Hiker’s Body Found In Maine Just Two Miles From Trail After Becoming Lost and Surviving 26 Days

260516SPLGERALDINE_620x310There 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.”

21 thoughts on “Hiker’s Body Found In Maine Just Two Miles From Trail After Becoming Lost and Surviving 26 Days”

  1. Anyone follow Mainuh’s link?

    I read through the first one, and then skimmed the rest (reading the conclusion sections). It shows her story on the trip and it is strange. Although I can’t help but feel like it is grasping at straws, it does provide some good detail.

    Like the fact that after her buddy left her, she made it through approximately 1000 miles of trail by herself. She would meet her husband every 2-3 days. I don’t think she was underestimating herself. I don’t have enough information.

    All I can say is she seemed like a good person and it is unfortunate what happened.

  2. She died doing what she loved to do, many people do…I don’t care to judge their actions, only wish them luck in their efforts.
    No one gets out alive….

  3. Karen: I’m somewhat rusty on details, but the e-Trex (I have the 30 model) uses the standard GPS satellite linkup. If I’m not mistaken, it might link to another set of satellites as well. And in the software, you can see specific satellites and the strength of each connection.

    You can mark waypoints as you go, so you can return to any of them either by shortest route (a straight line, which doesn’t always help) or by the exact track you took. Plus you can load detailed photographic maps or the standard topography maps. And of course you can plot your course and set waypoints ahead of time. (It has an altimeter, sunrise/sunset times, compass, etc. as well.)

    I’m sure better models exist but I really use it as a just-in-case. I recommend it. And battery life is very decent. It can go several days on two AAs (I always carry four extra, of course).

    Garmin should pay me for this, haha.

  4. I recently went to the Sequoia National Forest, a popular vacation destination. There was zero cell phone coverage in the entire mountain. Zip.

    I recently read about a hiker who died there. He complained of stomach pains, and by the time his hiking buddy made it back to a visitor’s center, and first responders hiked 6 miles to get him, he’d already passed away. I wonder if it was a burst appendix. He was only 26.

    http://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article79441257.html

  5. This is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to her family.

    I, too, have had several harrowing experiences while hiking. One time a trail in the jungle was quite a bit longer than I expected, and as it was my first time in the rain forest, I was shocked by how quickly a trail fades and gets overgrown…days really. I had thought it was a quick hike and not a concern to do it alone. There was definitely a “stay calm” moment where I was cursing my judgement to go alone. Our camp was deep in the rain forest. I was lucky enough to find my way and learn.

    Of course she should have had a buddy, but one can see how she would have wanted to persevere. She might have felt safer on such a popular trail, with a rendezvous. One would never think you can get lost going just a bit off the trail, but it’s so easy to get lost in the woods when you can’t see any landmarks. And it’s heartbreaking to know that so many people searched but could not find her.

    Dave:
    Does the Garmin eTrex use a satellite signal rather than cell service? I have an older Garmin for my car, but I also have a cell phone app that traces your route for when I go on rides, to keep track of my distance. I’ve been interested in a device that would do the same thing, but not rely on a cell signal.

    Also, does anyone know if satellite phones have gotten any smaller? The last time I looked into one, they were the size of a briefcase and heavy, not practical for backpacking.

    And I did not know that personal locator beacons are now available. A silver lining to such tragedies is the discussion on what’s new and available in navigation and survival gear.

  6. I’ll not pile on to her ‘misunderestimating’ nature and her own skills.
    I’m sure her family knows how foolish this was in retrospect.

    Her last messages to her family, when she knew all was lost, were touching and lovely.
    Sounds like a nice lady who got in over her head.

  7. I hike in the Pacific Northwest on a regular basis. I always have maps, compass, GPS (with altimeter). Were I on a trail like the Appalachian Trail I would also buy or rent a satellite phone. Very sad that she got lost. A lesson to all of us to (at the very least) get compass and maps and learn how to use them.

  8. There’s a program I believe on the History Channel called Alone that shows how difficult it can be to survive in the wilderness. These are people trained to live in these extreme environments and many of them do not last 26 days before they quit and push the button to get rescued. As tragic as this story is I applaud her for doing what she obviously loved to do.

  9. So tragic that she (1) did not have a compass and map, relying solely on electronics; (2) chose to go alone when her companion had to leave.

  10. Technological illiteracy would lead one to think that a cell phone call or text message will get through in this environment. Network coverage can peter out, foliage can cut transmission range, cell phone batteries fail after a few hours. The hiker should have been advised to carry one or more of the various radios that are better for this purpose. Compass, maps and even GPS are not enough if you are injured. Personal Locator Beacons, formerly available only to mountaineering expeditions and marine users, can now be purchased online and work through the COSPAS/SARSAT search and rescue satellite system. Satellite phones can be rented for camping trips. Radios like GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) and Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) in the U.S. and even licensed ham radio — which has saved many lives in the outdoors — are some of the choices.

  11. I think that Dave explains quite a lot and his advice should be taken. The National Parks and Forest Service should require these two forms of navigation. And yes every hiker should know how to read a compass. If this lady knew she had gone South to take a leak then she could have done a 180 and found her point of departure from the trail. Better to just poop On the trail. Kind of like the Tammy Amie Trail in Florida.

  12. When hiking, no matter for how long or how far, I always bring a robust med-kit, water, and most importantly, two forms of navigation: a gps Garmin e-Trex, which tracks essentially every step and can be reversed —and a standard old-school compass with relevant map, as a backup. (Relying on electronic technology is plainly dumb. Every hiker should know how to read a compass.) That combination I think is the safest way to wander.

  13. Lost in the woods. Safety “only” two miles away. Every direction looks the same. Might as well be 200 miles away.

  14. If you are out in the muddle of nowhere then how far off the trail should you go to take a leak or a dump? Five feet.

  15. Is there a way to put a “chip” into the bodies of hikers so that they can be tracked from overhead or from a cell tower or satellite service?
    There is an age issue here. Too old to hike. If you are over 60 maybe you need some partners in crime.

  16. These stories are always heartbreaking–so often the lost are so, so close. Anyone who has spent significant time outdoors inevitably encounters such a situation. A simple, small mistake compounds quickly, and exposure makes one stupid and more likely to error. I came close to hypothermia on a July day in Yellowstone a long. long time ago. It began on a sunny, 80 degree day with blue skies, but a front rolled through, dropping temps quickly down into the mid-40s, and I’d forgotten my raincoat. Seven miles in pouring, sideways rain left me shivering at the trailhead, unable to get into the shelter of my car because my hands were too numb to hold the keys. Thankfully, some other folks pulled into the parking area and helped me get in and get the keys in the ignition. All the mistakes I made, I knew better, but I was reckless and in a hurry. Today, I never hike without a topo and a compass, and the older I get the more careful I force myself to be–because it may not be raining, but I’m sure not getting any smarter.

  17. A senseless and tragic loss of life which was highly predictable and foreseeable. No big surprises here. While my sympathy goes out to her family and friends, one can’t help but wonder why in the world any reasonably sane and intelligent 66 year old, with a known and preexisting “poor sense of direction” would seek to take off on this type of journey alone, unprepared and unaccompanied? Granted, bad things often happen unexpectedly–we don’t see them coming. Here, what occurred was not just predictable–it was expected. Common sense is in short supply, and those who were aware of her plans and did not actively, zealously and vociferously attempt to dissuade this senior citizen, from her folly, also bear a great deal of the responsibility for what ultimately befell this individual.

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