I Was a Black, Female Thru-Hiker on the Appalachian Trail

The first person to hike the full length of the Appalachian Trail, a white man named Earl V. Shaffer, wanted to “walk the Army out of his system.” That was in 1948. Since the 1970s, when 775 hikers completed the trail, the number of “thru-hikers” has doubled each decade so that in the 2000s, close to 6,000 hikers covered all 2,190 miles.

Most of those people still look like Shaffer—they’re white men. Only about a quarter of thru-hikers are women, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and though there’s little information about the racial breakdown of thru-hikers, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of them are white.

Last year, Rahawa Haile, a writer now based in Oakland, California, became one of the very few black women to attempt to hike the entire trail. (She was able to find exactly one other attempting the feat in 2016.) In March, she began in Georgia, the more popular end of the trail to start on, and by the middle of October had hiked its entire length. She carried along with her, too, a series of books by black authors, which she left in trail shelters along the way.

Haile spoke to Atlas Obscura about the challenges and joys of hiking all those miles and the particular experience of being one of the few people of color spending months on the trail.


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