When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter...
May 27, 2016 1:15 PM   Subscribe

On July 22, 2013, Geraldine Largay stepped into the Maine woods and disappeared without a trace. The 66-year-old had been hiking the Appalachian Trail alone, and failed to make a scheduled meet-up with her husband. Her body was found over two years later, on October 16, 2015, just a 10 minute walk from a trail that turns into a dirt road. On Thursday, the Maine Warden Service released its files on her disappearance, revealing that she had survived for nearly four weeks before succumbing to starvation and exposure.
posted by apricot (135 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read this on the Guardian earlier this week. So so sad.
posted by Kitteh at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2016


oh how completely agonizing for her family and those who looked for her
posted by barchan at 1:23 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


And their agony knowing how near she was to civilization without ever getting out. Heart breaking. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 1:29 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


centralmain.com: The Warden Service detailed the conclusions about her last days and evidence in a Nov. 12, 2015 report [pdf], that is among a 1,579-page case file obtained Wednesday by the Morning Sentinel. The report makes clear that authorities believe Largay survived alone in the woods for weeks as a massive search and rescue effort scoured the vast area in vain.
posted by maggieb at 1:34 PM on May 27, 2016


The initial search by the Maine Warden Service was actually captured on the television show about the service, North Woods Law. It was disheartening watching the episode (this was before it made major news) and realizing the search and rescue was only going to be the former and not both. Very sad story.
posted by Atreides at 1:34 PM on May 27, 2016


God, I read about this somewhere earlier this week (presumably the Guardian) and it's like a gut punch.
posted by shelleycat at 1:37 PM on May 27, 2016


Would this kind of thing happen these days with mobile phones? Was there no service there?
posted by infini at 1:38 PM on May 27, 2016


She had a phone, and tried to get messages out, but no signal.
posted by brennen at 1:40 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


She tried to send multiple text messages, but apparently failed to find a spot with service.
posted by Atreides at 1:40 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is so sad.

This case makes no sense unless you factor in dementia. She surely was able to make a smoky fire? She surely was able to follow a compass bearing for ten miles in a month of being lost? Even walking downstream would have done it in such a long period. I wish she took a break while her friend was out of action.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:44 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


My sense is that she was following the generally known advice to stay put and wait to be found. She also seemed to have walked farther away because she was looking for higher ground to get a phone signal. And tried to set up signal fires. Given that she had a lot of hiking experience + life experience I think it's just a sad & tragic case of bad luck.
posted by bleep at 1:50 PM on May 27, 2016 [44 favorites]


It's a sad story, though probably inevitable occasionally on the Appalachian trail because it is just so accessible and yet still goes through some very remote places.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:51 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've section hiked on the AT, that there is one of a myriad of reasons why most people start in GA and hike north: It serves as a warm up for inexperienced hikers because, from what I've heard, the Maine section mentioned above is no joke. No joke at all.

That was my thought process at least when I heard about this earlier in the week. I don't know if she was through hiking (I think she was) or even in the area mentioned in those signs I linked but I can't help but think it may have been the case and that she, for one reason or the other and much to her demise, was somehow out of her element or depth.

Anyone know if she had a topographical map and/or compass? I've seen some pretty silly behavior and have heard even worse horror stories of folks, doubly so on the AT (which can be deceptively inviting, I'm looking at you A Walk in the Woods), getting into backcountry situations and not having them or, even worse possibly, having them and not knowing how to use them. I've not been able to find out that fact about this specific case, but the fact that she was alive that long and found that close to a road/trail points, tragically, towards no.

Condolences to her family, at least they get this bit of closure.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:51 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


The difference in description of Largay between the Globe accounts and the NYT account is startling.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:00 PM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


According to the report maggieb linked, this whole tragedy started when she stepped off the trial to use the bathroom. A sobering reminder of how everyday things can spin out of control. RolandOfEld, I looked up the Poplar Ridge lean-to on Google Maps, and it is not in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, but it is getting close to it.
posted by TedW at 2:03 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know if she was through hiking (I think she was) or even in the area mentioned in those signs I linked but I can't help but think it may have been the case and that she, for one reason or the other and much to her demise, was somehow out of her element or depth.

