Illegal Thru-Hikers on Appalachian Trail Call into Question Backpacking During the Pandemic

Most of 2020 has been a strange year when it comes to getting outdoors and pursuing our favorite adventures. Many countries across the globe closed parks and trails in an effort to keep people at home, where they were safe. That included here in the U.S., where even the long-distance hikes like the Appalachian Trail were completely shutdown. But as we’re now learning, that didn’t stop some backpackers from walking the route anyway, calling to question the safety and sanity of trekking these remote trails while they are officially closed.

Outside magazine has shared a story about a hiker named Andrew Underwood (trail name Denver), who was amongst the first few verified finishers of the AT this year. It took Underwood four months to finish his journey, starting in February and finishing on Mt. Katahdin in Maine on June 17. In order to walk the entire 2200 miles (3540 km) of the trail end-to-end, he had to not only deal with weather, rough terrain, getting resupplied, and fatigue, but also dodging the authorities. For much of the time that Underwood was on the trail, it was officially closed due to the coronavirus. That made it illegal for him to be out there, which meant avoiding park rangers and local sheriffs while on the move.

As Outside tells the tale, the AT officially reopened on June 16, the day before Underwood finished. But, the final section of the climb to the top of Katahdin was actually still closed, which meant even the last stage was done illegally. Denver was joined a pair of other hikers, who had joined him a few weeks back, on their clandestine dash to the summit. They did run into a ranger on the way down, who gave them a verbal reprimand but allowed them to pass without further consequences.

Underwood’s story is one that is both inspirational and troublesome at the same time. On the one hand, we’ve been saying for months that it is a good thing to get outside during the pandemic. It helps your overall well being, providing a nice release from being stuck at home. Plus, exercise, fresh air, and sunlight are all good for us. But, we’ve also stressed how important it is to stay safe at the same time. That means socially distancing, wearing masks, and adhering to the rules set down by local governments. Unfortunately, that also means staying out of the backcountry.

To be fair, the remote trails the make up the AT are a great place to socially distance. When the route is empty and you have campsites to yourself, chances are you won’t contract COVID-19. But, should you find yourself injured and in need of rescue, you can potentially draw resources away from other current challenges. And if you need medical attention, it makes matters worse. With hospitals and clinics already pushed to their limits, taking unnecessary risks come across as selfish and wrong. In other words, go out and have an adventure, but be safe and go home at the end of the day.

You can read the full Outside article here and decide for yourself. Is what Underwood did something to be proud of and aspire to? Or was he giving thru-hikers a bad name by thumbing his nose at the law? While I do respect his independent spirit and desire for an adventure, in this case I think he probably should have gone home.

48 thoughts on “Illegal Thru-Hikers on Appalachian Trail Call into Question Backpacking During the Pandemic”

    • I agree. Its not been a problem with all of the rioters burning and looting, but God help you if you walk on a backwoods trail. Not everyone in the United States is asleep or drinking the leftist koolaid.

    • Agreed. Hospitals and clinics are clearly NOT pushed to their limits. This author is just parroting the narrative. And it “due to”, not “do to”

      • In late-March through early-May there were indeed hospitals that were overwhelmed. At a time when 1500-2000 people were dying a day, it was often attributed to the fact that ICU units simply couldn’t keep up. This was especially true in the northeast U.S.—you know, where the AT winds its way through.

        Thanks for the grammar catch. Corrected!

  1. I crossed paths with an apparent thru-hiker on Rattle River trail in NH last month and gave him a wide berth. Social-distancing was not maintained, though, due to one of his dogs rubbing into to me to beg for food. Considering the thousands who attempt the trail each year, it’s not surprising that there are some in the bunch who make there own rules.

