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There’s a new trail in town. In several, actually: Last week, Jennifer Pharr-Davis became the first person to complete a hike of the Appalachian High Route when she reached the end of the Burnsville Connector Trail, a 19-mile road walk that was the final missing piece of the new 343-mile loop.
The Appalachian High Route connects the south’s bucket-list peaks by bridging the gap between Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the Appalachians at 6,684 feet, and Clingmans Dome, the highest peak on the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet. Along the way, hikers can also tackle 50 out of 54 of southern Appalachia’s 6,000-foot peaks.
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Jake Blood, a local resident of Burnsville, chair of the Yancey Chamber Travel and Tourism Committee and cofounder of the NC High Peaks Trail Association, dreamed up the idea of creating the Appalachian High Route long ago. But he struggled to patch together a few key sections of the trail on his own. Once he shared his idea with Pharr-Davis, holder of the current women’s supported fastest known time for the Appalachian Trail, he found she shared his enthusiasm for the project.
The Appalachian High Route runs mostly on pre-existing trails in three National Park Service-administered areas, three national forests, and one state park. Most of the trail is situated in North Carolina, with a few sections in Tennessee.
While the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail were already well-established routes, prior to Blood and Pharr-Davis’s collaboration, there was no viable way to connect the trails to one another. Now, hikers can tackle the trail in sections, or they can thru-hike the trail, relying on resupply options in Burnsville, Hot Springs, and Asheville.
To make the Appalachian High Route a reality, Pharr Davis and Blood worked together to get the approval and support of over 20 different partners, and trail organizations. Via it’s connection to the AT, the development of the Appalachian High Route also completes Benton MacKaye’s original vision for the Appalachian Trail: to connect the highest mountain in the south (Mount Mitchell) with the highest mountain in the north (Mount Washington). Next up: a headquarters, which trail boosters hope to find a location for during the next phase of the trail’s development.