82-Year-Old Becomes Oldest Ever to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

a path winds under arching trees

Dave Allen Photography / Shutterstock

Affectionately known as "Grey Beard" to his fellow adventurers, Dale Sanders started a trek in Georgia in January 2017, when he section-hiked the Appalachian Trail between Springer Mountain and Neel’s Gap.

Then, in March, he began a continuous hike, heading north, spending more than seven months on the trail.

On Oct. 26, Sanders completed the Appalachian Trail. At 82, he officially became the oldest person to thru-hike the 2,190 trail, meaning he made the journey in a year or less.

"I feel numb right now. It’s really a euphoric experience," Sanders told Outside. "I’m just so thankful to the people who have helped me. I literally would not be here if it weren’t for all the people who encouraged me along the way."

No stranger to adventure

Sanders is no stranger to amazing feats. According to his website, he's an avid paddler, competitive spear-fisherman, and outdoorsman and spent nearly six decades working as a Parks and Recreation program administrator. The Outside said, in 2015, Sanders became the oldest person to paddle the Mississippi River 2,300 miles from source to sea. He also broke a world record for underwater breath-holding and was named athlete of the year by the International Underwater Spearfishing Association.

But being comfortable in the outdoors doesn't mean the Appalachian Trail was easy to conquer.

In the middle of summer, there was a time when Sanders almost gave up. He was bleeding internally, reports The Washington Post, and having heart palpitations. He called his wife who encouraged him to keep going. With his doctor's blessing, he stepped back onto the trail.

In late August he posted on Facebook, "All's well as can be expected. This old body is feeling the mountains of Southern Maine. Just can't climb mountains like before, no matter how good condition I am in."

The challenges of age

Along the way, Sanders ran into hikers of all ages (most many decades younger than he was) who cheered him on. People following at home could see his location thanks to a tracker he wore.

Sanders admits he had a few more things to deal with that his younger counterparts, including blood pressure medication and drops for his glaucoma.

"As older people, we have a great deal more challenges," he tells the Washington Post.

He says he fell "about 100 times" including a particularly nasty incident on Kinsman Mountain in New Hampshire where he injured a hip. It took about two months before the pain ebbed.

"A few times I played the age card, I admit, and it worked every time. I didn't hitchhike; I flagged cars down, and I told them my story and they said, 'Get in.'"

The next big adventure

As for what's next, Sanders tells Outside he plans to take 2018 off to spend more time with his wife and dog. But he has big plans after that.

In 2019, he hopes to paddle the Missouri River and beyond (3,800 miles from Brower’s Spring in Montana to the Gulf of Mexico) in a single-person canoe.

Although he jokes that it's hard to be humble, he tells the Post, his real plans for now. "I'm done, and I'm tired," he said. "And I can go home."