Covid Bulletin!

When the 39th Annual Gathering was rescheduled for 2021, it was hoped that COVID would be behind us; however, emergence and persistence of the “Delta” variant continues to be a hindrance.  While we fully intend to proceed with this Gathering, the SVHEC does require that all wear masks while indoors.  This requirement will be enforced.  Masks are not required while outdoors, but social distancing is still highly recommended.  It is also recommended that all participants be vaccinated.  The Johnson & Johnson, one-shot vaccine is reported to be highly effective against the “Delta” variant and still could be obtained before the event.

At check in, and at various convenient locations within the SVHEC, disposable masks and hand sanitizer will be available. 

Other Gathering News!

We're still looking for a few more presentations and workshops.

Check-out the seven page spread from Summer newsletter devoted to the Gathering.

Accepting images for the Earl Shaffer Memorial Photo Contest!

The 39th annual Gathering of long-distance hikers, friends and A.T. dreamers will reconvene on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 8-11, 2021 at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va. 


There's a $20 registration fee to attend the Gathering. Sign up in advance to receive a Gathering bandana and be entered in an early bird drawing for a chance to win some great door prizes. All the forms you need are on this web page, in the right rail:

Alternatively, you can register when you arrive. Registration will be open throughout the weekend, starting at noon on Friday. When you register or check in, you'll receive a Gathering packet.  Included will be a program and details about the workshops scheduled throughout the weekend. Registration will be located in lobby of the SVHEC on Friday and Saturday.


Friday Night

The Friday night opening of this year's Gathering is expected to be one big party celebrating the first small step in our return to normalcy after a year and a half of pandemic limitations.

Although we will be required to wear masks indoors, just the fact that we'll be seeing each other for the first time in more than a year is reason enough to celebrate. Add to that the normally festive occasion of the Friday session of any Gathering, and we have the makings of an epic event.

After a few welcoming remarks, we'll applaud those who've helped maintain the trail, those who've flip-flopped, section-hiked, yo-yo'd and any another crazy combo we can think of, and finally we will recognize the class years of A.T. 2,000-milers, beginning with the class of 2019 and going back in time to the last person standing. Then we'll ask the class of 2020 to rise and take a well-deserved round of applause for overcoming all sorts of COVID obstacles to complete the trail, including an unsuccessful move by some to shut down the entire Appalachian Trail. Finally, the class of 2021 will be called, and another round of hoots and hollers will follow.

We'll ask those who've hiked 10,000 miles or more of long-distance trails to stand, and we'll whittle them down until we get to the person or persons with the most trail miles under their hip belts. Those who've contacted us in advance with hiking resumes of 25,000 or more trail miles will receive the Billy Goat Award.

As if that's not enough, we save one more round of applause for last, and that's the one group of folks who may not have taken even one step on the A.T. yet. They are the ones who are planning to hike the trail in the future, if not next year then sometime after that. We affectionately call these folks the "dreamers," and in many ways the ALDHA Gathering was created -- nearly 40 years ago now -- just for them.

After a few more Friday night rituals, we retreat for some hiker schmoozing, either around a snack table or a campfire, then it's to bed for an early start on Saturday with a full day's worth of workshops, slide shows and presentations.

Saturday Night – Feature Presentation

Keynote speaker will be Darwin Rakestraw. 

Darwin is an experienced hiker who has thru hiked over 9,000 Miles on the AT, PCT, Pinhoti, AZT, & CT. He has a popular channel on Youtube, Darwin Onthetrail. For further information about Darwin, visit his Youtube channel and the June/July Blaze

Sunday Night

Cindy RossOur own, Cindy Ross, founding ALDHA member and former coordinator, will return on Sunday night as our featured speaker. She will talk about her new book, Walking Toward Peace: Veteran's Healing on America's Trails. She will discuss the positive effects of spending time in nature or what is now being called, ‘ecotherapy’. This healing technique is becoming a leading way to help veterans and others wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of life's traumas to heal.

Words from the back cover of her book speak to why we all hike, "Drawing on current research and perspectives of professional therapists, Ross provides scientific data to explain how time in nature affects the brain..." Using Veteran's stories, she addresses what many of us experience and call "post hike depression" making the case that we should all spend more time outside to enhance our mental health. Not only will she tell other’s tales of healing on the AT but her words will speak to our common connection.