    • Do you honestly think you’ll get corona from a dog? And by the very same account, you yourself were out Hiking! There’s no difference in your theory if someone were out through or a day or a few days. So you as a day hike or have a right to be on trail but the thru hiker does not? The through hiker was less apt to share stuff than you were as the through hiker was mostly continuously isolated for you as a day hike or are interacting with people every day

    • I totally agree!!! This story was written in bad taste to try to trash someone who didnt hurt anyone else and was just living their dream. To bad some people have forgotten to mnd their own business. 🙂

  2. Nah. Nah nah nah. Definitely dumb. I know it seems “safest” to be out on the backcountry for yourself but imagine if someone contracted covid while resupplying in one town, they’d then spread Covid when they walk to the next town! Thru-hikers only occasionally shower, there aren’t faucets with soap in the woods: No one is washing their hands. Not to mention every person risking their safety on the trail is potentially pulling resources if they get injured and ALSO pulling resources from locals in every single town they go through to resupply. The trail will always be there and the rules are in place for a reason. Suck it up, respect the officials, and go home.

    • Well said. This guy is not a hero, he admitted going into towns and accepting rides, so he could have quite easily carried the virus from one town to the next

    • He was safer out there on the trail than we are going to the grocery store with a mask on

        • To be fair, that isn’t really true. They can stay on the trail for a few weeks without visiting a store. But yes, eventually they do have to get a resupply.

    • You need to learn to think for yourself, and not drink from the globalists koolaid. They love brainwashed people.

  3. Letting our freedom of movement be restricted is UnAmerican. If we can’t govern ourselfs and make decisions about weather we walk a trail then what power does a individual have over their own life. Making information avaible( emergency medical help is not available along with any water sources that personal maintain not being avaible and businesses not having previsionary supplies or services available along with limited hours stores will be open and other safety measures that might limit ones exposer when using common areas)and then back off and let the people be free to do as they will. If private business want to make policies to decrease out of town traffic like limited hours or not stocking items that would drawl the trail people into town, they are free todo so. Making one aware of the dangers and what they will be facing if they choice to go on trail is all a free person needs to decide what is good for them in their life. No that person is not entitled to endangering others like medical workers if they where to get hurt.but neither is a felony dwi driver yet the hospital will still render aid.

  4. You know what, these people probably plan for years to do a trip like this. And tbh, while at the end of the day they are technically in the wrong, realistically their actions have no impact on the global shitshow currently happening; there are bigger issues going on. If I were in theit shoes, I would have done the same thing.

  5. Way to go Andrew… nothing like the outdoors and fresh air to keep you healthy. My son and his lady walked the Appalachian Trail two years ago…..Thru-Hikers who finished the trail.

  6. Good for him! As someone else said he probably was safer in the woods than anybody else in the cities.

  7. As someone who lives very close to and for many years have supported people hiking the trail, this is an absolute slap in the face of my little town. Carry on, greedy person. We have lost several people here. Social tracking leads directly to someone who was also trying to assist the hikers who decided that they were too important to follow the rules and suggestions. So sad.

  8. I registered #201 on February,16,2020 at Amicalola State Park.(Southern AT terminus)Hiked thru the GSMNP with permit.Reached Hot Springs N.C.and learned ATC had shut down TRAIL.I agree,I could have gotten virus on a Town Re-supply and potentially become a spreader.If the ATC communities had told hikers to stay away,I would have.These were not ghost towns,they were busy towns.Every one practiced safe distancing,got food&hit the woods.I chose to pay shuttle around Shenandoah NP and waited until Maryland allowed dispersed camping.I am still taking my time and being respectful to all(especially animals).Some people think that we should have quit in March.How. many of you rode Greyhound in March,April.or May?Me either.

  9. So what. He broke the rules. He shouldn’t have. Let’s not shame him. Too much judgement in this world. Not such a big deal. Let it go. There’s worst things going on in this world. Let him enjoy it. Can’t believe this is even an article.

  10. Deciding what you want us more important than the trail towns that you pass through is incredibly selfish. Bragging about breaking the rules just to post a selfie on a mountain while you have a high risk of spreading disease is shameful. Not sure why people in the comments section feel this is ok.

