36 comments on “What Are the Steepest Climbs on the AT, PCT and CDT?

  1. I think this puts to rest the tendency of a number of big mountain hikers (west coast- based) to consider the AT to be wimp world.

    • Hah. No way. Nothing will ever put OPINIONS to rest. But at least I can point to this from time to time as “evidence”.

  2. I love hiking in the Whites! Guess it’s kinda like skiing in the East. If you can ski/hike here you can ski/hike anywhere.

    • I’d be lying if I didn’t get a lot of joy out of the insanely steep climbs out here. And I agree entirely– it’s a great training ground for just about anything.

  3. Nice to know! Helps explain my gravity-assisted descent of South Twin! I need a T-shirt that reads: I fell off #3 & lived to tell about it.

    • Good point, and yes I can do that! It’s going to be a little while, since putting all the elevation data together assumes one elevation profile (no alternates), but I’ll get to it soon and let you know when it’s ready.

    • I remember my first time going up Wildcat D, also. Quite a shocker, that trail ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. For the AT, that is approximately the same (distance and change of elevation) as hiking from the Backcountry Information Center on the South Rim to the North Rim Campground via Bright Angel and North Kaibab Trails and back, 45 times.

    • I might have to come up with a better program for that… but you might be interested in this– direct link to a larger results set from the AT

  5. Thanks Guthook. Very interesting and i remember all The AT climbs and descents well. Coming down Garfield was a doosy!!!

    • Haha. Yes, I nearly broke my wrist falling on that one the first time. That’s a good memory… ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Great post. I have done all of those AT hikes at various times. The first time I climbed up South Twin, I thought, “This has got to be one of the steepest miles in the Whites”. Ditto for Wildcat, Garfield and Beaver Brook, although I must have blocked the Katahdin from my memory — as I recall, it has lots of big granite slabs, so between all the scrambling, it doesn’t feel quite as steep at it measures.

    • It is always funny how we remember these things. I remember Katahdin being steeper than anything else, but I think that’s because of those few spots where you have to climb up a ledge using rebar rungs. However you break it down, those climbs are all VERY steep ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Nice job…love the App! I bet if you did “Rocks per Mile” NH would win hands down..

  8. Really, its all about trail design. If the trail was designed to take gentle, long switchbacks up/down an otherwise steep mountain, then you’d have what some might consider a “sissy” climb or descent. Now, take that same mountain, say… Mt. Hood. Now design a trail that goes straight up (no switchbacks) to a shoulder at 8,000-feet, and straight back down, then you’d have undoubtedly the toughest climb on the PCT, AT, CDT. Of course, we don’t have that here, and I am grateful for that. It’s not that the mountains out east are anymore steeper or tougher than they are out here in the west. It’s that they were designed in an era, where the government gave a shovel and pick to some young CCC crews, and said, “build a trail.” Those crews did great work, but they certainly did not have the sophistication of modern trail designers. As a trail maintainer here in Oregon, I would shudder at the thought of having to maintain any old trail in Maine or New Hampshire, since I would be maintaining what is poorly designed trail. Poorly designed trail can be mitigated too. In 2011, I was pleasantly surprised to see a re-route going south of Iron Mountain Gap towards Erwin, TN. What used to be a poorly-designed, stupid, muddy climb, turned into a more pleasant (yet longer) hiking experience. I say great job to the ATC and Tennessee maintainers on that re-design!

    • Well, yeah, the old traills in the East do have a distinct tendency simply to charge up the fall line. In most cases, that isn’t sustainable, either, because it leads to erosion – there are old trails around here that are now gullies 15-20 feet deep with their floors worn down to bedrock.

      But for some trails the steepness is a unique asset. I don’t think very many of us would want to see the Presidential Traverse, the WIldcats, the Mahoosucs, the Devil’s Path in the Catskills (24.5 miles with 18,000 feet of elevation change – tougher scrambling than anything on the AT) or the Precipice Trail in Acadia be anything other than what they are. And I think that a little bit of their design, such as it is, can be ascribed to ‘altitude envy’ – we can’t make our trails visit high mountains, but they can visit tough ones!

      But you’re right, for the most part, gentling the grade – and more important, hardening the treadway – is a marked improvement.

  9. There is also the issue of “intent”. The PCT was specifically intended to be used by horses, and this was a big consideration in the siting of the trail, and the trail design. In fact, over time, segments were rerouted for this exact reason. In some cases, it was moved out of avalanche paths, as well, so that the trail was not repeatedly destroyed.

  10. Woo have done all of the Whites ones ๐Ÿ˜‰ (and steeper non-AT ones than that.. huntingtons, kings ravine, Zeacliff trail)

    we don’t need no stinkin’ switchbacks!

    • Yeah! Eventually I’m planning on adding a feature to the New England Hiker app to make elevation profiles just like the ones in the AT/PCT/CDT apps, so I’d love to see what those climbs look like on the same profiles. I’ll be sure to let you know once I get them working ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. My first climb up from Galehead up S. Twin has always been the standard for assessing any climb. At first I thought it was difficult because I hurt my knee decending Garfield (ended up repairing it during the off-season) and it was puffed up and stiff. Nice to see the graphic proof of S Twin. Oh, and after doing the Bonds, we returned to Galehead Hut, spent the night and I got to repeat S Twin the next day as we hiked out over N Twin. Good times.

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  15. I just came across this doing research about the elevation gains/losses on the AT. I am curious as to why others have this listed so much lower? The ATC has it at 464,500′; whiteblaze.net has it around 515,000′; etc. I am really curious about the higher estimate (though my legs would agree lol). We see the estimates of online of it being the estimate of climbing Mount Everest 16 or 17 times. Your total elevation would put that eqal to climbing Everest 31.65 times! Wow!

    BTW, love your app!

    • Thanks Craig! Well, let’s see. The Mt Everest estimate is probably off because they’re just talking about the climb, whereas my numbers are climb and descent. Come to think of it, the others are off by a factor of about 2 as well, so maybe that’s part of it, too. That’s just my guess.

      As for why everyone else’s numbers are not exactly the same as mine– I wouldn’t say that mine are more accurate because the GPS measurement I use is just a close approximation using the best data I have available, which is pretty dang good data. But I have no idea how the other folks measure climb. Their numbers have been around for a while, so my guess is someone went over a topo map and counted contour lines at some point in the past, which is less accurate than the approximation by GPS. This isn’t a stat that ATC or anyone else feels the need to keep 100% accurate from one year to the next, since it’s really just for fun anyway. Keeping the total length of the trail accurate is far more important.

      • Thanks for the reply. The others did include the ascents and descents. They added those and then divided by the height of Everest for their estimates. I realize that in reality this is only trivia – but, pretty cool trivia. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I was just curious as to the higher stats here. I trust your numbers…I am not certain how they derived their numbers either.

        Personally, I would rather do the climbs than the descents any day!

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