Grandma Gatewood's Walk
2014 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography Winner
Emma Gatewood, the 67-year-old mother of 11 and grandmother of 23 from Gallipolis, Ohio, was the first woman to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail, and the first person ever to walk it two and then three times. Her initial 1955 journey—in Keds, and equipped with a change of clothes and less than $200—took 146 days and propelled Emma to national fame as “Grandma Gatewood.”
The first and only biography devoted to this literal trailblazer, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk is based on Montgomery’s interviews with surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail, historic newspaper and magazine articles and unprecedented access to Gatewood’s own diaries, trail journals and correspondence. Montgomery explores her childhood on a farm near the Ohio River, her abusive marriage to a man who nearly killed her and her survival against nature in the Appalachian wilderness. A pioneer of ultralight backpacking by necessity, Gatewood appeared with celebrities like Groucho Marx and Art Linkletter, bringing new attention to hiking—a growing pastime—and the neglected trail, likely saving it from extinction by bolstering upkeep of the rough stretches.
As hiking and connecting with nature continue to grow in popularity and are recommended as ways to improve mental health, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk shows how one determined woman served as an introduction to hiking for many, and also made the A.T. hike ultimately achievable. As Montgomery says, “It didn’t take fancy equipment, guidebooks, training, or youthfulness. It took putting one foot in front of the other—five million times.”