Weekend Highlights

  • Hiking the Triple Crown
  • Mountains to Sea Trail
  • The Long Trail
  • Benton MacKaye Trail
  • Ice Age Trail
  • Land Navigation
  • Post Hike Depression
  • Trail Angel Training
  • Zoom from SNP concerning proposed rate increases
  • And more...

Gathering Coordinators

Program  Vera Hurst

Facilities  Dennis Newton

Hiker Fair— Chris Vores

Contact the Gathering program coordinator at with any questions.


'I Hiked ALDHA Way' 

I Hiked ALDHA WayIf you've recently completed the A.T., please be sure to let us know at the registration table so we can recognize you during our Friday night program and present your certificate. See details about the "I Hiked ALDHA Way" patch and certificate on this page of the website. 

Hiker Fair

Backpacking Gear

Here you'll find ALDHA Central (the registration desk, the ALDHA Store, lost and found, etc.), the A.T. Museum exhibit,  exhibits from various trail clubs, vendors, and authors, the photo contest, and the apple contest. Vendors and exhibitors should register online using the form in the right hand column to set up a table at the fair.

Photo Contest

Miss Janet, Katahdin

The Earl Shaffer Memorial Photo Contest is now accepting digital photo submissions.  To enter, complete the photo contest form and upload your image from your phone or computer.  Submissions may be related to any trail, not just the A.T. Printed images should be submitted as digital files.  

You may enter up to 4 separate submissions. Photos will be shared on the  website and winners will be announced at the Gathering and awarded ALDHA store gear.

Prizes will be awarded in four categories: (click to view)

  1. Beauty and grandeur.
  2. Wildlife and flora.
  3. Trail humor.
  4. Trail community.

Entries must be received by September 30, 2021.

Apple Contest

Sue SpringBack by popular demand is the Apple Contest. Bring your sweet, gigantic, or miniature apples when you register, or to ALDHA Central on Saturday morning. Please provide your name, contact info, and the state the apples came from. Judging will be Saturday afternoon and the winners will be announced at the Saturday evening program. Prizes will be awarded.


Raffle Tickets

In addition to the pre-registration door prizes mentioned above, we will be conducting a raffle throughout the weekend. Tickets will be available in ALDHA Central or from Jill Byrd, ALDHA Treasurer.

Prior to the Saturday evening program we will draw the winning tickets and give out prizes to the winners. In 2019, there were a bunch of REALLY great prizes both from the ALDHA store and outside vendors.

All proceeds will go to help defray Gathering costs, and to a trail project if there are excess funds. This will be a fun way to help support the Gathering and other ALDHA projects.


VoteA number of positions on the ALDHA board will be up for election at this year.  Nominations and elections will be held online prior to the Gathering and results  will be announced at the annual business meeting on Sunday morning. 

We encourage all Gathering attendees to join us  Sunday morning for the annual business meeting. It's a great way to see who the leaders of our organization are and learn more about ALDHA.

Group Photo 

The group photo will be taken immediately after the annual business meeting. The location will be announced over the weekend.

Monday Work Trip

Work TripOn Monday, Oct. 11, we'll have our usual work trips.

Although final details will probably not be available until you arrive at the Gathering, MRATC has announced what will, most likely, be included in our Post-Gathering Work Trip.   They need some help with boundary monitoring plus they have a project which has been left undone for 2 years due to Covid constraints on trail work.  They would like help with staining over graffiti at the Straight Branch shelter (old AT shelter before AT relocation and now on the Iron Mountain trail) and also building a picnic table.  Plan on bringing gloves and to dress appropriately for the weather.



In addition to free camping near the SWHEC, the “official” Gathering hotel is the Clarion Pointe (formerly the Comfort Inn). It is located within walking distance of the SVHEC.  We have secured a very competitive price for those coming early and during the weekend.  If you’d prefer to not camp or sleep in your RV, this newly, mostly renovated hotel will be comfortable and close.  It is pet-friendly and you can call and make your reservations now. Just tell them you are with ALDHA,  quoted rates are $55/weekday night, $65/Fri-Sun. 

