Did Earl Shaffer shortcut first Appalachian Trail thru-hike?

In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer, a WWII veteran, completed the first recorded thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. But, a recent report from West Virginia hiker and lawyer Jim McNeely questions Shaffer's historic hike and whether the famed thru-hiker bypassed 170 miles of trail. 

After examining Schaffer's book, Walking with Spring, Schaffer's personal trail journal, and the report he submitted to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, McNeely is questioning whether Shaffer's hike counts as a true thru-hike. For AT hikers, this is analogous to questioning whether Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.

Thru-hiking is usually defined as walking every mile of the Appalachian Trail in one season (2,050 miles for the AT in 1948), although different definitions exist within the AT community.

For McNeely, hours of very close reading of Schaffer's journal revealed that Shaffer may have missed the official southern terminus of the trail, accepted rides to skip segments of the trail, and took several long detours of the official route, missing at least 170 miles of trail.

ATC spokesman Brian King says the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was skeptical in 1948 that the trail could be through-hiked, but Shaffer's hike was accepted by the organization only after a careful examination by two dubious board members.

"I don't think you can contest that he walked from Georgia to Maine," King said of Shaffer. "Where exactly he walked, I think that is what Jim is contesting."

Read more in the July 27th Roanoke Times article and Jim McNeely's 158-page report.


Filed under: People & Organizations

Comments

Rick-Pittsburgh
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July 28, 2011 at 9:28 a.m. (EDT)

Hmmmmm, interesting.

Tipi Walter
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July 28, 2011 at 9:51 a.m. (EDT)

This is a common current subject on other sites and I find it to be the useless parsing over minutiae and an exercise in futility by nomenclature-fixated individuals who are enticed by the devising and choosing of names and categories.  Thruhiker?  Pure thruhiker?  On my last trip I spent several weeks on the AT and on Day 1 wrote this little blurb in my trail journal:

"I saw a guy at the Partnership shelter and he said, "Ah, you're a southbounder", and it got me to thinking as I hiked down the trail. No, I'm not a southbounder and I'm not a section hiker and I'm not a thruhiker, I'm a backpacker pulling a 19 day trek in a wilderness or close to a wilderness. Today I could be humping south, tomorrow I could be going north---I am backpacking a large area and only using the AT as a means-to-an-end and as a connector to other trails around Mt Rogers, so don't lump me into some useless and meaningless category."

My point is, as long as Earl was outdoors and getting his bag nights, who cares about him hiking the AT or being the first to thruhike the AT?  It's a contrived notion anyway, like basejumping off the Sears Tower or eating a 100 hotdogs at one sitting.  A hundred years ago someone could've hiked from North Carolina to California, and probably did, and no one gave it much thought.  Then someone built and designated the 2,000 mile long AT and a dull light glowed inside someone else's head to BE THE FIRST to hike it all in one year.  Why?  Only because it's there.  Weird.

Cleric
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July 28, 2011 at 10:54 a.m. (EDT)

The post-modern impulse to deconstruct everything has found its way into the AT record books.  Fantastic (sarcasm). 

Walter has it right.  I am sure that Earl did his hike for personal reasons.  We do our hikes for deeply personal reasons.  Deconstructing his trek serves little purpose.  Kind of like painting a house... you can change how it looks, even make it appear ugly... but you cannot change what's inside. 

It may change a piece of paper (or not), but it will not change the reasons the trek was done in the first place.

Man, I can't wait till we move out of this deconstructive phase of philosophy in our societal consciousness and start doing something truly constructive as a collective. 

gonzan
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July 28, 2011 at 11:19 a.m. (EDT)

Post Modern Post Consumerist Deconstructionism is a canker on the soul of academia and our societal mental landscape. In effect it is akin to Slime Flux Blight in trees- it perniciously creeps unduer the surface, voraciously breeding until it's ugly black sputum flows out with an arogant stench that cannot be mistaken.  

Alicia
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July 28, 2011 at 1:01 p.m. (EDT)

Reading the Roanoke Times article I thought, wow that guy has a lot of time on his hands.

I think McNeely's interest in the original AT trail is understandable, the history part interests me too, but nowhere near to his level of detail and fixation. Those were probably great traits when he was a prosecuting attorney though.

I did a short section of the original AT here in Maine four years ago, a part my great-uncle had helped scout. I'd like to go back and do more. I wrote about that trip in 2007.

For what it's worth, I liked Shaffer's Walking with Spring. I even recommended it here.

Rick-Pittsburgh
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July 28, 2011 at 1:04 p.m. (EDT)

Alicia said:

Those were probably great traits when he was a prosecuting attorney though.

 Lol, very good for a prosecutor indeed.

gonzan
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July 28, 2011 at 1:23 p.m. (EDT)

 

ok, I read the news article and perused the report, which weighs in at 164 pages! 

I think the issues lied in McNeely having ridiculous expectations for what hiking the AT at that time was by applying a concept for thru hiking it that couldn't exist at that time. One of the instances mentioned was when a ranger ran into Shaffer on the trail and was excited meet the man hiking the whole AT. The Ranger was so delighted that he wanted to take Shaffer to see a notable spot nearby, so they drove the 4.8 mile to the location. Shaffer then hiked from that place on north and re-met the official route 18miles further along the trail from where the ranger picked him up. Now, ok, so maybe, if the 4.8 miles driven in the truck were directly north, you could fault him for skipping that distance. BUT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, the trail didn't even physically connect in places at that time, and he had to negotiate an unknown route by foot to rejoin the trail. I don't think that is an offense.

Quoted from the news article"

At one point, Shaffer hiked a portion of Skyline Drive that paralleled the trail to avoid the brush, soaked by a thunderstorm, that hung over the trail, according to McNeely's report.

