PUDS, otherwise known as pointless ups and downs, are a frequent topic of conversation among hikers and backpackers, up there with blisters and butt chafing. They signify the numerous ups and downs found along many hiking trails, which are viewed as deliberate obstacles placed by sadistic trail conferences and trail maintainers to make backpackers “earn” their hikes.
But those PUDS have a purpose that belays the eye. For one, it’s simply easier to build a trail along the top of a ridgeline, PUDS and all, which is why so many trails follow them. They’re easier to maintain since gravity provides the trail drainage and they’re easier for hikers to follow since you can quickly sense when you fall off the ridgeline and start to sidehill. While hikers do complain about them, it’s just the normal bellyaching that backpackers do to commiserate with other hikers they meet on the trail.
PUDS are very prevalent on the Appalachian Trail which follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. While Mt Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is only 5269 feet high, the total number of feet that thru-hikers and section hikers have to climb along the length of the Appalachian Trail amounts to approximately 250,000 feet, which adds up to a lot of PUDS just to climb a 5000-foot mountain.
But then again, the journey is the destination, something that a lot of hikers and backpackers lose sight of in-the-moment when they’re bitching about a trail. They’ll be a time when the hiking is over that you’ll look back and wonder why you’re sitting behind a desk or a cash register when you could be outside and climbing PUDS.