Grandma Gatewood: The First Female Thru Hiker of the Appalachian Trail

Courage is often required of us in order to conquer challenges or achieve life goals. Outdoor enthusiasts are no strangers to this idea. To ski down a steep hill, climb up a rock face, and even pitch a tent in the wilderness can be risky. Sometimes, the risks are worth taking to achieve a feeling of peace, solace, accomplishment, adrenaline, whatever rewarding feeling you’re seeking when you’re adventuring. Sometimes, the courage that guides us down a steep ski slope is the same courage that can help us make changes in our personal lives to better our situations. The story of the first woman to ever complete the Appalachian Trail alone – and in one season – reminds us that it’s never too late to be brave. Missed out on skiing or snowboarding as a kid? Give it a try! If you want to climb a 14er – prepare yourself however you need to, and do it! No more excuses, especially not after hearing the story of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, who proved it’s never too late to be courageous and triumphant in all aspects of our lives.

At the young age of 67, Emma Gatewood, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, became the first woman to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail alone in one season.  She wore her Keds, and packed so lightly that she is now seen as not only a pioneer in women’s hiking but a pioneer of the ultra-lite movement as well.

For nearly 20 years, Gatewood was a victim of horrific domestic violence.  Gatewood was put to work on her husband’s farm, at times doing more work than all the men combined, according to one of her daughters.  Sadly, multiple times throughout her marriage, Emma Gatewood was made to fear for her life at the hands of her husband. When she needed to escape the farm work and her husband, she would run into the woods and find peace there.  Finally, after 20 years of marriage, Gatewood was able to divorce her abusive husband once and for all (no easy task during the 1940’s).

During the early 1950’s, Emma decided she was going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail after reading an article about it in the National Geographic. “Why couldn’t I be the one to finish that trail?” she thought.  So, after a bit of endurance training that included walking 10 miles a day, she embarked on her journey without telling any of her children for fear they would try to stop her. It wasn’t easy at the beginning – her first attempt was a flop, and she ended up getting lost and rescued by rangers, but she tried again the following year in 1955, this time a bit more prepared, and still just as determined to reach her goal.


Gatewood hiked the AT in 146 days. She met lots of strangers along the way who were very interested in her story and her travels caught the attention of lots of reporters. She appeared on television with Groucho Marx, The Today Show, and after a certain point, she became known to Americans all over the country as legendary thru-hiker, “Grandma Gatewood.”

Gatewood didn’t stop there. Before she passed away at the age of 85, she had hiked the entirety of the AT three times. She had also hiked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail.

Grandma Gatewood’s story has served to inspire outdoor women all over the world. She was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Museums Hall of Fame in 2012, and you can see a pair of her worn through Keds at the museum today. Since her first thru-hike on the AT, many women have since asked themselves, “why couldn’t I do that?” and they have gone on to finish the trail, many in record-breaking time.


Whatever adventure you’re thinking about undergoing, or personal battle you are trying to conquer, remember, it’s never too late to be brave.

If you’d like to read more about Grandma Gatewood for yourself, check out these following sources for the post:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/obituaries/grandma-gatewood-appalachian-trail.html

https://woub.org/2016/06/07/trail-magic-the-grandma-gatewood-story/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandma_Gatewood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okp90YkMaMg

Bravery is just the beginning of what it takes to escape abuse, for help or support go tohttp://www.thehotline.org/

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Abby Fanara

Abby joined the WinterWomen team in 2016 after moving to Colorado from Maryland. She loves cooking, dancing to live music, hiking in the mountains with her husband and dog, farming and gardening, and enjoying beautiful Colorado landscapes all year round.

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One Response to “Grandma Gatewood: The First Female Thru Hiker of the Appalachian Trail”

  1. WinterWomen
    WinterWomen August 21, 2018 at 2:05 pm #

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