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Allegheny Trail

30 September 2013 5:26 pm1 commentViews: 231

The Allegheny Trail is a 290-mile trail through some gorgeous West Virginia counties.

Solitude

This trail is unique from othepar long distance trails because it sees only a handful of persons hike the entire trail each year. Therefore the entire trail is inherently low usage, with many sections that are VERY low usage. To an extent, the trail makes me think of what the Appalachian Trail (AT) might have been like decades ago before millions of persons hiked on it annually and a vast network of hiker services sprung up.

The trail’s hiking guide makes the analogy that the Appalachian Trail is an interstate highway and the Allegheney Trail (ALT) is a scenic byway. Now that I have hiked the entire ALT, I think the comparison holds but may slightly understate the difference between the two.

In 15 days on the ALT, I encountered only 1 group of backpackers (who were out for the weekend). On more than one occasion, I went days without opportunity to have a conversation. Most of the people I met along the trail, were car/RV camping or employed at the sparse services in towns I passed through.

The 140-mile continuous stretch of the ALT from Davis, WV to the top of Meadow Creek Mountain has no cell phone service. This certainly adds another dimension to the solitude & to the ways the ALT reminds me of east coast backpacking would have been like decades ago. (You will definitely want to bring a prepaid phone card if you desire to phone home during this section).

I greatly enjoyed aspects of the isolation. I got to see some awesome wildlife and had plenty of time to enjoy the present moment of hiking.

Location

The ALT’s northern terminus is on the Mason Dixon line (WV-PA border). It’s southern terminus is at the Appalachian Trail on Peter’s Mountain (WV-VA border). The ALT passes through the Monongahela National Forest for much of its length.

You pass through or within 1 mile of a number of small towns: Albright (299), Rowlesburg (584), Thomas (586), Davis (660), Durbin (293), Cass (52), and Huntersville (73).

The numbers in parentheses are the current population estimate of each town from their respective Wikipedia pages.

Let that sink in for a moment. The TOTAL population estimate of these seven towns you pass through is ~2,522 people as of 2012.

Saying the area is sparsely populated is an understatement.

A Diamond-in-the-Rough

The ALT draws substantially less hikers than I expected. I see it as a diamond-in-the-rough.

There are a few things about the trail that have allowed it to remain relatively “undiscovered:”

The 25-mile Disjunct – There is a small gap in the trail, meaning the trail is not continuous and complete. The northern 270 miles of the trail run continuously before reaching the disjunct and jumping 25 miles down to the final 21 miles of the trail. There is an outfitter who provides a shuttle for a fee and there are also instructions on how to walk around the gap. Unfortunately, until this route is officially blazed, you must make the choice between A. Backtracking for a few miles at each end of the disjunct to perform the walk around while hiking every mile of the trail as it is currently blazed or B. Not walking the entire trail as it is blazed. I opted instead to do a flip-flop of sorts, where I hiked the southern 21 miles the week before setting out to do the northern 270 mile continuous section.

Younger Trail – The ALT was conceived only in 1971 & is still incomplete to this day. The massively popular AT was conceived in 1921 & was completed in 1937. The more comparative length 287-mile Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) was conceived in 1979 and completed in 2005 — giving it nearly a 10 years as a completed trail head start over the ALT.

“Primitive” Trail – I often heard this term without fully understanding what people meant by it. Essentially, the trail passes over rugged country and has a MUCH smaller community of hikers and maintainers. I hiked long hours every day but the distance I covered varied unpredictably due to trail conditions. My maximum and minimum daily mileages for the trip were 24.4 miles and 12.8 miles, respectively. On both days I hiked the same number of hours.

On trail and off trail amenities – On the trail, AT hikers are coddled with 250+ shelters (an average of 1 per 8.7 miles), most of which have privies and clearly defined water sources staked with official signage emphatically expressing the importance of treating all water. The ALT is content with 6 shelters (1 per 48.3 miles), most of which have no privy. And I gladly hiked the entire ALT without seeing a single sign trumpeting the need to treat all water. Off the trail, services along the ALT are sparse. The only service in three of the seven towns listed above within 1 mile of the ALT is a gas station. However, these gas stations (being the only store in town) offer more opportunity than expected for short term resupply for flexible hikers. The only hostel on the trail, The Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV, is also a great restaurant featuring lots of live Appalachian music. The sparseness of amenities allow the focus of hikers to remain on the natural beauty around them. Lastly, the most recent hiking guidebook for the ALT was published in 2003 & does very little in the terms of resupply options and guidance. Therefore, long-distance hiking on the ALT requires an independent streak, a great deal of personal research into options, and a great deal of flexibility.

Exactly What I Was Looking For

The Allegheny Trail was exactly what I was looking in a trail: a local, isolated, independent hiking experience. I encourage you to do some research on the ALT to see if it would be a good fit for what you are looking for in a trail. And in closing, I invite you to email me if you encounter any questions about the ALT you cant find an answer to.

“The birds are still here, showing no sign of leaving for winter quarters though the frost must bring them to mind. For my part I should like to stay here all winter or all my life or even all eternity.” – John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, August 25, 1869

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