Tuesday, February 21, 2012

History of the Appalachian Trail

Each year there are many people that around this time of the year make their way to Springer Mountain in North Georgia to begin the 2,184 mile hike that is the Appalachian Trial. The trail cuts up the east coast to the state of Maine and on its way passes through 14 states. It is mostly wilderness but there are times when the trail cuts through towns and involves roads. There are many structures that one will come to when they are hiking the Appalachian Trial such as shelters and privies (outdoor bathrooms). 

In order to keep up the trail and make sure that everything stays functional for the hikers there are around 30 trail clubs, the National Park Service, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The trail, however, was not always as we see it together with the conveniences of the shelters and privies that line the trail in many places. The history of this great trail is just as much of a part of the hiking intrigue as the nature that one enjoys while completing it.
The plaque at the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail

Early Development Years
The trail was thought up by a man by the name of Benton MacKaye who was a forester that decided to put the trail together shortly after the passing of his wife in 1921. The trail over the course of time was built and walked section by section by various adventurous people. 

There was some clashing of what the Trail was going to represent and what it was going to offer to the hikers from MacKaye and a young associate that took up the cause of expanding the trail Myron Avery. Also involved was Ned Anderson a farmer from Sherman, Connecticut, who took the task assigned to him by MacKaye of creating the blaze that goes through the Connecticut wilderness. Anderson’s effort with the trail sparked more and more interest from the general public and he was eventually able to bring other states on board with the project.

The problem that came between MacKaye and Avery was the overall view for the trail. Avery wanted to make it a simple trail and he wanted to reroute some portions of the trail for more scenic value and to avoid newly constructed developments. In the end Anderson won out and MacKaye left the organization and Avery rerouted the trail and was the Chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy from 1932 to 1952 when he died soon after resigning. 

On the left is MacKaye and the right is Avery. They are the Godfathers of the Appalachian Trail.

Early Hikers
Ned Avery was the first person to walk the trail from end-to-end. His efforts were not in a thru-hike but was still an accomplishment all in itself. He completed this task in 1937. The ATC then focused on protecting the trail land and mapping the blazes for the hikers. In 1948, a man by the name of Earl Shaffer from Pennsylvania brought some very needed attention to the trail and the work that so many had done to try a preserve this magnificent project. He hiked the trail from start to finish at one time, also referred to as thru-hiking, hiking from Georgia to Maine.

He later, also, became the first person to complete the reverse thru-hike hiking from Maine back down to Georgia. Lastly, but definitely not the least, at the ripe age of 80 years old in 1998 Mr. Shaffer completed the trail one more time, thus making him the oldest thru-hiker ever. Since, these accomplishments it is the dream of many hikers to complete the thru-hike of the trail. Many people to year complete the trail from beginning to end.
This is a picture of Shaffer when he complete the Trail  with the first thru-hike. 
Shaffer on the hike when he is hiking the trail at the ripe young age of 80 years old. 

The AT Records and Stats
There are two different type of hikers on the AT. Thru-hikers as mentioned before are people that set off from either Maine or Georgia and go to the respective other at one time. Another type of hiker on the AT is called a section hiker. These are people that complete sections of the AT and leave, then come back and start back where they left off.
The first blind through hiker was a man by the name of Bill Irwin. He hiked the trail in 1990 at the age of 49 years old. He had the help of a seeing eye dog and is estimated to have fallen 5,000 times on his trip which took around 8 ½ months to complete.

As of 2010 there were more than 11,000 people that have reported to have completed the trail in its entirety, with about 75% of these being thru-hikers that completed it in one period of time. 

A map of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Early spring in the North Georgia mountains, the chill is in the air and the fog has set in on the mountain as you make the ascent to the southern terminus of arguably the most impressive trail in this great country. You get to the top of the Springer Mountain and see the plaque that signals the beginning of your trek from the Georgia to Maine. You find the log book and flip through it to see all of the names that have set out on this journey prior to you. You flip through reading the names and the little comments that each made on the beginning of their journey. Some have their doubts, some are confident, but all of them have a purpose and a desire that burns within them. The idea that we have a beautiful country and that we are meant to explore all the wonders that God has created for us. You sign your name and begin to think on your journey and what you would like to leave behind for future hikers to see. You consider some words of comfort, excitement, and resolve but you eventually pen these words of wisdom for each and everyone to draw encouragement from:

“Each and every journey must begin with the first step, it is then when you make that first true leap of faith that you find your true meaning and passion in life. The pilgrimage that I am about to start and you will eventually will begin is one of perseverance, persistence, and self evaluation. Know that if I, and you, complete this voyage that we will come back changed for the better. Self confidence will be gained, self worthiness will be obtained, and self improvement will be accomplished. I plead with you to vow to yourself what I on this day am vowing to myself. I will not quit, I will not back down, and I will make this journey the joy of my life!” --Mike


As a standard, usually about 10%-15% of people that start a thru-hike actually make it through the entire length of the trail. There are people that hike the white blaze which is the original and actual recognized route of the AT, some hike the blue blaze which is a shorter path that goes from the same starting location and ends in the same location but it more strait from point to point, and you have some that follow the “yellow blaze” which essentially means that they hitchhike the yellow lines of the roads that boarder the trail.

You also have the people that are trail runners. These are the people that don't actually camp on the trail but run the entire length of the trail stopping from location to location at hotels. These trail runners complete in the shortest time but don't have the gear to carry like a true thru-hiker. The fastest to complete the AT was Jennifer Pharr Davis who completed the entire trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. She made the trip from Maine to Georgia in June and July.

There are a few kids that have hiked the trail. It is on record that 6 year old Michael Cogswell hiked the trail along side his parents in 1980.

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