"A Grip on the Mane of Life" recounts the life of hiker Earl Shaffer, a York High graduate.
"A Grip on the Mane of Life" recounts the life of hiker Earl Shaffer, a York High graduate. (submitted)

For five years, Maurice Forrester pored over information about a York man who became the first to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail in a single season.

The result is a biography about hiker Earl Shaffer called "A Grip on the Mane of Life" Forrester co-authored with David Donaldson of West Manchester Township.

Though Shaffer is widely known throughout the hiking community as the first to hike the entire multi-state trail in a single go, he was also a poet and a veteran of World War II.

Joe Harold, manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park near Carlisle, Cumberland County, said the book touches on all aspects of Shaffer's life.

"It covers a lot of his early life and the war years," he said.

Shaffer, a 1935 York High graduate, died in 2002. He was 83.

Long journey: Though the book was just released, its origins go back to 1998 when Shaffer, whose trail name was "Crazy One," hiked the trail at age 79 on the 50th anniversary of his first hike.

Toward the end of the journey, Donaldson, who idolized Shaffer, met up with him and they hiked the last part of the trail together. In that time, the two struck up a friendship. Shaffer, though reluctant at first, gave Donaldson permission to write the biography.

Donaldson set to work, completing thousands of hours of research. But, as it happens with life, he got busy raising a family, working and pursuing an advanced degree, Forrester said.


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About five years ago, a mutual friend recommended that Forrester, of Duboistown, Lycoming County, and Donaldson link up to finish the book.

"When they first suggested it to me I was quite hesitant," Forrester said. "It proved to be a long project but here we are five years on."

Forrester, a founder of the Appalachian Trail Museum, ended up writing the book, which was published by the museum.

Crazy One: Shaffer set out on his first hike in 1948 after he read an article that stated hiking the trail in a single season was impossible.

He not only disproved the myth, but also started a trend of thru-hiking and hiked the entire trail — 2,181 miles from Maine to Georgia — again in 1965 and one last time in 1998.

Shaffer became a trail advocate, building shelters along the trail and improving the trail itself.

In 2011, he was posthumously inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.

Forrester met Shaffer in 1972 at a trail conference where Shaffer played songs on his guitar.

"I can't say I ever got to know Earl very well, but what I got to know about him, I was impressed," Forrester said.

To get a copy: "A Grip on the Mane of Life," the authorized biography of Earl Shaffer by David Donaldson and Maurice Forrester is for sale in paperback at the Appalachian Trail Museum, 1120 Pine Grove Road in Gardners, for $16.