She was 66 and prone to bouts of being "flustered and combative". The NYT article hints pretty clearly -- without explicitly saying so -- that she was probably in the early stages of dementia.

If that is the case, it's reasonable to ask why her family would allow her to hike the Appalachian trail, alone. That seems like an extraordinarily poor idea given her state of health.

I suppose if somebody had spent their entire life hiking -- and knew that they were coming down with Alzheimers and wanted to end their life on the trail -- that would be a fine way to go. Very few would judge them.

But from what we can gather from the articles, she was pretty terrified of being alone and (it seems) made efforts to try and stay alive .... which makes the decision to leave her alone on the trail, at the very least, an incredibly bad idea. Or perhaps even suspect.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 2:06 PM on May 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


IIRC K9 teams got within a football field of her body, though I don't remember if that was later or during the initial search, and that was hard enough to hear about, but if she was alive it's quite possible she heard evidence of the search for her, especially aircraft. . . horrible, horrible.

Bee'sWing: I've gotten to hear former Rocky Mountain NP Range Joe Evans speak and have read his book about SAR in that park, and one of the best takeaways I had from him is there's a point when lost when you have to rescue yourself - but it's also super hard to discern when that point occurs. Incredibly hard. It's really been drilled into us to "stay put", which is the right thing to do the majority of the time, so people staying put past that point sadly does happen. And it's almost impossible to give general advice about when the "stay put" expiration occurs because it will be a different point for every lost person, as well more likely lead to people moving prematurely. It sounds like she was in control of herself and wasn't panicking, so she thought she was doing what she needed to do. I imagine even more so if she had evidence in any way of the ongoing search for her.

The second takeaway I've gotten from his experiences and others' is that a signaling device is one of the "Ten Essentials" for a reason; there's story after story about lost outdoor users who could have been rescued but did not have a proper signalling device such as a whistle, a mirror, a two way radio, flare. . . it doesn't sound like she had one - just one of the many "what ifs" but a particularly tragic one.
posted by barchan at 2:06 PM on May 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


I've always wanted to hike the AT, and have been doing serious research on it for the last couple of years, and when I read this in the NYT, the thought I had was 'Wow. At 66, she decided to hike it, and more, she made it all the way to Maine without incident, even losing a hiking companion (which can be a serious blow)'. So tragic. I wonder what would've been the outcome if she'd had something like a Spot, even though the answer, obviously, is a firm grounding in orienteering, not more technology - she had her cellphone, after all, for all the good it did her.
posted by eclectist at 2:08 PM on May 27, 2016


Kate Braestrup is a chaplain with the Maine Warden service. I very much like her memoir about that work, Here if You Need Me.
posted by not that girl at 2:08 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


Very sad. I'm glad she was finally found.

According to this article she owned a SPOT device that could have sent an emergency message with her GPS coordinates by satellite, but she wasn't carrying it on that segment of her hike.
posted by peeedro at 2:10 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Is there anywhere in the National Park/Forest system where specific survival requirements have to be met as part of the terms of use? Like, can Rangers turn you away from desert park inroads if you can't prove you have enough water with you? Or remove you from the snowy boonies if you can't prove you have a coat? (I realize the Highway Patrol in CA and presumably other states can enforce vehicular standards, like making cars pull off to have their brake temps checked on hot days in the mountains.)

I'm kind of assuming no, but I'm curious if there's any movement toward requiring something like a SPOT as a requirement for hiking the more remote parts of the Trail and others like it.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:17 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


> She was 66 and prone to bouts of being "flustered and combative". The NYT article hints pretty clearly -- without explicitly saying so -- that she was probably in the early stages of dementia

I don't see the hints of dementia. People can get flustered and combative their whole lives.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:21 PM on May 27, 2016 [62 favorites]


How would those (the requirement that certain equipment be carried) be enforceable?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:22 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I suppose if somebody had spent their entire life hiking -- and knew that they were coming down with Alzheimers and wanted to end their life on the trail -- that would be a fine way to go. Very few would judge them.


