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Nature revives us, centers us, quiets us. It allows time for reflection. Hikers of the entire 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail are fortunate individuals, indeed, who take a good long physical, emotional and spiritual journey.
Six years after Cliff Irving hiked the AT in 169 days with his adult son Derrick, he recalls the spell it cast on him. The trip made him further appreciate the beauty of the Eastern wilderness, he says, while it enabled him to experience the kindness of strangers and the friendship of fellow hikers.
The AT is the longest continuous recreational footpath in America. Since its completion in 1937, more than 10,000 hikers have walked it from end to end—either in sections over a long period or “thru,” meaning in one continuous trip. The trail beckons hopefully fit, optimistic outdoors lovers who usually travel south to north, beginning at Springer Mountain, Georgia, in the spring and finishing at Mount Katahdin, Maine, in the fall.
Most thru-hikers are younger than 25, but plenty are older and often retirees; the most senior thru-hiker on record was 81 when he completed the trip in 2004. Age, occupation, income and social status quickly dissolve in the woods. Hikers adopt trail names—like Brother Buzz or Cup o’ Joe or Snot Rag—further hiding their off-trail identity.
Image by Andre Jenny / Alamy. Maine's Mt. Katahdin is the northernmost points of the Appalachian Trail, often serving as the finish line for those adventurous hikers who travel the entire route. (original image)
Image by Pat & Chuck Blackley / Alamy. Hikers are treated to views such as this one of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. (original image)
Image by Pat & Chuck Blackley / Alamy. Thornton Gap in Shenandoah National Park offers more astounding views along the Appalachian Trail. (original image)
Image by Aurora Photos / Alamy. Another view of the last stop along the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Katahdin in Maine. (original image)
The arduousness of hiking the AT is not to be underestimated. Many enthusiasts overplan and buy more than they can carry. After a few weeks, they shed their fancy gear and learn to live without. As many as three-quarters leave the mountains before they finish; they’re tired, hungry, injured, homesick or all of the above.
“Every so often I would say to Derrick, ‘I’m looking for that bus,’ because if I could have found that bus, I would have taken it home to Cape Cod,” Irving told me. His son encouraged him when the going got tough.
Later, Cliff counseled another man, Chef Boyardee, who was also ready to quit the trail. “It’s odd to see two guys talking and crying, but it’s such an emotional thing,” says Irving.
Yet externally, at least, life is stripped to its simplest form. You walk and walk. You eat and drink and sleep. The streams start to look alike, as do the mountains.
Then comes the unexpected: seeing a wet, newborn fawn whose mother is trying to distract a hiker or spotting at arm’s length a red squirrel fastidiously cut down and eat a wild mushroom. These are the moments hikers carry out of the woods for a lifetime.
At 2,178 miles, the Appalachian Trail is the nation’s longest marked footpath. Starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia, it crosses 14 states, six national parks and eight national forests on its way north to Maine’s Mount Katahdin. But despite the trail’s daunting length, more than 10,000 people—called “2,000-milers”—walked it in its entirety, in sections over time or as a whole. In light of “Earl Shaffer and the Appalachian Trail,” an exhibition honoring the first person to hike the trail in one continuous trip (at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History through October 11), we take a moment to reflect on the trail’s groundbreakers, record holders and legendary characters.
1. The Founder
The Appalachian Trail was the brainchild of Benton Mackaye a land-use planner. Mackaye, who grew up about 30 miles west of Boston in Shirley Center, Massachusetts, was no stranger to mountains. The first peak he “bagged,” as climbers say, was Mount Monadnock, just a few miles away in New Hampshire. And after graduating from Harvard in 1900, he and a classmate hiked what would later become Vermont’s Long Trail through the Green Mountains. As the story goes, Mackaye was sitting in a tree atop Stratton Mountain in Vermont when the notion came to him of a trail following the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia. The editor of the Journal of the American Institute of Architects convinced Mackaye to write an article about his idea. Published in October 1921, “An Appalachian Trail, A Project in Regional Planning” fleshed out Mackaye’s vision. More than just a walking path, his Appalachian Trail was to be a destination where East Coast city dwellers could go to get back to nature—a place for recreation, recuperation and as he ever so transcendentally put it, “to walk, to see and to see what you see.”
