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A Mighty Girl

Emma Rowena Gatewood standing at the Appalachian Trail sign

In 1955, at the age of 67, Emma Rowena Gatewood became the first woman to hike the entire 2,168 mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail -- wearing sneakers and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat, a shower curtain, and a change of clothes in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. For food, she foraged for wild plants as well as carried dried meat, cheese, nuts, and dried fruit. The mother of 11 and grandmother of 23, Gatewood -- who was known as Grandma Gatewood -- is now considered a pioneer of ultra-light hiking and one of the first high-profile ambassadors of the Appalachian Trail.

When asked why she decided to hike the trail, which she learned about from a National Geographic article, Gatewood said, "I thought it would be a nice lark... It wasn't." She later added, "For some fool reason, they always lead you right up over the biggest rock to the top of the biggest mountain they can find."

Even with its challenges, Gatewood clearly caught the hiking bug. She hiked the entire trail again in 1960 and then hiked it again in sections in 1963 at the age of 75 -- making her the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail three times. She also hiked 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon, averaging 22 miles (35 km) a day.

Gatewood's feats made her a hiking celebrity and were instrumental in raising public awareness of what was at the time a relatively unknown trail. As for her advice for others who want to follow in her footsteps, Gatewood recommended: "Make a rain cape, and an over the shoulder sling bag, and buy a sturdy pair of Keds tennis shoes. Stop at local groceries and pick up Vienna sausages... most everything else to eat you can find beside the trail... and by the way those wild onions are not called 'Ramps'... they are 'Rampians' ... a ramp is an inclined plane."

To learn more about this remarkable trailblazer, read Ben Montgomery's Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail (2014).  
Of course, hiking is a great activity for all ages and in Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure (2012), mighty mom Patricia Ellis Herr recounts her adventures with her young daughter climbing all 48 of New Hampshire's highest mountains. 

For tons of ideas on how to get your kids more active outdoors, even in the midst of the busy school year, check out Rebecca Cohen's 15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Reconnect with Your Kids (2011)

And, if you'd like to introduce children and teens to more pioneering women like Grandma Gatewood, check out the biography section at A Mighty Girl

See also a Facebook page with information on A Mighty Girl Heroes: Inspiring the Next Generation of History Makers. 

Published on April 10, 2015

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