I disagree. A lot of effort, rightously so, went into the Search and Rescue effort once she was reported missing. A lot of people went out of their way, be it professional or volunteer, and put themselves, to a greater or lesser degree (probably not so much in this case, but still...), at risk while doing so to try to help her. Much like the ability of a private citizen to stop a boat/vessel if it's obviously unsafe* and require the captain to wait for a law enforcement officer, it is well within the family's right, and duty, to have questioned her ability to go out if dementia was keeping her from hiking safely.

I'm curious if there's any movement toward requiring something like a SPOT as a requirement for hiking the more remote parts of the Trail and others like it.

God, I hope not. NPS staff are already dealing with the false sense of security that these things provide when someone bites off more than they can chew and hits their SPOT to get airlifted out because the water tasted funny.

*I can't find a cite for this, and maybe it has to involve minors, but anyway, think citizen's arrest for boaters.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:22 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well, they can and do require you to have a bear canister in some places, which is at least partly for your own safety. I don't know of any other restrictions, but I wouldn't be shocked. That said, most of the National Parks are just way, way, way too big for safety standards to be effectively enforced except at major chokepoints, and it's usually possible to just go around those. And for the AT specifically, not all of it is on federal land.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:23 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Seems like a survival tool like a solar powered strobe/blinker or even better an odor emitting packet that dogs would alert on and that could at least allow for a quicker finding of the campsite.
posted by Freedomboy at 2:23 PM on May 27, 2016


Holy cow. I read the story in the NY Times, I think. I thought accident... these things do happen...

But that Portland Press Herald article!

She had a compass but didn't know how to use it.

She needed hearing aids, but didn't have them with her! That makes it a hell of a lot harder for anyone to find her if she can't hear them calling for her.
posted by Jahaza at 2:24 PM on May 27, 2016 [18 favorites]


...or even better an odor emitting packet that dogs would alert on ....

They won't, if it's downwind.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:25 PM on May 27, 2016


[Couple comments deleted. It's fine if people want to talk about preparation and so on but please skip the Darwin award stuff, it's distasteful and offers a really unnecessary derail to fight about.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:26 PM on May 27, 2016 [45 favorites]


Reminded me of this.
posted by TedW at 2:33 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wonder if it would be possible to have some device for rescuers that picked up signals from a cellphone that was trying to find a tower. Like a portable tower.
posted by bleep at 2:33 PM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


The NYT article hints pretty clearly -- without explicitly saying so -- that she was probably in the early stages of dementia.

The article clearly states that she took anxiety medication and that her husband suspected she would become easily flustered if she ran out of it on the trail. No hinting at dementia, unless you're the kind of person who automatically thinks a lack of mental perfection in a person older than 50 is dementia, which is gross and terrible.
posted by palomar at 2:33 PM on May 27, 2016 [56 favorites]


The other thing I keep thinking is - knowing when you are lost enough that it's okay to mess up the wildlife to save your own life. Chopping down trees, etc - the kind of thing you would never do if you were pretty sure they'd find you and would do if you were pretty sure they weren't.
posted by corb at 2:34 PM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


She had a compass but didn't know how to use it.

I guess people do, but it's pretty hard to imagine hiking more than maybe 5 miles unless it's on a well marked trail without a map and compass and knowing what those things are. Basic orienteering can be learned in about 15-20 minutes and could have saved her life, all she needed to know was which way to walk to get back to the trail. Although I guess even orienting a map in thick enough underbrush could be difficult.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:37 PM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


Poor woman. Her poor family.
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


correct Boston Globe link
posted by thefool at 2:44 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


The references to the density of that part of the trail, and people with knowledge commenting about how easy it would be to get turned around, make me think about practices like using a length of rope or something as a guideline—you're stepping off to poop, so you anchor this thing on the trail with your handy rope-anchor-thing, unspool it behind you, spool it up to find your way back. Are there hikers who do something like this? Are there places where hikers know getting lost just a few steps off the trail is a possibility, so take this kind of precaution?

(Just realized I probably got the idea from Pa Ingalls stringing rope between the house and the barn during blizzards.)