2. The Trail Blazer
Benton Mackaye may have been a thinker, but it took a doer to turn his vision into a reality. Myron Avery, a maritime lawyer and avid hiker from Washington D.C., took lead of the project in 1930, mapping the trail’s route and organizing crews of volunteers to build it. If his reputation serves him right, he wasn’t the most amiable of men. Bill Bryson wrote in his book A Walk in the Woods that someone had once claimed Avery blazed two trails between Georgia and Maine: “One was of hurt feelings and bruised egos. The other was the A.T.” But Avery did manage to complete the trail in a mere seven years; the last swath on the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine was cleared in 1937. Having rolled a measuring wheel over most of it, taking notes for future guidebooks, Avery was the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. He did it over the course of 16 years, from 1920 to 1936.
3. The First Thru-Hiker
Essentially, there are two breeds of Appalachian Trail hikers: section hikers and “thru” hikers. Section hikers, like Myron Avery, hike the Appalachian Trail in pieces, often over the course of years, whereas thru hikers take on all 2,178 miles in one trip. In 1948, when people had their doubts that such a feat was possible, Earl Shaffer from York County, Pennsylvania, completed the first known thru hike. Having read about the trail in an outdoor magazine, Shaffer, a World War II veteran fresh out of the service, decided that it would be a good way to “walk the army out of [his] system.” Without guidebooks, only road maps and a compass, he left for his “Long Cruise,” as he called it, on April 4, from Mount Oglethorpe, the A.T.’s original southernmost point in Georgia. Averaging 16.5 miles a day, he reached Mount Katahdin 124 days later. The moment, for him, was bittersweet. “I almost wished that the Trail really was endless, that no one could ever hike its length,” wrote Shaffer in his book Walking with Spring. He caught the bug. In 1965, he would hike the trail again, this time from Maine to Georgia, becoming the first person to walk the trail in both directions. And, then, in 1998, at age 79, he hiked it yet again.
4. The First Female Thru-Hiker
When Emma Gatewood set out to hike the Appalachian Trail in 1954, no women—and only five men—had ever hiked it continuously. The farmer, mother of 11 children and grandmother of 23 was in her mid-60s at the time, earning herself the trail name “Grandma Gatewood.” She had never hiked a mountain in her life, but that July, she started in Maine, with the formidable 4,292-foot tall Mount Katahdin, and every intention of going “a ways” down the A.T. In two days, she was lost. After running out of food, she turned up days later back on the trail at Rainbow Lake, where she had made her wrong turn. Reportedly, she told a Maine Forest Service ranger that she wasn’t lost, just misplaced. The incident spooked her though, and she went home to Ohio. The following spring, however, she was back at it, this time starting in Georgia. Five months later, on September 25, 1955, the 67-year-old finished the entire trek. “I would never have started this trip if I had known how tough it was, but I couldn’t, and wouldn’t quit,” she told Sports Illustrated. Grandma Gatewood would thru-hike the A.T. a second time in 1957 and a third in 1964.
5. Trail Celebrations
The Appalachian Trail has its dangers: poisonous snakes, bears, lightning storms, diseases like giardia and Lyme’s, even murder. But the trail certainly celebrates life. In 1978, thru hikers Richard and Donna Satterlie found out while hiking through Hot Springs, North Carolina, that Donna was carrying a child. She was seven and a half months pregnant by the time she hiked Mount Katahdin. In honor of their accomplishment, they named their baby girl Georgia Maine. And it was in Cathedral Pines, a stand of white pines in Cornwall, Connecticut, once part of the Appalachian Trail, that avid hikers Mike Jacubouis and Cara Perkins got married. About 60 guests were in attendance, wearing “comfortable hiking clothes,” as the invitation suggested, and the bride and bridegroom wore denim and hiking boots. The Rev. Bill Kittredge of Lewiston, Maine, read an excerpt of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, including his words, “We can never have enough nature.”
