By Claire Daly
Harry Glicklich first set foot on the Appalachian Trail at summer camp almost 10 years ago. Although he only hiked a small section, the trip has been in the back of his mind ever since.
Last spring in the middle of his junior year, Glicklich, a biochemistry major from Millburn, N.J., decided to take a leave of absence from the University of Pennsylvania to hike the entire Trail.
Glicklich was looking for something transformative. Aside from his time spent at summer camp, Glicklich had no real overnight hiking experience but wanted to take on the challenge.
Stretching approximately 2,200 miles through 14 states, the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. It has an elevation gain and loss that is equivalent to hiking Mount Everest from sea level and back 16 times. Those who endeavor to hike the whole trail in one season are called "thru-hikers," and only one in four who set out to make it from Georgia to Maine accomplishes the goal.
Glicklich began his journey on Feb. 27 at the approach trail to Springer Mountain in Georgia. He says that he coasted through the first 1,000 miles on sheer enthusiasm, but that, as the initial excitement started to wane, the real challenge began.
Says Glicklich, "it’s true what they say about the Appalachian Trail being 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental."
He developed a trick to help him keep going.
"I knew that, even if I decided to quit, I would have to make it through the night," he says. "Once I had made it through the night I had all the more reason to stay."
The biggest obstacle for Glicklich proved to be Mother Nature. From waking up soaking wet in a collapsed tent due to rain and high winds to walking through six inches of wet mud for weeks, the conditions were not ideal. Along with battling the elements, Glicklich’s trip was bookended by logistical mishaps. Before his departure, there was a blizzard in Georgia, causing him to miss not one but two flights. After finishing the trail and eager to head home, Glicklich spent eight hours in a parking lot waiting to be picked up by his dad, who was waiting at a similarly named spot a couple miles away.
Known for the spectacular views, the White Mountains in New Hampshire to be the most scenic part of the trail for Glicklich.
"You’re about twice as high above the surrounding lowlands as the rest of the trail plus there are a lot of sections above the treeline."
Deciding to make the trip solo, Glicklich says, "ultimately I felt like I had to do it alone for it to be my own accomplishment."
He ended his trip by summiting Mount Katahdin in Maine on July 26. He says the ascension was his favorite part of the hike and was the perfect end to an almost-five-month journey.
Glicklich sums up what he gained from the experience in two words. The first is perseverance and what it took to wake up every morning for five months and hike for eight or more hours a day. The second is perspective gained from living off only what he could carry in a backpack.
His advice for those thinking about or planning to undertake something like the Appalachian Trail: "You have to really want it. You have to want it enough to subvert all your other desires."
For Glicklich, the transformative experience of the hike is only half the journey. The rest, the lessons learned and experiences gained, must be implemented back in the real world, he says.
Back at Penn, he is channeling perspective and perseverance and tackling his senior year.