Of course, taking a compass heading before you leave the trail would be a good measure, too. Then you'd know for sure you were going North, say, and needed to go South to get back. Hikers of MetaFilter, are there times and places where you have done such things?

My most wilderness-like outings have been as a kayaker on rivers on which you didn't need to know much more than "go downstream." Also, the friend that I boated with was very knowledgeable about survival stuff, and we believed in over-preparing for the level of risk we expected to encounter, me because I'm risk-averse and can so easily imagine the worst happening, her because she liked to feel like a rugged explorer, and both of us because we liked gear and gadgets.
posted by not that girl at 2:50 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


It's so sad. She sounds quite hardworking and resourceful -- found a knoll to camp on, made a platform of logs and boughs to pitch her tent on, tried to set a large signal fire. We don't know what she tried with a map and compass or where she thought she was. To me, it sounds like the kind if of thing that, sadly, could happen all too easily, especially when you read comments about the terrain like this:

Ms. Largay had left the trail in one its most rugged sections, with thick underbrush and fir trees packed so tightly they almost seem to merge.

“You step off the trail 20 or 50 feet and turn around, it’s very difficult to see where the trail was,” said Douglas Dolan, 53, a volunteer who spent time last summer doing trail maintenance in the area. “If you didn’t know which way the trail was, you could easily walk in circles for hours.”

posted by salvia at 2:55 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


A few perspectives:

--When I got older, I purchased a SPOT device for hiking and motorcycle rides (I almost always hike/ride alone). I never had to use it, but it was a primary tool and I always had it with me. Extra batteries too. (Note that the SPOT also has a satellite "I'm OK" message you can send for relatives and friends that shows exactly where you are...). Sad to hear she had one, but didn't have it with her....

--National Parks (others?) used to bill people for non-emergency SAR or search efforts if it was not an emergency. Some notes/stories above imply this isn't the case anymore?

--Many parks DO require a permit, evaluation, counseling, and watching a 30m film before being allowed to backcountry or wilderness hike. Some require special permits and release forms for what they consider difficult areas (e.g., Fiery Furnace in UT).

--I work in a state park with a large trail system and rangers respond to "lost hikers" and "overdue hikers" every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I am surprised it doesn't happen frequently on the big trails (Appalachian, John Muir, Trans America, etc.).

...on the irresponsible SPOT / rescue beacon users: bill them. Done.
posted by CrowGoat at 2:57 PM on May 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


The confidence and certainty with which people engage stories like this is the same confidence and certainty everyone feels right up until they're in a crisis themselves. It's just a higher stakes version of knowing all the answers when you're watching Jeopardy from home. If people didn't seem to do The Simple Thing Everyone Knows They Should Have Done, probably it's because there's something about their circumstance you're not anticipating. I can't imagine what an experience like this could be like, but I'm going to assume 'unforeseen complications' before I assume she was reckless or foolish. It's a charity I can easily afford.
posted by Fantods at 2:58 PM on May 27, 2016 [126 favorites]


you're stepping off to poop, so you anchor this thing on the trail with your handy rope-anchor-thing, unspool it behind you, spool it up to find your way back. Are there hikers who do something like this?

I've never seen a backpacker use them, but I know hunters who use markers like these to find their way from a marked trail to a remote tree stand and back.
posted by peeedro at 3:03 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was just talking with my partner about the SPOT thing, and the compass issue. It seems to me that everyone who does something rugged like boat down a river or hike a trail like this is going to make some mistakes or have failures of judgment. One on of our first day trips by kayak, I didn't pack a change of clothes. About an hour in, my boat sank (we'll elide the details). The boat and I got to the shore, and my friends were able to scrounge up sufficient dry clothes for me. It was a hot summer day, but we were on a river in heavy woods. The water was cold and the sun wasn't reaching us. If I hadn't been able to scrounge the clothes, I might have gotten hypothermia. Heck, if I'd panicked instead of staying calm when water started entering my boat, taking steps to self-rescue while calling out to my friends, all of whom were a bit farther downstream than me, I might have drowned. If I'd died, everything I and my friends did would have been scrutinized, and every mistake we made identified and highlighted.

