Route: Appalachian Trail

Maine, US
New Hampshire, US
Vermont, US
Massachusetts, US
Connecticut, US
New York, US
New Jersey, US
Maryland, US
Pennsylvania, US
Virginia, US
North Carolina, US
Georgia, US
Tennessee, US

"I found things in the woods that I didn’t know I was looking for..." - Jennifer Pharr Davis

"The trail has a way of answering the questions you most need answered, even if you are afraid to ask." - Heather Anderson

The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs 2,189 (in 2015) miles from Georgia to Maine. Along with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, it is one of the "Big 3" National Scenic Trails. Like many of these trails, the route has changed slightly over the years, and there has been a general tendency for the trail to become longer over time as reroutes are made to take the route off of roads.

Speed records on the AT are known going back to the first true thru-hike by Earl Shaffer in 124 days in 1948 (south to north). In 1960, Lochlen Gregory and Owen F. Allen completed the trail in 99 days (south to north), a time that was matched by Earl Shaffer in 1965 (north to south this time). Then, in 1970, Branley Owen dropped the AT record all the way down to 73 days, using good backpacker style which we call "self supported". Warren Doyle lowered the overall AT record to 66 days, supported at road crossings by his father during much of the hike. This supported style took hold after Doyle's accomplishment, and in 1978 John Avery shaved 9 hours off the FKT, hiking and running for 65 days, and receiving support throughout the trip. These trips established stylistic norms and also guidelines for FKT aspirants. These early FKTs were finally blown away by Ward Leonard's 60.5 thru-hike (self-supported) in 1990 (see below). [I am indebted to Jennifer Pharr Davis for this section. Her forthcoming book The Pursuit of Endurance has very much more detail on these early records and personalities.]

"Grandma" Emma Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the AT alone. Here is what Wikipedia says about Gatewood's first AT thru-hike: In 1955, at the age of 67, Gatewood told her children (who were by then adults) that she was going for a walk. They did not ask where or for how long, as they knew she was resilient and would take care of herself. About 5 years earlier, Gatewood read an article in National Geographic about the AT and thought "it would be a nice lark," though in retrospect considering the difficulty she added "It wasn't." The magazine gave her the impression of easy walks and clean cabins at the end of each day's walk. Thus she took little in the way of outdoor gear. She wore Keds sneakers and carried an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain in a homemade denim bag slung over one shoulder. She would later say "For some fool reason, they always lead you right up over the biggest rock to the top of the biggest mountain they can find." A bestselling book about Gatewood was published in 2014.

My motto is, "Carry as little as possible. But choose that little with care." - Earl Shaffer, first AT thru-hiker

Most people today are pantywaist. Exercise is good for you. - Emma Gatewood, first solo female AT thru-hiker (1955)

"Every morning it's wonderful, every evening I want to quit." - Chris Bakwin (AT hiker, 2017)


Here's a rough timeline of speed trips.  (Women in italics.)

Earl Shaffer 1948   self supported, northbound 124d
Emma Gatewood 1955 self supported, northbound 146d
Lochlen Gregory & Owen Allen 1960 self supported, northbound 99d
Earl Shaffer 1965 self supported, southbound 99d
Branley Owen 1970 self supported, ? 73d
Warren Doyle ? supported, ? 66d
John Avery 1978 supported, ? 65d
Ward Leonard 1990 self supported, ? 60.5d
David Horton 1991 supported, northbound 52d9h42m
Jenny Jardine 1993 self supported, accompanied 87d
Pete Palmer 1999 supported, northbound 48d20h11m
Andrew Thompson 2005 supported, southbound 47d13h31m
Jennifer Pharr Davis 2008 supported, southbound 57d8h38m
Jennifer Pharr Davis 2011 supported, southbound 46d11h20m
Elizabeth Thomas 2011 self supported, northbound 80d13h11m
Matt Kirk 2013 self supported, southbound 58d9h40m
Heather Anderson 2015 self supported, southbound 54d7h48m
Scott Jurek 2015 supported, northbound 46d8h7m
Karl Meltzer 2016 supported, southbound 45d22h38m
Dan "Knotts" Binde 2017 self supported, northbound 53d22h57m
Joe "Stringbean" McConaughy 2017 self supported, northbound 45d12h15m
Joey Campanelli 2017 self supported, southbound 48d23h48m



Another AT record that has been pursued a few times is the most miles that can be run on the AT in 24 hours. In March 2004 Matt Kirk has run 99 miles through Shenandoah National Park, beating David Horton's previous record of 91 miles. Scott Brockmeier started the attempt with Matt, but was unable to complete the traverse.