There is a tragic story in the hiking community this week with the discovery of the body of Geraldine Largay, 66, who became lost on the Appalachian trail in Maine. She left heartbreaking messages on her cellphone and a diary, including a request that “When you find my body, please call my husband and daughter.”
Largay went by the trial name “Inchworm” — a reference to her slow pace of hiking. She was supposed to be hiking with friend Jane Lee but Lee had to set off to deal with a family problem. The hike began at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Her husband arranged to meet her at designated spots with supplies. When she failed to meet him on July 23, he alerted rangers.
She appears to have gone off trail to go to the bathroom in an area that was particularly dense and rugged. She is known for having a poor sense of direction and clearly lost the trail. The picture above was the last picture taken of her by another hiker on July 21st.
She was lost a few hours later and sent a text message saying “Got off trail to go to br. Now lost.” She asked him to call the Appalachian Mountain Club “to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of woods road. Xox.” The message (and all of her messages) went undelivered and she ran out of power.
On July 23, she set up camp but she was largely covered by the thick growth from being seen by planes. She tied a shiny silver blanket between two trees, possibly to attract attention, and nearby trees had burn marks — suggesting that she tried to start a fire. Many people searched for her but could not find her or her trail.
The last entry, dated on August 28 2013, reveals that she survived for at least 26 days. The torn-out page, dated August 6, said “When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry.
It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me – no matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.”
The bag contained her cellphone and the journal.
I have backpacked and hiked for years and I tend to be a very careful planner. However, I have had a couple of harrowing experiences of getting lost in a vast forested area. It is a chilling experience to realize that you have lost the trail and have no idea of the direction — meaning that you could set out in a direction with hundreds of miles of wilderness. You can also walk in circles if you do have a compass or good markers. That is why this is so chilling. We have all been in this position and it is easy to panic and make things worse. Indeed, I am about to set out on hiking trips in Alaska and New Mexico in the coming weeks and this tragedy serves as a reminder to plan carefully both before and during such hikes.
When the end came, Largay appears to have reconciled herself to her fate. Still it is hard to imagine her isolation in becoming lost in this way, even for someone who loved the outdoors.
Her camp was less than two miles off the trail. She penned a note to her husband on the cover of the journal: “George Please Read XOXO.”