But I didn't die. And I didn't get hypothermia. And on every single boat trip I ever took again, I had a towel, an emergency blanket, and dry clothes in my dry bag, even if we thought we were only going to be on the water for a couple of hours.

So, I'm a little wary of pointing to Gerry Lagray carrying a compass she didn't know how to use as an indicator that she had no business being on the trail. Nor am I going to criticize her for leaving her hearing aids behind—hearing aids can be uncomfortable, and most people I have known who use them sometimes leave them out. They are also fragile and expensive. I've been boating with people who left their hearing aids on shore because they didn't want to risk losing them in the river or damaging them if they went into the water.

Lagray's mistakes probably weren't more common, or more serious, than the mistakes that most or nearly all hikers on the AT are probably out there making: buying new boots and not having time to break them in; choosing their food poorly; thinking they don't need waterproof matches; forgetting a piece of equipment and either not having time or resources to go back for it, or deciding that they can make do without it (I once remembered the tent but forgot the tent poles on an overnight boat trip); carrying too much gear, or paring their equipment down so ruthlessly that they lack essential things; forgetting to charge their cellphone when they stay over at a motel but figuring they probably can get through the day without it; not telling anyone exactly where they expect to be.

Most people who make these kinds of mistakes don't die. So their actions aren't scrutinized until every minor error and lapse in judgment is found. Most of us survive our mistakes and poor judgment, most of the time. Gerry Lagray didn't. But she doesn't seem to me like a person who had no business being out there—she'd hiked 950 miles by the time she got lost. And she had her gear with her. There's a version of this story where the hiker stepped off the trail without her backback, since she was just going to the bathroom and would be right back. That's a mistake Lagray didn't make. She had her gear. She survived her mistake for a solid month out there in the woods. She survived long enough to die of thirst and starvation rather than exposure. Except that staying put was apparently a mistake, she was just about as well equipped to be found as any lost hiker could hope to be.

It seems like plain bad luck that she wasn't. I believe I've read elsewhere that searches were quite near the place where she was ultimately found. But it sounds like the terrain there, which made it so easy for her to get turned around just off the trail, also hindered rescue efforts, making thorough searches difficult and making it possible that searchers could pass quite near her without seeing her.

Knowing what happened, and having her journal, will, I hope, be a comfort to her family.
posted by not that girl at 3:17 PM on May 27, 2016 [120 favorites]


--National Parks (others?) used to bill people for non-emergency SAR or search efforts if it was not an emergency. Some notes/stories above imply this isn't the case anymore?

SAR organizations are opposed to billing people. It discourages injured or lost people from calling for help if they have cell service or a PLB and the delay can make injuries worse or get people farther from where they should be if they try to rescue themselves, making any search or rescue more difficult.
posted by edeezy at 3:20 PM on May 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


It's hard to parse the "did not know how to use a compass" comment. I'm guessing "was not skilled at orienteering to the point that a compass would be useful in thick woods" is what that's getting at.

(I've had the half hour basics of orienteering with compass training. Followed by bushwacking in woods to put it to the test and feeling pretty lost and coming out significantly off course from where I should have.)
posted by joeyh at 3:24 PM on May 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


You stay oriented on the trail lots of ways. Uphill / downhill. Big ass mountain or the sun that way. Noisy river / highway / ocean that way. If you are in really thick brush you might look at your compass but not otherwise. She was obviously a tough cookie to have made it so far, that's what I find so frustrating about this. Sure, staying put is the best plan, but after a week you need to think about alternatives. It's way too easy when you're in a group to let other people do the navigation.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:44 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


So sad. I never want to go anywhere near trees ever again. I probably should buy a whistle now, just in case.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:48 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid I took a shortcut from the campground to the fort, yeah not a short cut. It's really easy to get disoriented and when it's literally impossible to walk even 10 feet in a straight line orienteering is not trivial.

Note: make noises in groups of three. A whistle is great but banging or shouting in a non-natural pattern. I thought the search and rescue guy that found me was a bird at first.

The only thing the guys asked me is if I was legitimately lost, boy was I ever.

From the bits I read it sounds like she did more than expected right. There was a different case where a baddie had a huge camp up in maine somewhere for years, they hunted for him literally for decades and it was only an accident that he was found. The wilderness is tough.