  11. I think that the spirit of thru-hiking is
    all about hiking your your own hike which is exactly what this guy did. The writer of this article should stay home and off the trail indefinitely as it’s apparent he is about as out of touch with that spirit of freedom, truth and adventure as all other foundationally important concepts that constitute a life worth living – as evidenced by the awkward if not idiotic spelling of his own name. Kraig, (I could totally see you having changed your own name in an effort to appeal to some out-of-touch “conforming to the non-conformist” sentiment which would be sad were it not so very laughable) , please – shelter in place. Continue to do so. Allow the intrinsically and obviously amazing guys like Andrew to occupy our outdoor spaces for you lest we as the collective hiking community ever have the displeasure of hearing you discuss your equally unhelpful gear or footwear selection philosophy in person. This article represents all that is wrong with the world today. Please stop writing – your syntax is also mediocre and points all together unoriginal. Signed – a currently employed, fulll-time, frontline, registered nurse. Andrew, keep hiking man – you’re as punk rock as they come and I can’t wait to join you on our American trails here later this month. God bless you Denver… “country road, take me home, to the place, I belong”.

    • Say what you will about my writing and how in touch I am with the adventure lifestyle, but you’ll have to take up the spelling of my name with my parents. I’ve had it for 50 years so I’m kind of stuck with it. As a frontline nurse you should also recognize the risks that come with potentially adding another unnecessary patient to an emergency room or ICU at a time when those places could be overwhelmed. As I said in the article, I salute Andrew for his spirit, but he may have just chosen the wrong time to undertake this trek. Fortunately, he was able to seemingly complete it without an incident, but were he asymptomatic he could have unknowingly spread the coronavirus from one community to the next. Hopefully read the full story on Outside to get the full picture.

  12. People please stay off of the trails. Gyms, playgrounds, pull up bars, etc. are off limits. We need to stay in our homes and watch netflix all day and gain weight and get diabetes so we dont die from coronvirus.

  13. This added “risk” (CV19 related) of a through hike is so marginal it is almost unmeasurable. They were probably more at risk at they’re local Walmarts and more likely to be “spreaders” at they’re local grocery stores.

    This was all about control but public health. I was on a back country (BC) backpacking trip when the lockdowns started. In the BC I saw three other people. After the lockdowns, I began waiting in lines at my local Walmart.

    If the reason to shut the backcountry down is to take pressure away from local search and rescue they need to make that case. If the reason is to stop the spread of the virus, then they need to shut down interstate highways and THEN the AT.

    If they expect to hand down “orders” that fly in the face of common sense, with no explanation, then those orders aren’t going to be followed by many.

  14. Many people who hike thru hike plan for months or years for this journey. Perhaps thier life situation doesn’t make it possible to attempt this at a later time. Hikers are basically forced to be self sufficient by the nature of having to carry everything you need with you. As far as going into town for resupply – that would mean a visit to the grocery store ..what is considered an essential business. I don’t see him going to the store any different than a town local going into the same store for the same supplies.

  15. If you can’t share the names of shuttles & hostels that helped you then you know you are doing something wrong. Shameful, entitled hike. Not impressed or worthy of any congratulations.

  16. Where along the AT were “hospitals and clinics already pushed to their limits”? To shut down a whole country is gross mismanagement and a power grab. Response to Covid should have been much more nuanced than it was.

  17. Last time I checked its a free country. Some call it selfish, I call those people selfish. Why? Well, since you want others to say home to unsure you or your families safety. If an individual is that worried keep your family home and send 1 family member to go shop. People will choose to not wear masks and not follow cdc guidelines. Just like individuals choose to drink or drive psychotically on the roads. Personally, Im happy Americans choose to keep hiking. Its just makes me sad when others try to shame individuals for living free. Goes back to the whole “mind your own business” thing.

  18. I wonder if everyone who agrees with Andrew’s choice would be o.k. with other people breaking the laws for their own gain? I think it’s similar to someone going to a bar having to many and driving home. No one was hurt…. right. But the potential was catastrophic. Scary mentality.

  19. He’s obviously a dim bulb, considering Trump put us here by his denial and lack of leadership and this fool is still planning to vote for him. Lets hope he contracted Lyme and takes himself out of the gene pool.