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Benton Mackaye was an avid mountain climber and a land-use panner from Shirley Center, Massachusetts. He came up with the idea of creating a hiking trail from Maine to Georgia. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. In 1921, Mackaye wrote an article titled, "An Appalachian Trail, A Project in Regional Planning," for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. This was the first step towards making the vision of the Appalachian Trail a reality. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. In 1930, Myron Avery began mapping the Appalachian trail and organizing crews of volunteers to build it. He was the first to hike the trail in its entirety and rolled a measure wheel over most of it for future guidebooks. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. World War II veteran Earl Shaffer (at Mt. Katahdin, the end of the Appalachian Trail) completed the first known thru-hike. (original image)
Image by NMAH, SI. Earl Shaffer's diary entries for April 10-11, 1948, shortly after he started his hike. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Shaffer hiked the trail two more times, becoming the first to walk the trail in both directions. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Emma Gatewood, nicknamed "Grandma Gatewood," was the first female to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail at the age of 67. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This Appalachian Trail plaque on the top of Springer Mountain, Ga. honors Benton Mackaye. It also marks the beginning of the trail. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The Appalachian Trail leads hikers over the James River in Virginia. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Canopus Lake in New York offers hikers a chance to take a break from the trail and enjoy rowboats, canoes or kayaks. (original image)
Image by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. One third of Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire is above the treeline. (original image)
Image by Marc Muench / Corbis. The Appalachian Trail crosses 14 states, six national parks and eight national forests. (original image)
6. Hikers, Young and Old
Believe it or not, there have been older 2,000-milers than Grandma Gatewood. Ernie Morris started section hiking the A.T. when he was 82 years old and finished in 1975 at age 86, becoming the oldest man to have hiked the trail. The oldest thru hiker is Lee Barry, who completed his fifth hike (three were section and two were thru hikes) in 2004 at the age of 81. Nancy Gowler, the oldest female thru-hiker, completed her second in 2007, at age 71. As for the youngest, 6-year-old Michael Cogswell hiked the entire trail with his parents in 1980. Another 6-year old boy tied his age record in 2002. And an 8-year-old girl became the youngest female A.T. hiker in 2002.
7. The Good Samaritan
In her lifetime, Genevieve Hutchinson only walked a bit of the Appalachian Trail, picking wild flowers one day on Bald Mountain in Massachusetts. Nevertheless, she was a legend on the trail, and her house in the A.T. town of Washington, Massachusetts, a welcoming watering hole. Guidebooks often directed hikers to Hutchinson’s home from a lean-to about a half-mile away. She’d have visitors sign a register, marking thru hikers with a red star, and she kept a scrapbook of photographs, postcards and letters from hikers she met. She cherished her relationships with them and even wrote a memoir called “Home on the Trail,” not for publication, but, as she put it, “for my family, so they’ll know what it has meant to me to live here on the Trail.” Hutchinson lived to be 90 years old, passing away in 1974.
8. The Record Breakers
It might go against the spirit of Benton Mackaye’s “stop and smell the roses” philosophy, but for some, just walking the trail isn’t enough. They need to be the fastest one to thru-hike it. The trend really took off when two hikers, David Horton and Scott Grierson, hiked the trail neck and neck, vying for a speed record in 1991. Grierson, a hiker from Bar Harbor, Maine, had a two-day head start on Horton, an ultramarathoner. But the two had different strategies, and Horton, who walk-ran 10-11 hours per day eventually gained on Grierson, who walked 16-17 hours per day. Ultimately, Horton finished in 52 days 9 hours and Grierson in 55 days 20 hours 34 minutes. Horton held the record until 1999, when ultrarunner Pete Palmer smashed it, hiking the trail in 48 days 20 hours and 11 minutes. Palmer held it for six years, but speed hiker Andrew Thompson broke it in 2005, completing his thru hike in 47 days 13 hours 31 minutes. In 2008, 25-year-old Jennifer Pharr Davis set the female record: 57 days 8 hours 35 minutes.
9. The First Blind Thru-Hiker
“For most hikers, the rewards of the Appalachian Trail were primarily visual,” writes Bill Irwin in his book Blind Courage. But Irwin had an entirely different experience. He lost his sight in his mid-30s from a degenerative disease, and in 1990, at age 49, became the first blind person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. With the help of his Seeing Eye dog, Orient, Irwin hiked it over the course of eight and a half months, falling an estimated 5,000 times along the way. “I never enjoyed the hiking part,” writes Irwin. “It was something I felt compelled to do. It wasn’t my choice.” He had struggled with troubled relationships and alcoholism, and with blindness came a loss of independence and deep depression. But for Irwin, the miraculous feat of doing it was a life-changing event.
