Earl was a native of York County, Pennsylvania. His family moved to a small farm near the Village of Shiloh when he was five years of age. He grew up in this rural environment. His mother, whom he lost in his midteens to complications from surgery, encouraged him to read and appreciate poetry and literature. He went on to graduate from William Penn Senior High School in 1935. This was during the depression and jobs were hard to find for adults much less a young man just out of high school. He worked on area farms and hunted and trapped for furs in the winter. Later, he gained employment as a carpenter.
In 1941, when the military draft was looming, Earl was awaiting his turn for entering the service when he decided to volunteer for active duty in order to get it over with. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was already in advanced training in the States. He spent his entire Army career in the Pacific Theater, spending a great amount of time "down under" on small islands constructing radar and communications facilities. Much of that time was spent on small islands where the Japanese occupied parts of the island. Any spare time was spent writing poems and other manuscripts about the wartime experience that mostly remain unpublished at this time.
After discharge in 1945, Earl returned to York and was self-employed buying and selling antiques as well as refinishing some of the more valuable ones. He also clerked at auctions and did some contract carpenter work to supplement his income.
In late 1947, the urge to hike the Appalachian Trail started to grow within him when he learned from a magazine article that no one had hiked the entire Trail in one season. It was thought to be an impossible feat by the Appalachian Trail Conference leadership and hiking public. This urge to thru-hike had first surfaced during the late 30's while hiking with his close friend Walter Winemiller, a neighbor in York. He and Earl had planned on hiking the Trail after the war. Walter was killed during the landing at Iwo Jima, though, so Earl headed for Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia alone in May of 1948 to begin his historic journey. He went on to become the first person to "thru-hike" the A.T. in one continuous journey that year. His hike was in many ways a memorial to his friend.
After his 1948 hike, Earl's first book Walking With Spring was published privately and later, in 1982, published commercially by The Appalachian Trail Conference. Earl took to the trail again in 1965, hiking from Mt. Katahdin in Maine south to Springer Mountain, which had recently been designated as the Trail's Southern terminus, replacing Mt. Oglethorpe. He was the first to complete a thru-hike in both Georgia to Maine and Maine to Georgia directions.
After half a century of on and off Trail work with the ATC and local A.T. clubs, Earl decided to try a third thru-hike in 1998 ... at the age of 79 years! He completed this "anniversary" hike just two weeks prior to his 80th birthday. While on the 1998 trip, Earl kept notes as an Ode to the Appalachian Trail, which became the basic manuscript for his latest book, The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back To The Hills, now available at book stores and through online book sellers.
Earl V. Shaffer succumbed to cancer on May 5, 2002, after a brief illness and hospitalization. He was 83 years old. David Donaldson ("The Spirit of '48"), his hiking partner from 1998, was at his bedside. Earl finished his life as he finished his anniversary hike ... with one of his newest and closest friends by his side.