The M.C. was Dan Shaffer, nephew of Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike he entire Appalachian Trail in a calendar year, often referred to as a thru-hike. Earl thru-hiked in 1948, in part to recover from his experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Earl’s best friend, Walter Winemiller, was killed at Iwo Jima.
Other speakers included Larry Luxenberg, founder and President of the A.T. Museum; Sandi Marra, Chair of the Board of Appalachian Trail Conservancy; Ron Tipton, recently retired CEO of ATC; Maurice J. Forrester, co-author of “A Grip On The Mane Of Life”, the definitive biography of Earl Shaffer; David Donaldson, the other co-author; Jim Foster, Chair of the Museum’s Hall of Fame Committee; and Kimberly Shaffer, Dan’s daughter and Earl’s grand-niece, who is hiking the A.T. in 2018 to honor her great uncle.
Larry Luxenberg said Earl’s hike eventually sparked a huge number of people to attempt to hike in Earl’s footsteps. For the first several years afterward, very few succeeded. Gene Espy became the second thru-hiker in 1951. But, after Ed Garvey’s influential book “Appalachian Hiker” was published in 1971, the numbers began to escalate. Over 15,000 men and women have thru-hiked the trail, with 3,375 attempting a thru-hike in 2017 and 489 succeeding.
Ron Tipton said that while he was CEO of ATC, he often ventured out onto the trail to meet aspiring thru-hikers. Although there have been well-publicized accounts of misconduct by hikers, he has found the vast majority of them to be respectful and considerate.
Kimberly Shaffer began her hike earlier this year at Penn-Mar, on the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 2018, she then hiked from Penn-Mar to Vermont and then went up to the Trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine. She completed about thirty percent of the trail in 2018 before returning to her job as a teacher in Arizona. Kimberly plans to finish the remainder of the trail over the next few years. Her dad, Dan has hiked portions of the Trail with her, and her mom, Ya-mai Shaffer, has met her several times along the way.
David Donaldson was one of a group of people to accompany Earl on his last thru-hike of the A.T., in 1998, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his inaugural hike. He became a close friend of Earl and was present when Earl passed away in 2002. David began work on an authorized biography of Earl following his death. He later asked Maurice Forrester to complete the work, and “A Grip On The Mane Of Life” was published in 2015 by the A.T. Museum.
Among many other honors, Earl was inducted into the Museum’s Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame in 2011, as a member of its Charter Class.