakers, consistently weighing in over 70 pounds
everytime we resupplied.  Add to this the miserable weather, the daily route
finding and bushwacking and you had 2 unhappy campers.  We finally threw in the
towel on the hiking part and devoted ourselves to climbing (seems the rat won).
Our original mission had been to hike from Glacier National Park in Montana to
the Alaska Highway crossing at the Continental Divide near the British Columbia
/Yukon Territory border; though we chewed a huge chunk of this, we fell far
short of our original goal.
  Now, that rat can be an evil, cunning beast when not properly fed, an equal
to those legendary AT shelter mice in persistance, and I would not envy you
when your husband's rat needed to be fed, as you might find yourself the target
of the rat's underhanded ways (I noticed your lack of enthusiasm for his idea
and therefore take it that you are not your husband's regular climbing partner;
correct me if I am wrong) and such things are the stuff of partners (including
husband and wife) breaking up on the trail.  Here is my recommendation: your
husband should carry a pair of light climbing slippers and a small chalkbag so
that he can keep the rat somewhat satisfied by bouldering his way along the AT.
If he can convince some friends to meet him along the way occasionally, both of
you can take some much needed breaks from the trail (and maybe each other? You
know - he goes off to do the boy thing and you go off with some of your friends
to do the girl thing).  If that cannot work out, then he might carry a very
light harness also plus a belay device and locking carabiner so that when he
does get to those climbing areas along the way, he can befriend a climber there
with all the gear (this happens all the time at every climbing area I have ever
been to) necessary to waste a couple of days falling off the rock.  But that is
the limit of what I would ever carry for such a trip.  He needs to decide what
is more important to him: climbing or thru-hiking the trail?  Generally
speaking, though they are uncompatible beasts, if properly done and planned far
in advance, they might well be very excellant bed-fellows (pun intended).
  Though I did not thru-hike the AT as I had planned, the next year (1975) I
thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (that "other" thru-hiker's dream; CDTers
please forgive me, but the CDT is not even close to being a real trail yet). 
Part of the reason that I succeeded there and not back East was directly
attributable to the taking care of the rat: oh, but the rat just absolutely
loved crossing Forester Pass, which is the highest point of the PCT and was
buried under snow at that time, making for a high powered rat-fest (read "fear"
here) getting over the cornice at the top.  The rat found that just "doing"
this trail was a rat's smorgasbord; later, when the trail could actually be 
seen and snow was just a distant memory, the rat's owner found that occasional
forays up the peaks along the PCT would suffice to keep the rat in its place.
If the owner would ever get off his lazy butt and do a thru-hike of the PCT
again, he knows that the rat would rear its ugly head somewhere near Yosemite
(one of the rat's favorite hangouts) and a week or two of constant feeding
would be required to beat the rat down and get on with the thru-hike.
  I was your age when I was doing my big hikes and let me tell you: nothing in
life sticks like a thru-hike.  Tell your husband he can always go climbing, but
when he gets to be a geezer like me, the mileage he (and you, of course) get
from having done something unique (and it is still very special and unique)
will fill his cup on one of those "empty" cup days that life seems to have
plenty of.  I am sure that other thru-hikers will testify to this.

Alan Julliard