"It is a striking image: Earl V. Shaffer, on his way to recognition as the first AT thru-hiker, walking along the Skyline Drive ... because he didn't wish to walk in the wet brush along the AT," McNeely wrote.

Um, What? He is effectively demonizing Shaffer for walking on a parallel dirt road to avoid forging through an overgrown trail in/after a thunderstorm? It is very possible that the section of the "Trail" at that time was more akin to a bramble hell.  Furthermore,  the AT followed roads regularly at that time. (am I wrong in thinking it still does in places?)

At the outset, the panel of ATC board members who investigated  Shaffer's claim were skeptical, thinking he couldn't possibly have done it. It is important to note that Shaffer disclosed to the ATC board that he had walked and ridden around some sections that weren't passable or that didn't exist. This was not, however, in conflict with what the panel deemed it meant to hike the entire AT. After their review was complete they judged that he had, in fact  hiked the entire AT as it existed at that time.  Seems pretty clear to me that McNeely is stirring up a nest of Yellow Jackets purely because he is applying his own modern concept for what it means to Hike the AT to something that couldn't possibly have meant the same thing in 1948.  

Erich
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July 28, 2011 at 3:35 p.m. (EDT)

From my point of view, when an outdoors experience that is essentially a means of connecting with the natural world, becomes a competition, the point of being there is lost. What competition exists, is within ourselves. "Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves." George Mallory

Explorer Robby
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July 28, 2011 at 6:33 p.m. (EDT)

"For McNeely, hours of very close reading of Schaffer's journal revealed that Shaffer may have missed the official southern terminus of the trail, accepted rides to skip segments of the trail, and took several long detours of the official route, missing at least 170 miles of trail."

McNeely should focus more on hiking than reading about hiking.

Robert Rowe
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July 28, 2011 at 6:46 p.m. (EDT)

Erich said:

From my point of view, when an outdoors experience that is essentially a means of connecting with the natural world, becomes a competition, the point of being there is lost. What competition exists, is within ourselves. "Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves." George Mallory

 I would opine Lau-Tzu wrapped it up pretty well, when he said (more-or-less ) :

I refuse to compete.  ... Therefore, no one else in the world can compete with me.

(I am paraphrasing from memory.  But, that is the gist of it).   And, that was about 2,500 years ago.

                                                     ~r2~

whomeworry
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July 28, 2011 at 8:01 p.m. (EDT)

Oh, come on all you purists. 

Baseball has it rules, why not thru-hiking!  Forget the notion Native Americans have probably been plying AT-thru equivalents for millennia prior to Whites “discovering” the route.  This game became official only after WE gave it rules!  And this Shaffer dude’s record shouldn’t stand anyway, it was not witnessed in its entirety, nor was the exact starting and finishing times recorded, let alone the time spent on each stage.  We have only his word and journal.  He could have lied, like Frederick Cook claiming both the first ascent of Denali and the North Pole.  Shaffer didn’t have a single sponsor, and ESPN didn’t cover the event.  I bet he didn’t even have a permit.  That alone should be grounds for disqualification!  I don’t know about you but this is all beginning to sound a little questionable.  He might not have even been born in the United States!  I think we should convene a Congressional inquiry to get to the bottom of this.  As Rumsfeld said, there are the unknowns that we don’t know about (and we have enough of those already).  I smell a rat (or perhaps the stink from my morning bathroom constitutional). 

Ed

denis daly
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July 28, 2011 at 9:33 p.m. (EDT)

I think truly everyone is on the same page as opinions go. A Thru Hiker Sectional hiker, recreational hiker is just that what Tippi has stated A Hiker. NOBO, SOBO Or FlippFlopper is just that a backpacker. Yes they say your a thru Hiker if you start in one end to the other. But if you section hike or recreational hike and Finish the AT all of it Your still a Thru Hiker. I truly dont know what societies fixation on Labels as well as classifications and why it so prevelent in todays world. As for MR Neely findings. OK so what  does this accomplish? Yes Earl Shaffer was a propenant of pureist Whiteblazeing from what I hear. But add in today we have Blue Blazeing which is the seanic spots and yellow blazeing when conditions require a section to be closed.Can you truly compair yesterday to todays standard? I do like him following the old trail for historical significants. But at the same time I find him rather par snicketty about nothing really. How about Grand Ma Gatewood she next?

Alicia I liked your article about the 1936 Bates college Outdoor club. Way cool to travel on a path your Great Uncle helped carve.

Alicia
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July 28, 2011 at 10:06 p.m. (EDT)

Alicia I liked your article about the 1936 Bates college Outdoor club. Way cool to travel on a path your Great Uncle helped carve.

Thanks, Denis.

I hope your hike, however you'd like to label it, is going very well.

Wolfman (Wolfgang Greystoke)
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July 31, 2011 at 5:26 p.m. (EDT)

Well in line with Ed's post, I understand that Grand Ma Gatewood used a Duffel bag not a Backpack, there for she was not Backpacking the AT and should not be included in the Completed list!  :p

:D  Just having a little fun.

Rick-Pittsburgh
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July 31, 2011 at 6:19 p.m. (EDT)

No matter what one does in life or claims to have done there always will be those that question the validity of said act . :)

Robert Rowe
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August 1, 2011 at 6:20 a.m. (EDT)

Rick-Pittsburgh said:

No matter what one does in life or claims to have done there always will be those that question the validity of said act . :)

 x2

Happens to me, regularly.  I just relate my experience(s) to others, and invariably, someone questions.

There are  too many things you cannot prove.   Besides, why bother?

 I simply inform that I do not consider them (or, that person) my peer(s).

                                                     ~r2~

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