Appalachian Trail Record: ‘Sunny’ Eberhart Becomes Oldest to Complete Thru-Hike


M.J. ‘Sunny’ Eberhart is the oldest person to finish the Appalachian Trail. At 83 years young, he completed the hike on Sunday in Dalton, Mass.

It took a while, but what do you expect? “Sunny” Eberhart is 83 years old, and the Appalachian Trail is 2,193 miles long. On top of that, he hiked it out of order and started in an unusual location — his home in Flagg Mountain, Alabama.

But a record is a record, and Eberhart (trail name “Nimblewill Nomad”) now holds a distinct one. On Sunday, Nov. 7, he hiked into Dalton, Massachusetts, with more days under his belt than anyone who’d ever completed the AT.

Eberhart would know — he’s friends with the previous record holder, Dale “Greybeard” Sanders, who was there to congratulate him.

“My dear friend Nimblewill is taking my record away from me, and I’m happy for him. Records are made to be broken,” Sanders told the Associated Press.

Sanders was 82 when he finished the trail in 2017. Eberhart and friends sealed the deal with a champagne toast, and Jordan Bowman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, confirmed the feat.

Nimblewill Nomad on the Trail

Though he’d completed sections of the trail as a younger man, notably its northern terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine, Eberhart’s hike as an 83-year-old wasn’t easy. His long-distance hiking career now spans nearly 3 decades, but he reported finding he’s not as steady on his feet as he once was.

Slick rocks and technical sections took their toll on Nimblewill Nomad, but he remained steadfast.

“I’ve got a couple of skid marks on me, but I’m OK,” he said. “You’ve got to have an incredible resolve to do this.”

Eberhart started long-distance trekking full-time after retiring from his career as an optometrist in 1993. His resume includes challenges that easily eclipse the Appalachian Trail in terms of distance. His 1998 hike from the Florida Keys to northern Quebec spanned 4,400 miles and 10 months and inspired him to write the popular journal “Ten Million Steps.”

The A.P. reported that Eberhart’s 2021 iteration of the AT required more miles than the thru-hikers walk. Along the way, he happened to cross paths with the youngest person ever to finish the trail — 5-year-old Harvey Sutton, from Lynchburg, Virginia.

Of Sutton, aka “Little Man,” Eberhart said, “He impressed the dickens out of me.”

Will the Oldest Appalachian Trail Hiker Hang Up His Boots?

With the hike complete, Eberhart plans to go back to his home at Flagg Mountain, where he works as the caretaker of a fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Odie Norman, who publishes the thru-hiker photo opus “The Hiker Yearbook” and walked 100 miles with Eberhart on his record-setting hike, commented on whether he thought the 83-year-old was done trekking.

“[Eberhart] said, ‘You know they’re calling this my final hike.’ Then he laughed,” Norman said. “I don’t think it’s going to be his last hike. I just don’t think he knows what he’s going to hike next.”

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