A Hiker Died While Hiking The Appalachian Trail - And Her Final Journal Entries Are Haunting
In 2013, Geraldine "Gerry" Largay, a 66-year-old former nurse from Brentwood, TN, went missing after going on a hike on the more-than-2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. She was supposed to meet her husband, George, three days after she went through a remote area of the trail - but she never showed up. Largay had gone off the path to relieve herself and never found her way back, joining the ranks of hikers who have disappeared on the Appalachian Trail.
Largay's disappearance launched the biggest search mission in Maine's history, and intensive efforts endured for months. She survived 26 days before passing in her sleeping bag due to starvation and exposure to the elements. Two years later, Largay's campsite and remains were found; Largay was unknowingly only a few miles from the trail.
Largay's story is somewhat different from other Appalachian Trail tales of lives lost along the route - Largay left behind a journal and messages to her family that provide haunting and heartfelt details about her final days.
- Photo: Carol Highsmith / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
She Left A Note For Whoever Might Find Her
Gerry Largay started her hike on the Appalachian Trail in April 2013 in Harpers Ferry, WV, planning to travel to the northernmost point of the trail at Mount Katahdin, ME. She kept a journal, and her writings and the accounts of other hikers provide a good idea of exactly how she spent her last days.
Largay hiked with a partner, Jane Lee, and at the day's end, she went off with her husband, George, at trailheads or crossings. In late June, Lee had gone home for the day, and Largay was alone for the remainder of the trail.
In mid-July, things took a turn for the worse. Because the trail became increasingly remote, George wasn't able to meet his wife until three days and nights passed; he parked at Route 27 and waited for her. On July 22, Largay stepped off the trail to go to the bathroom. Unable to find her way back, she tried to text her husband, but there was no reception.
George waited in the parking lot for her, even spending the night in his car. But the next day, he knew something was wrong and reported Largay missing.
According to Largay's journal entries, on the first night, she only ate some Fritos, prunes, and almonds, trying to ration her food.
When the rescue attempts began, Largay heard the planes. She spent time reading and using dental floss to tie knots. She washed her clothes and waited. Eventually, she wrote a note to whoever would find her:
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 [gone] 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.
Largay's last journal entry was dated August 18 - authorities, however, aren't clear if that date is correct.
She Wrote Letters To Her Family Before She Passed
As Largay's time drew to a close, she wrote a journal entry that included an apology to her family. She also wrote each of them letters, trying to help them move forward. Even at the end, she tried to put her family first. She cut up her credit card and buried it, kept her driver's license visible so she could be identified, and placed the letters and journal in a sealed bag with a note to her husband George.
In one of her last letters, Largay wrote, "My deepest love to you. And to all my friends. I pray to see you all in heaven."
Rescue Teams Came Within 100 Yards Of Her Camp
A forester came across Largay's remains two years later; Largay was only two miles from the Appalachian Trail itself and 2,300 feet from a path that turns into a road. The walk to the street would have taken only 10 minutes.
However, because she was in a dense area, K9 search teams couldn't pick up her scent and it was impossible to see her tent.
- Photo: Rebecca / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
An Innocent Mistake Threw Off The Entire Search
The search got thrown off when an inn owner relayed a voicemail to authorities from a hiker who said she was with Largay on Spaulding Mountain, but the message got garbled: "I spent the night at the Spaulding Lean-to with Inchworm, the missing hiker. Tell her husband she's going to be late." Inchworm was Largay's trail name, which she chose because of her slow progress.
Then three boys confirmed they'd seen a quiet woman with glasses on the trail, near the Spaulding Lean-to. The information led searchers to shift the area where they were searching. Largay's family, however, doubted the boys' report was about Largay, as she was talkative, not quiet.
About two weeks later, another hiker, whose trail name was Ivanich, came through with valid information, confirming she and Largay had spent the night at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to. Largay left the next morning, followed by the other hiker. Ivanich, a faster hiker, said she should have passed Largay before noon, but that never happened. The rescue team then realized Largay had never made it to the Spaulding shelter. The mistakes became clear: The phone message was wrong, and the teenage boys had seen the other hiker, Ivanich, not Inchworm.
A Navy Training Camp Is Near Where She Was Found
The Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school, operated by the US Navy, is in remote Maine off the Appalachian Trail. The school is intended to teach future Navy pilots how to survive in the wilderness and what to do if they become prisoners, though the institution has created some controversy for reportedly making participants undergo waterboarding and other harsh techniques.
A few months after Largay's remains turned up, a report by Hutch Brown and Chris Busby for a Maine-based local magazine, The Bollard, caused a stir because they focused on the fact that Largay's camp was close to the Navy SERE school.
According to their report, the Maine Warden Service said its team couldn't adequately search that area because they didn't have enough people who were fit enough to do so. However, based on a terrain map, the area doesn't appear to be strenuous. Also, a SERE class began the day after Largay was reported missing.
Busby suggested the area wasn't searched adequately because it is a military area with restricted access.
- Video: YouTube
The Reality TV Show 'North Woods Law' Filmed The Discovery Of Her Body
North Woods Law, an Animal Planet reality show that originally followed members of the Maine Warden Service (and now focuses on Fish and Game officers in New Hampshire), captured on camera the discovery of Largay's remains. Largay was found by a forester surveying trees on the Navy's SERE school property. Once he saw her camp, he alerted authorities.
Wardens were initially hesitant because they had received many tips saying someone had spotted Largay. However, the forester had taken pictures to prove his claim.
Two years after Largay disappeared, Maine authorities uncovered Largay's tent and found her in her sleeping bag. Wardens and officers also discovered her cell phone, journal, and other supplies - these provided evidence that Largay had survived until at least mid-August - three weeks after she was reported missing.
The North Woods Law segment shows the emotional members of the Maine Warden Service reacting as they carry Largay's body away. "We figured we were there from the beginning; we were gonna take her down off that mountain," says Sgt. Scott Thresher.