Ida Sainsbury – First Canadian to Hike the Appalachian Trail

Ida in Background, Mary up front

Ida in Background, Mary up front

Ida Sainsbury from Toronto, Canada was the first woman outside of the United States to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  It was a section hike that bridged four years. Ida traveled to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in May of 1970 to attend a weekend convention of the Appalachian Trail Conference. On the last day of the conference, she met Mary Years of Newark, New York, who had been looking for a hiking partner for three years. The match seemed to be ordained. They began the journey as perfect strangers but soon became life-time friends.

Although Ida had minimal backpacking experience, she and her husband were long time mountain climbers belonging to the Bruce Trail Club of Canada. The two ladies, both in their 50s, began their adventure the hard way. The tackled their first leg of the journey by hiking 300 miles through Maine. The thirty-day trek involved some of the most difficult terrain of the entire trail. They entered the trail with 37 pound packs and lots of enthusiasm. Despite a struggle with a serious water shortage, the women successfully completed their first exposure to the AT.

A four day adventure over Easter, 1971, allowed Mary and Ida to hike through Maryland and West Virginia. In August of 1971, they completed phase two of the plan covering 430 miles in five weeks beginning in New Hampshire and trekking south through Connecticut. 1972 brought the third phase taking on New York and moving southward once again through the rocks of Pennsylvania. Mary and Ida kept a regimen on the trail. Their typical day began a dawn with the goal of stepping onto the trail by 7 am. They hoped to hike 10-15 miles per day and make camp around 4:30.

bruce-trail-2

Bruce Trail in Canada

Before completing the final phase of the AT, Ida was selected to lead a hike on the Bruce Trail in her homeland. According to The Canadian Champion, on January 17, 1973, she was to lead the Moonlight to Midnight hike from Crawford Lake to Rattlesnake Point. Returning to America, Ida and Mary completed their trek in 1973.

Ida returned to Toronto having conquered the White Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains of America. She served for 20 years with the Canadian Cancer Society but managed to walk the Bruce Trail at least three times. In 1984, at age 70, Ida climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The Ottawa Citizen in 1986 tipped their hats to this amazing woman of the trail that challenged the myths and stereotypes on aging. Ida was part of a learning series on aging called The Best Years, which aired on TVOntario in 1986.  

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2194&dat=19861208&id=i8EyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Ze8FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1405,4692482&hl=en

Photo of Mary Years and Ida Sainsbury (Mary foreground, Ida background)  The Geneva Times 1971

http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2011/Geneva%20NY%20Daily%20Times/Geneva%20NY%20Daily%20Times%201971%20Sep-Oct%201971%20Grayscale/Geneva%20NY%20Daily%20Times%201971%20Sep-Oct%201971%20Grayscale%20-%200280.pdf

http://images.ourontario.ca/Partners/MPL/MPL002496075pf_0056.pdf

Map and more info regarding the Bruce trail found at http://www.carp.ca/2015/03/21/halton-chapter-community-meetings-in-april/

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Bruce Trail, Canada, Connecticut, GSMNP, Ida Sainsbury, Mary Years, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, The Whites, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Ida Sainsbury – First Canadian to Hike the Appalachian Trail

  1. Barry Westhouse

    Great memories from along the Trail in the 1970’s at home on the Bruce and the White Mountains of NH. Many years later In the summer of 1994, I walked into ATC office at Harpers Ferry wearing a Bruce Trail tee-shirt. Jean Cashin remarked – You’re from the Bruce Trail! Do you know Ida Sainsbury? Yes I do.
    In November of 94 was the last time I saw my dear old friend. I was 19 in 1971 – when I was invited as a companion to hike the remote peaks of the White Mountains.

    Barry

    • Barry – thanks so much for commenting on my post. I find it amazing that you were friends with Ida Sainsbury. I love the stories of these early hikers and the adventures they experienced on the AT. I would appreciate knowing any insights or details about your times together and Ida’s personality. To hear from a friend would be special.

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