10. A Writer in the Woods
When travel writer Bill Bryson moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1995, after living in Britain for 20 years, he experienced culture shock. Happening upon a nearby trailhead to the Appalachian Trail one day, he got the idea to hike it and reacquaint himself with America. After telling his family, friends and publisher (he would later write A Walk in the Woods, a New York Times bestseller recounting his trip) about his plan, he got a call from Stephen Katz, a childhood friend from Iowa, who wanted to join him. An overweight, Little-Debbie-loving guy, Katz was an unlikely hiker, but Bryson agreed to his coming along. After all, his company, as well as that of the characters they would meet along the way, provided fodder for Bryson’s signature humor. The two set out on March 9, 1996, traveling south to north. But by Gatlinburg, Tennessee, they came to terms with the fact that they were never going to walk the entire way to Maine. They revised their plan and decided that they would walk the Appalachian Trail, just not all of it (joining the nearly 90 percent of thru hikers who never make it). They’d hike sections in between stints at home, nights in motels or occasional pit stops. In the end, Bryson trekked 870 miles, or 39.5 percent of the A.T. He regrets never making it to Mount Katahdin or looking real danger in the eye. But he gained an admiration for those who have, a respect for the beauty of the wilderness and a good deal of patience, strength and perspective.
Editor's Note: This article erroneously placed Mt. Monadnock in the White Mountains. It is not a part of any mountain range, according to the New Hampshire State Park Service. The article has been modified to fix the error.
After a book and a movie told author Cheryl Strayed’s tail of hiking through the 2,200-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the system received such a flood of hiker interest that the trail association announced a permitting system to limit hikers. Now, concerns have been raised that the Appalachian Trail (AT), on the other side of the country, needs a similar limit on its thru-hikers, Kathryn Miles reports for Outside.
"The AT model is based on unlimited growth," says Jensen Bissell, the director of Baxter State Park, at the northern end of the trail in Maine. "The trail's usage has already increased several hundred percent [in the past 25 years]. We don’t see any mechanism in the management model to prevent it from increasing another 2,000 percent."
Already, the trail system had grappled with a surge of hikers after Bill Bryson published his Walk in the Woods in 1998. But Cheryl Strayed’s Wild boost to the PCT also affected the AT. And September 2 marks the release of a film version of Bryson’s account. Bissell and others up and down the 2,168-mile trail are concerned that the latest thru-hikers include too many that are breaking rules — they carry open containers of alcohol, camp illegally and forge service dog papers to bring their pets with them.
No one could have predicted in 1921, when the trail was first conceived, how popular it would become today or what kind of abuse it would endure. Only three hikers completed the trail in the 1940s, according to the trail conservancy. The numbers were manageable in the 1970s when, during the course of the entire decade, a total of 775 thru-hikers completed the trail (for an average of about 77 hikers per year). Compare that to 2014, when more than 2,800 thru-hikers started the trail and an estimated three-to-four million people hiked a section of it.
The concern isn’t just over the changing nature of the trail experience — hiking it was once a very solitary undertaking and now a reporter for the Associated Press calls it "a rolling, months-long frat party," (via the Toledo Blade). All those people are also impacting the environment on the trail. The Katahdin Butterfly was once prolific at the trail’s terminus in Maine, but now it is endangered. The decline is in part, experts say, due to increasing foot traffic that wore the butterflies' meadow on Mount Katahdin bare.
The National Park Service commissioned biologist Jeff Marion to assess the trail over three years, starting last year. He’s also worried: “There’s litter at shelters, people leaving used toilet paper right on the trail, hikers throwing used batteries into the fire,” he tells Outside. “I try to talk to them and they say they don’t care.”
Regional organizations are working to update shelters and repair trails for the anticipated effects of the Walk in the Woods movie. However, some worry that won't be enough to counteract the potential damage of too many hikers.
Black-and-white study print (8x10).
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.
Salamanders are typically elusive animals and adept at hiding, but National Zoo visitors will have a chance to see a variety of different amphibian species […]
The post National Zoo Opens New Home for Appalachian Salamanders appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
Accompanies: The dulcimer book / by Jean Ritchie (Oak, 1964). The book is laid in the container.
Notes in booklet (8 p.), including a written transcription of the record and song texts, laid in original container.
Related materials may be found in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials may include correspondence pertaining to the recording, original cover art designs, production materials, business records, and audiotapes from studio production.
Describing his project of counting bears, bobcats and other predatory mammals along the Appalachian Trail, National Zoological Park wildlife ecologist William McShea looks to American literature for a comparison.
The post Appalachian Trail survey aims hidden cameras at large predators appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.
"Charles Burchfield: Catalogue of Paintings in Public and Private Collections," Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Museum of Art (Utica, NY: 1970), pg. 222, entry no. 1014.
Black-and-white study print (8x10).
Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.