Earl Shaffer completes thru-hike

COPYRIGHT NANDO.NET   and the AP

Hiker, 79, completes Appalachian Trail again 50 years after setting mark

Copyright 1998 Nando.net

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

MILLINOCKET, Maine (October 21, 1998 10:14 p.m. EDT)

The first man to hike the Appalachian Trail uninterrupted 50 years ago completed the feat again on Wednesday, at the age of 79.

Earl Shaffer, a month shy of his 80th birthday, endured driving rain, sleet and bitter cold to complete the final 15 miles of the 2,150-mile journey that began May 2 at Springer Mountain, Ga. 

Shaffer, equipped with an Army-issue rucksack and worn boots, said he was compelled to hike the trail even though there were times he nearly quit. "It's the 50th anniversary and I couldn't stay home. I had to go," said the contractor and antique buyer and seller.

Finishing the trip was quite an achievement, even for a man half Shaffer's age. The Appalachian Trail Conference estimates only about 20 percent of the 1,500 people who attempt to hike the trail in its entirety each year actually succeed. "It's a remarkable story any way you look at it," said Brian King, conference spokesman in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Shaffer, of York Springs, Pa., was the first to hike the trail in 1948, in the days when people said it couldn't be done.

In 1965, he did it again in 99 days, this time starting in Maine, to become the first to walk the entire trail in both directions.

This year's trek took 174 days. "It's just hard to believe," he said. "We're going to be lost tomorrow when we get out of bed and wonder what's been going on" for the last four months. Shaffer said he will not attempt to hike the trail again. "I'm mighty, mighty, mighty glad it's over," he said.

By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press Writer