(276) 676-2222  (24-hour cancelation policy)


Breakfast and lunch will be catered on Saturday and Sunday with meals at the SVHEC. Meal tickets must be purchased online prior to the Gathering during registration. Breakfast is $10 and lunch is $15. For dinner there are several restaurants in the area.

If you've already registered, you can still purchase tickets at 

Your prepaid meals tickets will be available at the registration desk at the SVHEC.

Deadline for buying meal tickets is Sept 30, 2021 due to meals being catered. There will be no tickets available after this and no refunds. There will be no walk in tickets available.


Showers will be available during the weekend at the Harry L. Coombs Recreational Center, 300 Stanley St, Abingdon, VA, when open, Friday thru Monday. The fee for showers will be $2/shower. Please bring exact cash, if possible.  Plan to use your own shower items and towels. Hours will be posted at ALDHA Central.


Service animals will be allowed at all events. Dogs must be on a leash at all times, and any gifts dropped on the ground must be cleaned up immediately.  As noted above under lodging, the Clarion Pointe is pet friendly.

ADA Accessibility

The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center is ADA accessible. An ADA accessible portable toilet will be available at the campsite.


No alcohol allowed on campus, but reasonable alcohol consumption will be allowed at the campfire.


We probably don't need to even mention this, but please be respectful of our hosts at the facility, the townspeople and your fellow Gathering attendees. And please let the workshop presenters, and event volunteers know that you appreciate their hard work.


We're always looking for volunteers to help with activities and contests at the Gathering. If you're interested in volunteering, email


No Plastic BottlesIn 1990, it was agreed Styrofoam would no longer be supplied or used at ALDHA functions. In 2020, at the boards request, single use plastic, including water bottles will be discouraged from use during the Gathering. Please plan according. 

Gathering Registration Form

GatheringSign up for the Gathering, and join or renew in ALDHA all in one swoop, by following this link to the Events page.

Workshop Presenters Form

Jark TarlinWould you like to put on a workshop at this year's Gathering about a trail you've hiked, or a trail-related subject you feel strongly about? Fill out this online form and send it electronically to the Gathering coordinator.

Hiker Fair Exhibitors Form

Backpacking GearIf your trail club or hiker-related cause or business would like to set up a table at our Gathering Hiker Fair, fill out this digital form and send it to us electronically.

Trail Completion Signup Form

I HIked ALDHA WayClick here to fill out an online form if you have finished the A.T. this past year and plan to attend the Gathering. On Friday night, we'll call you up on stage to present a special "I Hiked ALDHA Way" patch and certificate from ALDHA, to congratulate you before your peers.

Link To Past Programs

Gathering History

The first Gathering was held before ALDHA was even officially created. In the fall of 1982, Warren Doyle gathered together long-distance hikers and friends of the trail for a weekend retreat in southern West Virginia, and it was during that time of fellowship and renewal in the community of the Appalachian Trail that the seed of an idea for ALDHA was planted.

Six months later, at a meeting in Harpers Ferry on March 5, 1983, attendees voted to formally establish an organization of hikers, maintainers, friends of the trail and folks who dream of someday hiking the A.T., and they christened their newborn group the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association.

ALDHA has held an annual Gathering ever since, with locations varying from north to south to accommodate our ever-growing membership.

The Gathering Song

Walkin' Jim Stoltz

At the 2000 Gathering in Pipestem, W.Va., Walkin' Jim Stoltz was asked if he would compose a song for ALDHA to help mark the 20th Gathering the following year. He readily agreed, then admitted later that it proved to be a lot harder than he thought it would be. When he stood up to perform it that next year at the 2001 Gathering in Hanover, N.H., we think he hit it out of the park.

A few years later, he sat down and recorded it for Weathercarrot's video documentary on the 25th anniversary of ALDHA. After his untimely passing in 2010, Jim's former wife gave ALDHA the rights to it, and we offer it to you all in hopes that it'll stir fond memories of the Gathering and that you'll always remember Walkin' Jim.

"To the Gathering Again"

by Walkin' Jim Stoltz, 2001

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