Hike Intensity

Meet Shelly Estabrooks, manic thru-hiker and intensive care nurse

Shelly Estabrooks, an intensive care nurse and dedicated, perhaps manic, thru-hiker, has traversed mountain and dale on several continents. She’d just completed another round of hiking all of our 48 White Mountains over 4,ooo feet, often breaking trails through wet, thigh-high snows, when the Appalachian Trail beckoned — 2,200 arduous miles from Georgia to the peak of Maine’s Katahdin. Five months of putting one foot in front of another in grit-testing terrain and weather: a serious test of strength and mettle often consisting of 15-hour, 25-mile days. Only one in four endure, those falling away likely succumbing to increasing interludes of sanity. Shelly: one intense hiker gal.

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Shelly Estabrooks was photographed at Jeffers Brook Shelter at the base of Mount Moosilauke, near mile marker 1,796, northbound on the Appalachian Trail. She is currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, 2650 miles, and won’t be home until autumn.

  • I‘ve had a lifelong obsession with mountains. I think I first fell in love with hiking from family jaunts up the mighty Uncanoonuc Mountains in Goffstown, where I grew up.
  • My favorite peak in the Whites is Mount Guyot. It’s the absolute best place to stop to take in the Pemi Wilderness.
  • I started the AT on my own, but found myself in a “tramily” (trail+family) with some fellow thru-hikers I met in the first few days. Beans, Pop-Tart, Plato and Calico were my original tramily. We hiked the first couple hundred miles of trail together.
  • I met my most favorite person, Tiga, at mile 110 on a hiker shuttle in Franklin, North Carolina. Tiga and I quickly became inseparable, in the end hiking 2,084 miles of the AT together.
  • I continued hiking and traveling post-AT. I’ve been told I don’t have an “off switch.”
  • The hiker hunger was real. If you ever want to witness a feeding frenzy, just offer food to thru-hikers.
  • I ate the biggest cinnamon roll I’ve ever seen in my life from Dermody Road Coffee House in Gorham. I think it was as big as my head. I ate every single satisfying, cinnamony bite of it, and it fueled me across the Maine border.  
  • Danger? I believe being around people within city limits is more dangerous than being out in nature and on the trail.
  • Examples? Bears — proper food hang prevents dangerous encounters. Poisonous snakes — pay attention and provide space. Hitchhiking — hitchhike in groups; if the driver gives a bad vibe, don’t enter the vehicle. Crossing “dangerous rivers” — unclip waist/chest straps, use poles for balance, sidestep. Don’t attempt if it’s beyond your scope of experience.
  • For the most part, feet were not really an issue on trail until I reached New Hampshire. I already had what I considered relatively mountain-tough feet. About 1,800 miles into the trail, I remember the climb up Mount Moosilauke and for the first time being aware of the achiness in my feet.
  • Ask anyone who has hiked the trail, and I bet they will tell you the part they dreaded most was hitting New Hampshire. The straight up/straight down elevation, the relentless talus, rocks and scrambles, tree roots and slippery bog boards — on top of the mileage you’ve already put on your body — leaves you feeling pretty beat up.
  • I still have pain in my feet every morning and they are almost a full size bigger than when I left for the trail.
  • Some mornings I wake up and I lay there feeling like the trail was just a dream, but the aches are a reminder that the experience was undoubtedly real.

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Emma Gatewood, known frequently as “Grandma Gatewood,” in 1955, near Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, with local children Anne and Elizabeth Bell.

The Grandmother of the Appalachian Trail

“Hike intensity” knows no age limit. In 1955, at the age of 67, Emma Rowena Gatewood, a mother of 11 and grandmother of 23, became the first woman to solo hike the entire 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail. She did it wearing Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat, a shower curtain and a change of clothes in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. Before departing, Gatewood, a survivor of domestic violence, told her grown children she was “going for a hike in the woods,” but left out a few important details. She is now considered a pioneer of ultra-light hiking. 


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