Appalachian Trail Histories

Earl Shaffer was a veteran of WWII from Pennsylvania. While serving in WWII his best friend, Walter Winemiller, with whom he planned to hike the AT with, died at Iwo Jima. Though not properly diagnosed, it is reasonable to assume that Shaffer suffered from mental illness that coincided with the end of his service. Upon returning from deployment, Shaffer decided to hike the trail both in memory of Winemiller and to "walk the war out of his system." Ironically, he wrote of all the times he saw violence on the trail: walking past Antietam and that nature itself was violent, like a grouse exploding from underbrush like an A-bomb. He became the first person to thru-hike the trail in a single season. This photo was taken at the end of his NOBO hike on top of Mt.Katahdin in 1948.


Gene Espy's scrapbook (page 18 of 40) from his thru hike in 1951. This page shows views of Center Point Knob, PA, which was the halfway point of the trail in 1951.

Collection: Hikers

On July 5, 1951, Gene Espy passed through Galax, Virginia on his way north from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia. Espy, from Cordele, Georgia, was the second person to successfully hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one season.

This story, from theĀ Galax GazetteĀ is particularly interesting for the discomfort of the reporter with Espy's beard. In 1951, a bearded man was often suspected of being either a vagabond or a communist. In his book about that 1951 hike, Espy describes several times when he was misunderstood because of that beard.

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In 1952, George Miller hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine at the age of 72. His hike was the seventh completed thru hike of the trail and the third that year. He was also the last thru hiker to follow the old route of the trail through Southwestern Virginia, because in 1953 the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) completed its relocation of the trail to its current location west of Blacksburg and the route through Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson, and Washington Counties was abandoned.

In this letter to John Barnard of Meadows of Dan, Miller thanks Barnard for his hospitality and assistance as he passed through Patrick County during the summer of 1952. Barnard was the person in charge of the trail in Patrick County from 1930 until the trail's relocation west.

George Miller.jpg

On August 6, 1951, Northbound (NOBO) thru hiker Gene Espy met Southbound (SOBO) thru hiker Chester Dziengielewski at the Smith Gap Shelter in Pennsylvania. This grainy photograph is the first ever image of a meeting between a successful northbound and successful southbound AT thru hiker. It is also the only known photograph on the trail of Dziengielewski, the third person to thru hike the AT.

Collection: Hikers

In 1951, four hikers traversed all or almost all of the Appalachian Trail from end to end in one season. Three of those hikers, Gene Espy, Chester Dziengielewski, and Martin Papendick, hiked the entire trail, making them the second, third, and fourth thru hikers after Earl Shaffer in 1948. Bill Hall completed all but 300 miles of the trail, skipping the route between Roanoke and Damascus to save time and money. Pictured here, from left to right, are Dziengielewski, AT founder Benton MacKaye, Bill Hall and Gene Espy. The photograph was taken in October 1952, at a dinner hosted by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to honor the three hikers who attended. Papendick was thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail at the time.

Collection: Hikers

Marine Corps Veteran and 2012 thru-hiker who went on to found Warrior Expeditions.

Collection: Hikers
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Thru hiker "Taxman" somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic during the summer of 1983.

Collection: Hikers
Taxman 1983.jpg

Hikers "Linus" and "Woodstock" on the Appalachian Trail near Pennsylvania Highway 16, May 11, 2000.

Collection: Hikers
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"Chewy" at the Virginia/Tennessee border, just south of Damascus, Virginia.

Collection: Hikers

Thru hiker Julius Bruggeman passing through Shenandoah National Park, June 12, 1970. Unlike most Appalachian Trail hikers, Bruggeman made his own pack and much of his other gear.

Collection: Hikers

Eiler U. Larsen (1890-1975) was the first person known to have attempted a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail (1931). At the time of his hike the Trail was not yet a continuously blazed path from Maine to Georgia, so it is no surprise that he was unable to complete his hike. Prior to his departure from Maine in August of that year, he corresponded with ATC Chairman Arthur Perkins, AT founder Benton MacKaye, and Myron Avery, among others, seeking advice about his route and his plans. Larsen went on to become the unofficial "Greeter of Laguna Beach" (CA), where spent more than a decade greeting all visitors with a loud hello and a big smile.

Collection: Hikers