A handful of close friends awaited Matt Kirk atop Springer Mountain, Ga., in August, 58 days 9 hours and 38 minutes after he left Mount Katahdin in Maine. Sunlight filtered through the thick fog that was covering the mountain. Then a long and lean hiker appeared through the mist, and in a few final strides, he reached the summit plaque to the sound of cowbell and cheering.
It was the accomplishment of a lifetime for Kirk. After being introduced to camping at age 17, Matt fell in love with the Appalachian Trail on a trip to the Grayson Highlands in Virginia with his parents. He tackled a northbound trek of the A.T. in 2001 when he was 20 years old. Long-distance running and hiking became an obsession. He went on to add thru-hikes of Vermont’s Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, California’s John Muir Trail, and in 2011, the Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina. He also set records thru-hiking the Bartram Trail and completing the South Beyond 6,000 Challenge.
Now, at age 32, he has accomplished his toughest trek to date: an unsupported southbound thru-hike. He hiked to all of his resupply points and even made his own ultra-lightweight backpack, setting a new unsupported A.T. speed record in the process.