National Geographic : 1949 Aug
Skyline Trail from Maine to Georgia BY ANDREW H. BROWN Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer Robert F. Sisson ON AUGUST 5, 1948, a certain shoe manufacturer missed the chance of a lifetime. He should have been on a bleak mountaintop to greet a tired but happy hiker in ragged footwear. The weary walker was Earl V. Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania. On that day he reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, in central Maine. Thousands had preceded Shaffer to that rocky pinnacle. But he had just walked more than 2,000 miles over the full length of the Appalachian Trail. He had left Mount Ogle thorpe, Georgia, on April 4. He was the first, so far as the record shows, to traverse that Olympian footpath in a single continuous journey. I asked the redoubtable hiker how many pairs of shoes he wore out in four months of "hoofing it" over rock and rubble, on leaf mold and pine needles, through swamp and stream bed. "One pair of boots lasted the whole way," he replied. "But they were in tatters at the end." Long, Long Trail A-winding On his long walk Shaffer's durable shoes tickled the mountain backbone of the eastern United States. He spent 123 nights on the trail, several of them in fire towers. Travel ing alone, he averaged 17 miles a day. The only "enemies" Shaffer met were two copperheads and a rattlesnake. In his light pack he carried food, spare clothing, and a poncho. He slept when possible in lean-tos and ate corn bread he cooked in a pan. The Appalachian Trail, popularly the "A. T.," is a public pathway that rates as one of the seven wonders of the outdoors man's world. Over it you may "hay foot, straw foot" from Mount Katahdin, with Canada on the horizon, to Mount Oglethorpe, which com mands the distant lights of Atlanta (map, pages 222-3). Of course the route may be reversed. On this fabulous footway you will some times cross a road or railroad, skirt a town, or cut through a farmer's fields. Most of the way, though, you'll be far from man and his works. In more than 2,000 miles of mountain-hopping through 14 States, eight national forests, and two national parks, the Trail ties together long stretches of utter wilderness. When I set out to see the Trail, I adopted a more modest plan than Mr. Shaffer's. I visited the high spots of interest and elevation, by-passing less noteworthy parts by car. On my north-to-south trek I still saw plenty of choice mileage at first hand from the vantage of my own two feet. A Parade of Peaks and Ranges Along the Trail peaks and ranges in a mighty parade hunch their great shoulders skyward. What a majestic sweep of high country! Katahdin, Bigelow, Saddleback, and the Ma hoosuc Range; White Mountains, Green Mountains; the Berkshires and the Taconic Range; the Hudson Highlands, Kittatinny Mountain, and the long, long Blue Ridge; the Unakas, Great Smokies, Cheoahs, and Nanta halas. Viewed close by, they loom green or rocky topped. In the middle distance they shade to blue. At the far-off limits of sight the endless ranges take on the purple, mauve, or misty-gray hues of a painted backdrop. Though the Trail follows the direction of the mountains of eastern North America, it cuts across the main travel ways from the Atlantic Plain to the heart of the continent. Since early days, passes in these Appalachian uplands have funneled westbound feet, horses, wagons, barges, trains, and now even airplanes. In Maine, west of the Kennebec River, I followed in the footsteps of Benedict Arnold. He passed that way on his ill-fated winter at tack on Quebec in 1775. In Virginia I came upon Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road that took pioneers over the mountains to Kentucky and Tennessee. I crossed major rivers of the Atlantic sea board-Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Sus quehanna, Potomac, and James.* I paralleled the age-old Indian trail, the *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Long River of New England (the Connecticut)," April, 1943; "The Mighty Hudson," July, 1948; "Po tomac, River of Destiny," July, 1945, all by Albert W. Atwood; and also "Henry Hudson, Magnificent Failure," by Frederick G. Vosburgh, April, 1939; "Down the Potomac by Canoe," by Ralph Gray, Au gust, 1948; "Approaching Washington by Tidewater Potomac," by Paul Wilstach, March, 1930; "Great Falls of the Potomac," by Gilbert Grosvenor, March, 1928.