There is a part of the hiking life that I never experienced on the PCT, which is incredibly prevalent on the AT. It is the shelter part of the trail life. All along the AT, ranging everywhere from 2 to 10 miles apart are shelters for all the hikers. Most of them look pretty similar, with 3 walls and a roof, and sleep anywhere from 6 up to 20 hikers. The older ones are much more worn than some of the newer ones built in the last 5 years, but the overall purpose of them is for hikers to sleep in them or just take a break in them. Most of all, they are very plain with the only creature comfort being a roof and walls to keep out most bad weather, and a flat surface to sleep on. One hiker we met didn’t do much research on the shelters and actually thought there was a Seven/Eleven at each one to buy snacks and drinks. I think a lot more people would hike the AT if that were the case.
There are pros and cons with the shelter life. In terms of pros, they are fabulous when it’s bad weather, as they keep out most rain, wind and snow. They oftentimes have cables to hang food so it’s safe from bears, and have privys to use rather than just digging a hole to poop. Optimist and I have stopped in many shelters already just for a lunch break or a short break from the weather, and we’ve slept in them several times so far. Lots of hikers tend to gather around shelters, so it’s also a good social experience to meet other hikers or just leave a note in the journal to say when we stopped in.
In terms of cons, as Curmudgeon put it, there is usually a “Symphony of Snorers”. We slept in one of the nicest shelters on the AT last night, as it was built in 2006, it sleeps 20 and has three levels, and just felt clean. I was excited to get to it after hiking over 28 miles for the day, only to be kept up all night from the fellow hikers snoring away. It was one of the most miserable night’s sleep I’ve had yet. The other odd thing about shelters is that there is no privacy, meaning no where to change or get dressed. The moment I stop hiking for the day, I put on my “sacred” clothes of a clean t-shirt, running shorts and socks. I usually do this in the tent at night, but in the shelter I have to first get in my sleeping bag and finagle my way around in my bag. The shelters are usually full of men, so it’s always a little awkward. Lastly, most of the shelters we pass are just too darn small for all the hikers we’re around at the moment. We like to hike until about 6:30 each night, and most other hikers are done for at least a couple of hours, so by the time we reach the shelters, there is no room at the inn. In good weather, it doesn’t matter, but when the skies are threatening rain and storms, it’s such a bummer to not have a dry spot in the shelter.
Again, this part of the AT is all new to me. I believe the PCT had 2 shelters total, so it’s quite different. Right now I’m sleeping in my tent due to a full shelter, with threatening clouds outside, hoping I sleep straight through the night.