  20. This article is about encouraging submission to the many unelected technocrats and bureaucrats that have been sorely misleading us, and taking away our liberties and freedoms. We need to face the fact that we need herd immunity to kill off this virus by eliminating available hosts. If you do not want to sign up for this important mission then stay home and wear a medical grade N95 mask if you venturing out. All the brave people willing to get on with life are doing us a favor, especially for those that are in the at-risk groups that are in perpetual isolation without herd immunity or an effective vaccine. It used to be about flatten the curve and attaining herd immunity, and a certain group has moved the goal posts with no logical reasoning behind it. This is now about conditioned submission to change American society and culture, permanently. I’m not buying that bill of goods. The famous American saying “Give me liberty, or give me death” still applies! Let’s get on with this and allow the brave and healthy to take known acceptable risks of contracting this virus to win this war for all of us! Btw, healthy people under 40 yrs have a 1 in 10,000 chance of mortality from this virus. Randomized antibody studies have proven this out.

  21. Ha Ha Ha, freagin Hilarious! 🤣
    If this man was to get injured anyways they would most likely be refused help, to only have medical attention prolonged watching his body fall apart in the hospital parking lot as empty hospitals await Covid patients. I would much rather die in nature breathing the freshest air than sitting inside for months watching cellulite accumulate on my body, dammit!
    Do us All a favor “Kraig” take your computer out to the driveway place it under your car tire and repeatedly drive over it till you hear no more crunching, now then grab some food and water throw it in a back pack and go for a Long walk. Oh and don’t forget your face mask. Enjoy

  22. God. Did any of you actually read that article?
    Beside the undeniable fact that this man ist a selfish Idiot, he contradics himself on every level.
    There ist not a trace of political agenda in the entire text, but OF COURSE IT IS unamerican to take care and be responsible dir your actions and the impact they have on others. What you call unamerican is known to the rest of the world as empathy and common sense.
    You may have guessed by now that i’m not from the US, but reading a load of unreflected, uninformed and utterly stupid bs like that, i could not stay silent. This situation is hard in all of us, i had planned an extensive hiking vacation in Canada later this year, but it won’t happen. Deal with it. Go in your home trails, do weekenders and ffs, take care of the people around you!

    To Kraig Becker, who wrote this article: you might want to reconsider calling this stunt ‘inspirational’, mate.

    To Christina, who wrote the only sensible reply: thank you for saving some of my respect for this community.

    • Fair enough Eric. I knew some would find his actions “inspirational” just because he was out doing a long-distance hike in a clandestine manner. I just didn’t expect the clearly politically-driven comments that have come with this post.

    • Drink deep from the globalist koolaid, my weak, gullible child. The weakness is strong in you. I see a future political career for you in my crystal ball. Maybe even a toilet wiper for the powerful globalists such as Soros, or the Rothschilds, etc

  23. If we are going to be a nation of laws, we all need to follow them. Whether we agree with them or not. Don’t like legalized abortion, leave. Don’t like legal gun ownership, leave. Don’t like not being able to drive drunk, leave. Its simple, put people in office that will help change the laws, and be accountable. There is documented proof of illegal hiking, if those local authorities press charges, fine. If not fine, too. The hikers knew the consequences.

  24. When the narrative of those who are seeking power impinges on the freedom on which our country was built, it is the patriots who are willing to stand against their controls who will hopefully lead us into the future. The sheep will continue to be sheared until they look beyond the mainstream media for their direction.

  25. I applaud this guy and others. Not only did they live their life but also staying in your house the whole time you’re not letting your immunity system fight anything. Hence the reason now as places open up and people are leaving their houses is the reason it’s spiking again. Someone was surprised I didn’t do it. I have to take care of my parents. I did go hiking though and there were people on the trails. More on the weekends, you have to get fresh air. I wish people would stop judging for the decisions they make in their own lives. The masks, the thruhiking, the traveling during this, etc. Live your life, this guy did it.

  26. Too bad his hike WILL NOT be officially documented as a thru hike…LOL. all that work for nothing. Why? Because you are better than others? You break the law? You illegally were on the trail and if you were to have gotten hurt, you place front line personnel to resue your stupidness then them helping others that need help.
    Wish they would fine you now.

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