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Completing the entire estimated 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four make it all the way.
The number of people hiking the entire Trail has risen dramatically over the years. From 1936 to 1969, only 59 completions are recorded. In 1970, the numbers began to rise. Ten people completed the Trail in 1970, including Ed Garvey, whose thru-hike was well-publicized. The trend was further fueled by the release of Garvey’s popular book, Appalachian Hiker: Adventure of a Lifetime. The term “2,000-miler” was coined in the late 1970s to help identify this growing group of hikers.
By 1980, the total number of 2,000-milers had increased more than ten-fold. The total had doubled by 1990 and again by 2000. More hike completions were reported for the year 2000 alone than in the first 40 years combined. The 10,000th hike completion was recorded in 2008.
2,000-Milers By Decade
Women make up about 25% of the total hike completions reported. Hikers from Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Romania, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Wales have reported completing the Trail.
In 1936, ATC Chair Myron Avery became the first “2,000-miler,” having walked and measured every step of the flagged or constructed A.T. route.
Five others reported completing the entire Trail between 1939 and 1946, including a 1939 completion by George W. Outerbridge, who now has a shelter named after him just south of Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania, on the first stretch of Trail he completed in 1932.
First reported thru-hiker.
In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer became the first to report a thru-hike, walking the entire Trail from Georgia to Maine. He hiked again—this time from Maine to Georgia—in 1965. On his third thru-hike, 50 years after his first, he became the oldest thru-hiker at age 79, a distinction he held until 2004.
First female thru-hiker.
Mildred Norman is the earliest female thru-hiker on record, having reported a flip-flop hike in 1952. Under the name “Peace Pilgrim”, Norman later walked over 25,000 miles throughout North America.
In 2004, Lee Barry, known as “Easy One,” became the oldest thru-hiker at age 81 when he completed his fifth hike (and second thru-hike) of the A.T. Only 11 thru-hike completions have been reported by hikers age 70 or over, and most of those hikers had already thru-hiked the A.T. at least once before.
The oldest section-hiker walked the A.T. from 1972 to 1975, completing the Trail after he turned 86.
A 6-year-old boy became the youngest person to hike the A.T. when he completed a flip-flop thru-hike with his parents in 1980. Twenty-two years later, in 2002, another 6-year-old boy completed a flip-flop thru-hike with his parents and 8-year-old sister.
Youngest female thru-hiker.
The youngest female to thru-hike the A.T. was 8 when she completed hiking the Trail in 2002 as part of a family group.
Youngest female section-hiker.
The youngest female section-hiker started the Trail at age 3 in 1984 and completed the Trail at age 15 in 1997.
First solo female thru-hiker.
Emma Gatewood, better known as “Grandma Gatewood,” mother of 11 children and grandmother of 23, was 67 when she first hiked the Trail in 1955. In 1957, she completed her second thru-hike at age 69, holding the unofficial title of oldest female thru-hiker for the next 50 years. In 1964, she became the first person to complete the A.T. three time when she finished a section-hike. She was famous for wearing only “Keds” tennis shoes and carrying a small knapsack.
Oldest female thru-hiker.
Nancy “Magellan” Gowler become the oldest female thru-hiker in 2007 at age 71 when she completed her second thru-hike.
Oldest female section-hiker.
The oldest female section-hiker completed the Trail in 2004 at the age of 80, after 11 years of section-hiking.
This story was provided by friendly folks at The Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Their mission is to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail – ensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come. For more information visit www.appalachiantrail.org.
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