Climbing to the summit of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak, is a feat in itself. Abruptly rising 4,000 feet to a height of 5,267 feet over steep terrain laden with vertical granite obstacles, the five mile climb is strenuous to say the least. But for Director of the Law Library and Professor Charles Oates, reaching the top of Katahdin this past August was simply the capstone of a lifetime achievement. It was the culmination of his 2,175-mile trek on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).
The A.T. is a continuous footpath through the wilderness, stretching from Georgia to Maine. It runs through 14 states, eight national forests, and two national parks. It extends over ridgelines of up to 6,643 feet in Tennessee and crosses the Hudson River at 124 feet in New York. And in 51 years, Professor Oates has seen every mile.
He began on a hiking trip to the Smoky Mountains in 1957, when he was a counselor-in-training at a camp for older boys. In 1977, he backpacked the Georgia portion with a Boy Scout troop. In 1980, he moved from Florida to Virginia and was able to knock out most of that state’s 550 miles over the course of a few years. Two times a year, on long weekends, he’d conquer another 50 miles. From the peat-bogs of Maine to the zinc mining ghost towns of Pennsylvania, he’s walked it all.
Known as Grandaddy Longlegs on the trail, Professor Oates says the simplicity of trail life kept bringing him back. “Everything you need is on your back. The daily decisions are basic: how many miles in a day, where to spend the night, and what to eat? Moreover, the noises and stresses of civilization are absent in the woods.” He is able then to find solitude and meet God in unparalleled ways.
“Spiritually, hiking is so uplifting. And it’s not surprising,” he says, referencing Amos 4:13, “for God treads the high places of the earth.”
So, in 51 years, what about hiking the A.T. has changed? Thankfully, advances in outdoor gear technology have lightened Grandaddy Longlegs’ load from 35 pounds when he was younger to a mere 18 pounds today.
But for the busy law professor, those 2,175 miles have intersected years of change and accomplishments. He has been an Assistant State attorney, started his own Estate Planning firm and practiced law for 12 years, worked as the Legal Director in the Financial Planning Department of CBN, and is now Director of the Law Library.
2,175 miles hiked in 51 years. A lifetime of achievements, with much life to live. You can bet, now that “Grandaddy Longlegs” is etched into the Summit Log on top of Maine’s highest peak, you may just find him somewhere in the Smokies, starting all over again.
Read Prof. Oates’ full faculty profile here.
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