Blind hiker takes on challenge of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail

On one of his more memorable hikes, Trevor Thomas, by his own count, fell more than 3,000 times, suffered four broken ribs and visited seven hospitals (and one veterinary clinic when a hospital couldn’t be found).

Trevor Thomas and his guide dog Tennille tackling a mountain section of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.
Trevor Thomas and his guide dog Tennille tackling a mountain section of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

At the end of it all, Thomas became the first blind hiker to complete an unassisted, solo hike of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail. Today or tomorrow, accompanied by his guide dog Tennille and a park ranger he’s expected to trek into Mount Mitchell State Park’s campground, well into another daunting journey —  roughly 1,000 miles on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

This latest expedition, which began April 1, is special to Thomas, who lives in Charlotte and firmly believes the MST is a North Carolina gem that should get more attention and support that he hopes to attract with his effort. North Carolina’s state parks system is supporting Thomas’ hike, and we’ll follow his progress as he makes his way from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Thomas’ principal corporate sponsor is THORLO, a Statesville-based athletic wear company, and he’s getting support from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Ahnu, Big Agnes, ExOfficio and Marmot.

(Find out more about Thomas’ history here and follow him on Facebook here.)

In 2004, a rare degenerative eye disease started taking Thomas site. It was nearly four years before he began finding his way again, so to speak. In an interview with Blue Ridge Magazine, he recounted, “In my sighted life, I was always into extreme sports – from backcountry skiing and mountain biking to parachuting. When I was going blind, those things kept being taken away from me. It felt like my world was getting smaller, and that caused a good bit of depression. Then, one of my friends took me to see Erik Weihenmayer speak. He’s the first blind guy to climb Everest, and he had a similar eye disease. I decided that if he could do Everest, I could do something too.”

After the Appalachian Trail, Thomas summited Mount Mitchell in 2009 and then Mount Whitney in 2010. He completed the challenging

2,654-mile Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail as part of team efforts.

Thomas and Tennille share responsibility for one another.
Thomas and Tennille share responsibility for one another.

The Mountains-to-Sea State Trail presents unique challenges, Thomas said. Just over half the route is on single-track hiking trail with the remainder – in parts of the piedmont and the eastern plain – charted along rural roads. This is his first significant hike accompanied by a guide dog. Tennille is trained to help Thomas find the track, but she also puts extra responsibility on the hiker, who must carry extra supplies for the animal and make sure she’s well tended.

Thomas said the first few weeks on the MST through mountainous terrain have been challenging, with few fellow hikers who might help with information (and company), many fallen trees and some very cold nights due to a late spring. In Sunday’s Facebook post from the trail he wrote, “Today we fought for every mile. Trail conditions were less than we expected after yesterday. The trail was hard to navigate for both Tennille and me and we had a lot of climbing, rock hopping and walking on cliffs. This made for slow going. As a result, we only made 10 miles in nine hours.”

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