And stay ON the trail!
posted by sammyo at 3:48 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know if her "LG QWERTY slide phone" had GPS, but it seems likely. With the right software and data, she could have followed the GPS to the nearest road or back to the trail.

But only if the phone had a map which was useful while offline. That's not the default, even though it would be a quite small amount of data by modern standards to include basic vector maps on phones.
posted by joeyh at 3:58 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I heard about this yesterday, and my sympathy to her family.


And I also have to wonder just what it IS about the need some people have to try to blame the victim of misfortune and figure out a spin on it so that it's the victim's fault.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:02 PM on May 27, 2016 [18 favorites]


At the very least, it's unclear if SAR will charge if they judge it not enough of an emergency. Mr. Corb and I have had conversations about "well how fucked up do we have to be to push the button?" Down to "okay, HOW broken is the leg?" I well believe that SAR organizations don't want people like us making those calculations and not pushing the button for a week or two. But those are real calculations people go through.
posted by corb at 4:07 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


And I also have to wonder just what it IS about the need some people have to try to blame the victim of misfortune and figure out a spin on it so that it's the victim's fault.

Bad things that happen for no reason can happen to anyone. If you know a tragedy was the fault of the victim, you know how to make sure it doesn't happen to you. That's why the first question anyone asks when they hear someone has lung cancer is "Are they a smoker?"
posted by telegraph at 4:08 PM on May 27, 2016 [26 favorites]


bleep, it's totally possible to run a portable cell tower in say, a helicopter. LE already has the cell-site simulator technology (so does the hacker community). I find only a few mentions of using it for SAR.

It's probably not done because cells are often powered down in these situations to save power for later ("maybe I can get to a place with signal and call help") and because lost hikers can generally hear and react to a helicopter in other ways (signal fires).

Privacy concerns may have also backfired on that application; LE used to be using such technology without a warrant, but one is now required and it would probably complicate using it in SAR.
posted by joeyh at 4:13 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


that's why the first question anyone asks whentheynhear someone has lung cancer is "Are they a smoker?"

Maybe YOU ask questions after hearing that someone has cancer. I'M usually too busy saying "oh God, I'm so sorry to hear that". Maybe later the question I ask is "Is there anything I can do to help the family?"

Lot's of people actually don't second-guess victims. I'm also getting a bit of a gendered tone to the critique as well - I doubt people would be wondering what the victim had done wrong if it was a MAN who'd been found dead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:16 PM on May 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


The "left the hearing aids" bit makes the story make more sense. It was otherwise a really odd mix of strong competence -- staying alive for a month in the woods -- and strong incompetence, i.e., managing to die in an area where a few miles walk straight in any direction cannot help but hit a road or a trail, with full hiking equipment, while huge numbers of people are looking for you. However, if you can't hear the dogs or planes or people shouting or vehicles and are doing the stay-in-place thing, it's easy for rescue to walk right past you.

Sad story all in all.
posted by tavella at 4:21 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I doubt people would be wondering what the victim had done wrong if it was a MAN who'd been found dead.

Unfortunately, I can tell you this is not the case. This is a short clip of my pal Fireman. He thru hiked the AT in 2006, then PCT in 2008. He was a healthy, capable, and prepared backpacker and outdoorsman. He was warm and funny and always good company. He disappeared in 2009 on New Zealand's Te Araroa Trail. He has been declared dead, his remains have not been found, his family is still waiting for some kind of closure.

Anyhow, following the news from afar, I can tell you every decision he made on his last hike, plus his mental health, has been thoroughly second-guessed by the brave people on the internet.
posted by peeedro at 4:24 PM on May 27, 2016 [36 favorites]


Yeah, as a dude with some outdoorsy tendency, outdoorsy dudes love figuring out where other dudes go wrong just as much as they do women. That seems a stretch and unnecessary to suggest a sexist angle, outdoorsy dudes are especially curious about how they can avoid meeting a similar fate while still having that unshakeable dude confidence (sometimes misplaced). The desire to understand how someone seemingly well prepared made a series of decisions that lead to their death is a natural thing, people die every day but this hits close to home because they were having fun, prepared, and then dead. I think trying to reconcile how it might've happened is more productive than saying "poor thing!" or saying nothing at all, but we all have our means of dealing with tragedy, and the desire for those who take an interest in the outdoors to avoid repeating the fate of others unshakeable IMO
posted by aydeejones at 4:30 PM on May 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


