Hiker Photo Archive
Laurie Potteiger
Having your photo taken at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, 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. Therefore, having a photo taken here makes many hikers start to feel as though their hikes have gained official recognition.

Most hikers photographed here are roughly halfway through their journeys. Harpers Ferry is known as the Trail's "psychological halfway point." While the actual halfway point is about 75 miles north (near the A.T. Museum), the presence of ATC in Harpers Ferry perhaps could be the most significant milestone between Springer Mountain, Georgia, and Katahdin, Maine

Northbound thru-hikers represent the largest percentage of photos by far. Section-hikers, who may take anywhere from just over 12 months to several decades to complete the trail in pieces, are the next largest group. Southbound thru-hikers are typically outnumbered by northbounders more than 5 to 1. Thru-hikers who choose any itinerary other than straight northbound or southbound are the smallest group of all. But, any hiker whose intention is to walk the entire Trail, regardless of how long it takes, is eligible and cheerfully encouraged to have a photo taken at ATC HQ.

By the time hikers reach Harpers Ferry, the impact of their time on the Appalachian Trail is clearly visible. Photographs show men and women who are confident, fit, relaxed, and at times, exultant. Changes in hiking gear and clothing over the years are apparent. 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.

The tradition of taking hiker photographs began as a lark. A Polaroid camera was given to ATC staff member Jean Cashin in 1979, (known to legions of hikers as "Trail Mom,") and she started taking pictures of hikers for fun. Over time, the practice became a standard procedure, and a numbering system was developed that serves as an informal registration. This practice has provided the most consistent photo documentation of long-distance hikers anywhere on the entire A.T. and perhaps in the world.

Until now, if hikers wanted to view the photos of themselves or their fellow hikers, they had to make a trip to the ATC Headquarters in Harpers Ferry. When the A.T. Museum opened in Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park in 2010, scanned versions of the photos became available there too.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Quimby Family Foundation and the work of dedicated volunteers of the A.T. Museum Society under the leadership of Terry Harley Wilson, the Polaroid photos can now be viewed on-line from anywhere in the world.

Laurie Potteiger, ATC