Local hiker talks 2,000-mile trek through 14 states

Located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border — and sometimes under a dense layer of fog— the Great Smoky Mountains are a sight to behold. Each year, a large number of people pass through on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), which stretches more than 2,000 miles through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine. Standing at 6,643 feet among the Smokies, Clingmans Dome is the literal high point of the trail.

But for local hiker Abbie Nypaver, it was a low point in her A.T. adventure, which she completed alone from April to October of last year.

“I was low on food,” recalled Nypaver, who completed a “flip flop” hike, traveling from Virginia to Maine, and then from Virginia to Georgia with two weeks off in between. “There are supposed to be great views, and it just rained almost the whole time. … You're hiking up these mountains and there's just no reward.”

Nypaver said calling her parents helped her through the rough patch. “I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn't actually want to quit, but in that moment I was like, ‘I'm not enjoying this,'” she said.

Growing up in Clintonville, Nypaver loved being outdoors. Her family went on camping trips in the Zaleski State Forest in Southeast Ohio, and her father even completed a section of the A.T. in the 1970s. Prior to her own trek, her most extensive hike was a four-night backpacking trip through Red River Gorge in Kentucky.

“I had a lot of people who were very surprised and concerned about me doing [the A.T.],” Nypaver said. She had her own uncertainties, but prepared herself mentally.

“As I was falling asleep in bed at night, I would imagine myself being in miserable situations,” she said, “or think of obstacles that I might run into and how to deal with those.”

Overall, Nypaver enjoyed her experience, and will give a talk at Clintonville Outfitters on Thursday, Feb. 7, as part of its “Outdoor Adventure Presentation Series.”

“We really want to harbor a community of outdoor adventurists here in Columbus, to celebrate what everyone's doing here and … inspire each other to go outside,” said Clintonville Outfitters Outdoor Adventure Coordinator Erin Sherrets. “We can talk about being outside [even though] it's 20 degrees out right now.”

Nypaver experienced pleasant spring and early summer weather on the northern part of her trip. But by mid-August in the South, she suffered through extreme heat. Each day she followed a routine: Retrieve breakfast she stored in a tree (biscuits or honeybuns), hike, find a cool spot to eat lunch (bagels or spam slices), hike some more, and then cook a dinner of ramen, mac and cheese or instant mashed potatoes using a fuel canister and mini-stove.

Every few days, she'd hitchhike into town to go to the store.

“Most of the time, the people picking me up were other women or families,” she said. “So I felt pretty comfortable in that situation. There was one time that I did get into someone's car and then realized that it probably wasn't a good idea, so I got back out of their car. It just seemed a little sketchy.”

For the most part, Nypaver said people living near the A.T. are generous “trail angels,” bringing food and drink — aka “trail magic” — to hikers, or even offering room and board. Additionally, Nypaver acquired “tramily” or trail families along the way. (An estimated 2 to 3 million people hike a portion of the A.T. each year.)

“Usually it becomes the people who you're running into every day at the shelters or your campsite or hostels,” she said. “You have these deep friendships with them because you have shared this experience that not everybody else understands.”

There are also plenty of creatures to keep one company on the trail. Nypaver saw a rattlesnake and almost stepped on a copperhead. She also spotted deer, owls and even a porcupine, which she watched climb a tree.

The first black bear she saw was a mama bear supervising her cub, which was in a tree. “You're supposed to make noise to try to scare them,” said Nypaver, who clicked her trekking poles together and yelled.

“She ran over closer to the tree. I had a clear path to walk by, but I could still see her,” she said.

Though the Smokies didn't pan out, Nypaver still experienced plenty of breathtaking views, citing the Franconia Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains as an example. “You were just walking above the tree line,” she said. “Some of the people I was hiking around, they told me it looked like [the mountains] out west,” she said.

Next, Nypaver plans to hike the Arizona Trail, which spans 800 miles. Eventually, she'd like to complete the Triple Crown: the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

“I think [the A.T.] really helped me gain a sense of confidence,” Nypaver said. “[But] not everybody can take five months off and hike a whole 2,000-mile trail. That's not realistic. So I would encourage people who are out there doing a shorter amount to be proud of that.”

This article has been updated to clarify that Nypaver's father hiked only a portion of the A.T. Alive regrets the error.