Weather Impacting Hikers Along the Appalachian Trail, Derailing Through and Day Hikes

John M. Dabbs

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Hiking in rainBlake Cheek/Unsplash

The number of hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) has dropped off this season. The weather in the mountains this season has been brutal, with the number of intense storms and bouts of heavy rains across the southern Appalachians.

Rescue coordinator John Burleson at Carter County Emergency & Rescue Squad in Elizabethton, Tennessee, says the number of search and rescue missions year to date has been well below their average. Burleson didn't speculate on why search and rescue missions are down but did articulate the responses on the Appalachian Trail have been much less than before.

The Carter County Emergency & Rescue Squad typically responds to many calls for injured or lost hikers on the Appalachian Trail within Carter County. The mountainous and primitive terrain in the county can prove detrimental to many inexperienced and unprepared hikers. The Unaka Search & Rescue in Unicoi County typically conducts multiple search missions during the year as well, in Unicoi County.

Hikers can prepare themselves for hiking in inclement weather by being prepared. Breathable raingear, waterproof pack cover, extra food, and clothing are all important. Even with warm weather, hypothermia is also an issue to prepare against.

The Carter County area of Tennessee is unique in the number of hikers accessing the AT due to the number of rural roads transecting the national trail. Other areas of the AT in rugged terrain include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is serviced by the National Park Service rangers. They often call upon the Tennessee National Guard's medivac detachment at the airbase at McGee Tyson Airport near Knoxville.

Locally, the rescue agency seeks aeromedical and air-search support from Highlands Emergency Air Rescue & Transport (HEART), a contracted aeromedical service for Ballad Health, operated by Med-Trans Corporation. Additional services are occasionally obtained from Virginia State Police Med-Flight II, based out of Virginia Highlands Airport in Abingdon, Virginia.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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