One hiker registered to take the MST 42-Mile Challenge is nearing the midpoint of section-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Another registered hiker hikes 4 or 5 miles on weekdays, 10 on weekends. Another, who is 73, just returned from three weeks hiking the Dolomites, including one day that covered 15 miles “and 300 stories in elevation.” (That’s about three Empire State Buildings.)

These three hikers — and 10 others so far — are looking at a challenge in two weeks that may be even more daunting: hiking 42 miles on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in just two days.

The MST 13 have signed up for the trail’s 42-mile Challenge, one element of a weekend of hiking Sept. 6-8 celebrating the Mountains-to-Sea Trail’s 42nd birthday. With a base camp out of Julian Price Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Challenge hikers will hike 21.9 miles on Saturday, just over 20 miles on Sunday, all on the stretch of the MST paralleling the Parkway from Price Lake to Doughton Park.

Their motivation for taking the Challenge, which includes raising a minimum of $10 for every mile hiked, varies. Proceeds from the fundraising event will help the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in their efforts to complete the statewide trail. About 700 miles of the perceived 1,175-mile trail are complete.

“So excited for a great hiking weekend,” says Lora, a k a GypsyNomad. “I’m a pretty good hiker, but I like to stop for lots of photos … .”

There will be plenty of opportunities to do just that.

The 42 miles: an overview

The entire 42 miles parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, from near Doughton Park to Price Lake. It’s a mix of intimate passage through Southern Appalachian hardwood forest and overlooks that offer views east down the Blue Ridge Escarpment into the Piedmont and west toward the likes of Mount Jefferson, Elk Knob and the state’s other northeastern peaks. 

“I really loved the hiking between Price Lake and Doughton Park since there was a nice amount of gentle trail with frequent open pastures and fields, recalls Jerry Baker, a past president of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail who completed a section-hike of the MST in 2017. “In the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, numerous stream crossings kept things interesting.  The Goshen Creek area was beautiful, dark and damp.  I enjoyed the variety of trail that paralleled the northern Blue Ridge Parkway and who wouldn’t enjoy vast overlooks named Thunder Hill, Grandview and Alligator Back.”

Saturday’s 21.9-mile hike begins at the Osborne Mountain Overlook at Milepost of 278 of the Blue Ridge Parkway and heads south. It includes various overlooks, at least one meadow where cows may be grazing, and passage around Trout Lake and on the carriage trails of Moses Cone Memorial Park, which retains much of the cultivated grandeur that it had more than a century ago when its namesake, Greensboro textiles magnate Moses H. Cone (also known as a conservationist), would retreat here on vacation.

Sunday’s hike will cover about 20 miles and include similar terrain, plus a view from the Mount Jefferson Overlook where you’ll be able to take in a who’s who of North Carolina mountains, from Grandfather, Sugar and Beech to the south, to Elk Knob and Mount Jefferson farther north.

A Challenge worth the effort

It’s a daunting challenge, but the 13 hikers signed up so far seem prepared — and aware of what will be required to make it happen.

“I’m a pretty seasoned backpacker,” says Abi. “With a full pack I average 2.5 to 3 mph” over the course of a typical 15-mile day. “I can do back-to-back 20s, no problem — but I’ll be sore on Monday, that’s for sure!”

“I’m hoping my knees are in good enough shape after Day 1 that I can finish Day 2 without too much pain,” says Camille.

Some face challenges more daunting than hiking 42 miles in two days. 

“It will be hard for me to inspire friends here in eastern Kentucky to donate money,” writes Will, who originally hails from Forest City but now resides in northeastern Kentucky. That could also be a challenge for Tom, who is coming to hike from Charleston, S.C.

Not as daunting as you might think

Most of the hikers signed up so far come with solid hiking credentials, but that’s not to say you need to have been hiking 50 miles a week to take the challenge. A few things to consider, if you’re considering signing up:

  • Mellow terrain. As Jerry Barker noted, one of the things he loved most about this stretch was “the nice amount of gentle trail with frequent open pastures and fields.” As mountain hiking goes, this stretch is surprisingly tame.
  • All day to hike. Lora mentioned that she likes to stop for photos — and she should have plenty of time to do so. We plan to get on the trail by 8 a.m., sunset will be around 7:45 p.m. A 12-hour day on the trail, factoring two hours for breaks and lunch, would mean hiking at a pace of about 2 miles per hour. Pretty reasonable for most hikers.
  • More moderate temperatures. If you’re thinking, “42 miles in 90 degree weather!? No way!” Consider this hike is in the mountains, and that the historic daytime high is around 80. Consider, too, that about 75 percent of the hike is beneath a shaded canopy, reducing temperatures into the low 70s.
  • The group factor. You’ll be hiking with hikers you don’t know, hikers who, judging from our exchanges with the 13 signed up so far, have some entertaining hiking tales to tell. It’s amazing how distracting conversation makes time fly on the trail (especially on the uphills).

Not only is the 42-mile Challenge a great way to challenge yourself, it’s a great way to help the Mountains-to-Sea Trail reach completion. Currently, about 700 miles of the MST is complete, the remaining 500 miles or so is temporarily routed on (mostly) country roads, until suitable routes can be found and trail built. Hiking 42 miles on Sept. 7 and 8 can go a long way toward helping the Mountains-to-Sea Trail reach its goal of becoming a true statewide trail.

Sign up!

There’s still time to get in on the challenge: deadline for completing the fundraising commitment of $420 is a week from today, on Friday, Aug. 30. To learn more about the Challenge and to sign up, go here.