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.
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.
Photo of Mary Years and Ida Sainsbury (Mary foreground, Ida background) The Geneva Times 1971
Map and more info regarding the Bruce trail found at http://www.carp.ca/2015/03/21/halton-chapter-community-meetings-in-april/