Appalachian Trail Histories

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In 1953, George F. Miller became the sixth person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one year, and at age 72, was by far the oldest.

A retired college professor living in Washington, D.C., was a seasoned long distance walker--as a young man he walked more than 1,000 miles from Farmington, Missouri to Washington in just 26 days.

Miller was also an innovator when it came to his gear. As the photograph here shows, his pack (which he made himself) consisted of four separate units spread from his chest to his back.

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Mildren Norman Ryder (1908-1981) was the first woman to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 1952. Ryder, hiking with her friend Richard Lamb, began at Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia, hiked north to the Susquehanna River, then traveled to Maine, where she and Lamb hiked south to the Susquehanna. Along the way, they detoured north to the Canadian border in order to hike the Long Trail in Vermont from end to end, thereby adding more than 270 miles to their thru hike. Their choice of route meant that Ryder and Lamb were also the first successful "flip flop" thru hikers.

Following her traverse of the Appalachian Trail, Ryder adopted the name Peace Pilgrim and spent the rest of her life walking all over the United States and Canada--more than 25,000 miles--promoting peace.

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Gene Espy was the second person to thru hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end in one season during the summer of 1951.

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During his first solo thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 1948, Earl Shaffer kept a diary of his trip, logging information about the condition of the Trail, the people he met, wildlife he encountered, and photographs he took. Shaffer was also a poet, and the diary contains many of the poems he wrote along the way. The diary is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and has been transcribed in its entirety.

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A group of hikers at Indian Gap at the end of a three-day hike, September 5, 1938. Indian Gap is the main north/south gap through the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Albert Gordon "Dutch" Roth, Carlos Campbell, Guy Frizzell, Myron Avery (with measuring wheel), and Oliver Crowder on hike from Newfound Gap to Deals Gap. May 29-31, 1931.

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An account of a ten-day trip on the Appalachian Trail by Ben Beck of the Maryland Appalachian Trail Club. Beck and his friend Herb Robertson hiked from Harper's Ferry south to the Skyland Resort in the newly created Shenandoah National Park between June 13-23, 1935, a total of 79 miles.

At that time there were only a few shelters (Sexton, Meadow Spring, Range View) available for their use, so they either camped under the stars, in the ruins of abandoned houses, or stayed in bunks at CCC work camps.

Trail conditions varied widely during their hike, from recently cleared and well-maintained, to almost impossible. "The trail was bad this morning. Very rough and uncleared. Berry bushes and ferns up to your shoulders…All the springs along here are classified as intermittent. Damned intermittent if you ask me. They’re all dry."

Their diet consisted mostly of onion and bacon sandwiches, canned peaches, dried fruit, and instant noodle soup, and whatever they could purchase at stores they passed along the way.

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Earl Shaffer at the conclusion of his thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 1948. Although some have disputed his claim to have hiked the entire trail that summer, accusing him of skipping sections or hitching rides in cars, Shaffer is still widely considered to be the first "thru hiker" of the Appalachian Trail.

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Earl Shaffer (1918-2002) is widely considered to be the first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one year during the summer of 1948. 

Shaffer's diary of his first thru hike has been transcribed by volunteers at the Smithsonian Institution and can be read in its entirety online. The diary entry associated with this image reads: "About noon came to sign “Appalachian Trail continues across river cross at Harrisburg bridge and take Rockville car no. 5 to Linglestown Road”. Have now hiked 25 miles past Center Point, total of 1050 miles. 1000 more to go."

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Long distance hiker Cherie Cummings photographed outside ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV, July 17, 1979.

The tradition of taking hiker photographs at ATC headquarters began in 1979. Staff member Jean Cashin ("Trail Mom") used a Polaroid camera to record passing long distance hikers at the sign by the front door. Over time, the practice became a standard procedure, and a numbering system was developed that serves as an informal registration system for these hikers.

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Photograph of five hikers, June 4, 1933, by Albert (Dutch) Roth.

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Thru hiker A.J. Matthews (Blue Steel) reaches the end of his thru hike on Mount Katahdin on August 9, 2017.

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