From The Lean-To: ATC Hiker Photo Archive

Oct 6, 2011
Outside
Outside Magazine

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From Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, the Appalachian Trail is almost 2,200 miles of White Blaze, Trail Angels and Lean-Tos. And somewhere in West Virginia, in a town named Harpers Ferry, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the organization who manages and protects that long and winding road, has its headquarters. Harpers Ferry is considered the halfway point of the trail (If you're really doing the math, the actual halfway point is 75 miles north in Gardners, PA near the Appalachian Trail Museum, which opened last year in 2010), and for Northbounders and Southbounders alike, taking your photo at the headquarters has become a ritual for those intending to walk the entire trail.

Having your photo taken at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters has become a standard ritual for those hikers intending on walking the entire A.T. One of the functions of the ATC, as the lead organization in managing and protecting the A.T., is to maintain the official 2,000-miler registry of all those who have completed the A.T. This tradition started in 1979 when ATC staff member Jean Cash (known to legions of hikers as "Trail Mom") started taking pictures of hikers with a Polaroid. According to the ATC's website, "the practice became a standard procedure, and a numbering system was developed that served as an informal registration."

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Until recently, in order to see your ATC portrait, you used to have make the trek back down to Harpers Ferry. But now, thanks to the good ol' internet, a grant from the Quimby Family Foundation, A.T. Museum volunteers, and a tired scanner, you can now search online to see what you looked like twenty years younger and 1,000 miles into your hike. And if your "SAY CHEESE!" moment doesn't come up on ATHikerPictures.org by searching your name and/or trail name, you can also search through a range of dates all the way back to 1979.

A fun fact for you? Sure. Photographs taken prior to July 4, 2005, show ATC's original name, "Appalachian Trail Conference," which was taken from the group's first meeting in 1925. The name was changed from Conference to Conservancy in 2005 to better reflect the organization's land conservation mission.

And let me tell you, even if you've never been to Harpers Ferry, even if you didn't thru-hike the trail (Hell, even if you've never stepped foot on the trail), looking through the archive is a hell of a way to spend the afternoon. But do your boss a favor and at least pretend like you're working.

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Jeff Thrope is the founder and editor of Cold Splinters. For more ways to pretend you're sleeping under the stars instead of reading the Internet, visit coldsplinters.com and twitter.com/coldsplinters.

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