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First Appalachian Trail through hiker: ‘Mention the name Earl Shaffer, it’s awe, integrity, respect’

Earl Shaffer chats with fellow Appalachian Trail hikers north of Harpers Ferry during his last through hike in July 1998. Other hikers recognized the celebrity Shaffer during this hike, which came on the 50th anniversary of his first through hike – the first such on the Appalachian Trail. West Manchester book contains valuable gold coins’ and Who were most prominent 20th-century sports heroes in York and Adams counties? and Highpoint offers Susquehanna River view for the ages.

West Manchester resident Earl Shaffer was out of the service after Army Signal Corps duty in World War II.
And he was ready to “walk the Army out of my system” on the Appalachian Trail.
“Late in 1947 I had seen an article in an outdoor magazine entitled ‘The Long Trail’s Challenge,’ ” he wrote in in his book “Walking with Spring.” “It said that no one was known to have hiked the entire Trail in a continuous journey, though many had tried, and such a trip might actually be impossible.”
Shaffer proved it was possible with the first through hike in 1948, a second hike the other way in 1965 and a 50th anniversary hike in 1998. He was then almost 80 years old.
This information comes from a Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History news release, telling about the opening of an Earl Shaffer exhibit next month… .

Earl Shaffer died in 2002, but not before achieving yet another meaningful honor – entry into the William Penn Senior High School Hall of Fame.
A York Daily Record story (4/20/02) on his induction as he rested in a VA hospital bed revealed. much about this unusual man, who died soon thereafter.
Excerpts follow:
To the hard-core hiking community, Earl Shaffer is a modern-day Babe Ruth in Russell Birdshooter boots. His status with young and old alike is that befitting a legend.
Think Roger Bannister times 2,160 miles.
The 83-year-old Shaffer – who in 1948 was the first solo hiker to traverse the entire Georgia-to-Maine Appalachian Trail in one season – was inducted Friday into the William Penn Senior High School Hall of Fame.
Shaffer, a 1935 William Penn graduate, was the 39th person to receive the honor.
Friday’s induction ceremony took place at the Lebanon Veterans Affairs Hospital.
Shaffer was presented with a “York High” T-shirt and letterman’s sweater, a potted floral arrangement and a plaque commemorating his induction.
Those present included William Penn teachers Joyce Bresnahan and Lisa Albright; five members of the school’s student council; Shaffer’s brother, John; and Shaffer’s nephew, Bob Shaffer.
Also in attendance was Julie Hughes, who made it all happen.
Hughes is a 1991 William Penn graduate who took it upon herself four years ago to write a letter recommending Shaffer’s induction.
The nomination was put on hold for three years – the high school inducts just one person per year – while others were inducted. But this year, Shaffer had allies in two avid hikers on William Penn’s student council – brothers Hank and Ned Buckingham.
“We’ve always known about him,” Hank Buckingham said. “We’ve hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail before. My brother said that we were gonna get him in no matter what.”
“When I saw he had been nominated, I thought, ‘Wow, this guy deserves it,'” Ned Buckingham added.
Shaffer, who has always subscribed to a minimalist method of hiking – take only what you need, and pack lightly – caused a stir among the hiking community and the media when he hit the Appalachian Trail again in 1998.
“I remember in 1998, when I was in Tennessee, there were rumors that Earl was on the trail, that there had been Earl Shaffer sightings,” laughed 41-year-old Dave Donaldson, who met and befriended Shaffer on that hike. “Mention the name Earl Shaffer, it’s awe, integrity, respect.”
Donaldson, who drove up from his home in Arlington, Va., for Friday’s event, recalled his first meeting with Shaffer.
“I was sitting with friends, and here comes Earl, alone of course,” Donaldson said. “We were in awe. One of my friends shouted out to Earl and asked if he wanted a hamburger. Asking a hiker if he wants food is like asking who wants a million dollars, you know? He ended up staying the night.”
Donaldson, who ended up doing a portion of the trail with Shaffer, had a revelation during that time.
“I realized it wasn’t about the equipment,” he said. “Here I am with a thousand dollars worth of stuff, and Earl’s got practically nothing. It was about who you are. Earl instilled that in me.”
John Shaffer, a Dover resident, said there are 40 sites on the Internet devoted in one respect or another to his older brother. Earl Shaffer’s 1948 Birdshooters and the World War I-era backpack he used on his first hike are in the Smithsonian Institution.
“My brother would treat all that the same way – what’s the big deal,” John Shaffer said. “He would wonder what all the fuss is about.”