Tldr version: when something like this happens to someone pretty prepared, there's often a new rule of thumb that emerges. "Always have fresh batteries, waterproof matches, blah blah." People are inclined to troubleshoot and come to a conclusion on whether there's an object lesson. In a strange way that's a compliment to the deceased and a desire to save lives from the lesson, because clearly the explanation is not "this person really just screwed everything up."
posted by aydeejones at 4:37 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you do a lot of hiking, these are issues you think about a lot. These stories teach you what can go wrong and what you can do to avoid it. I guess it can sound like victim blaming, but that's not what it's about.

It's the power of a good photo, I guess. I've been following this story since the first alerts went up on /r/AppalachianTrail. She just looked like someone you would love to meet on the trail.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:37 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


I doubt people would be wondering what the victim had done wrong if it was a MAN who'd been found dead.

This is not the case--not even close. Death and serious injury (men and women) associated with climbing and hiking are usually investigated and then tabulated--in a manner similar to plane crashes. The reason is that the result teaches us. So while it is certainly great to offer sympathy when something like this happens, it is also important to go beyond sympathy and figure out why shit happens. And often the victims in these cases are indeed at fault.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:40 PM on May 27, 2016 [14 favorites]


Maybe YOU ask questions after hearing that someone has cancer. I'M usually too busy saying "oh God, I'm so sorry to hear that". Maybe later the question I ask is "Is there anything I can do to help the family?"

To be clear, I was answering your question about what motivates those comments, not offering my personal opinion.
posted by telegraph at 4:50 PM on May 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


outdoorsy dudes are especially curious about how they can avoid meeting a similar fate

Its hubris that allows commentators to believe it could never happen to them because they Know Better Than That. I can totally see myself having gotten into this same situation; you're just going to take a dump. If anything being trail-salty would compound this problem. Who thinks about it after the tenth time? The fiftieth? You're going to make it back to the trail because you always make it back to the trail.

Perhaps its a way to make ourselves feel better against the unlikely event that we'd find ourselves at the raw end of a few minor decisions we'd end up Heroic. I tell myself I'm too effing restless and like ducking trails too much and would die with probably less water surrounded by futilely ducked trails radiating in all directions. This despite the fact that in a number of quantum realities the remains of my carcass bleach in the Sierra sun at the base of a granite slope twenty years later.

Most of the time you make it back to the trail.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:07 PM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


As a girl scout, we walked the AT from DC to Georgia, and even though the trail is pretty easy compared to farther north, and even though we were 12_14 and in ridiculously good condition, there were plenty of spots where it would be easy to get lost. We did string ropes and flags when we left the trail, to find our way back, after one incident where we almost didn't. My sympathies to her family.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


About the map and compass comments, long-distance backpackers generally don't carry maps, they rely on guidebooks that provide info specific to their needs. Here is the section of trail where Geraldine went missing in the two most popular AT guidebooks [1] [2], it's pretty minimal info that would not be useful for any orienteering purpose.
posted by peeedro at 5:19 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


They're not generally great on orienteering, either - it's just not a thing. My husband has no idea of what his pace count is and he distance backpacks as much as he can, and this is actually pretty common.
posted by corb at 5:22 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ogre Lawless: "outdoorsy dudes are especially curious about how they can avoid meeting a similar fate "

This is abundantly clear in Lee H. Whittlesey's interesting book Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, which is a comprehensive catalogue of all the people who have died in Yosemite. Over and over again he blames the victims for their foolishness, whereas in contrast I had a lot more sympathy for their mistakes. I guess if you spend a lot of time outside, it's really important to somehow convince yourself that you're not going to meet a grisly fate, and blaming saps is one good strategy..
posted by crazy with stars at 5:26 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Is there anywhere in the National Park/Forest system where specific survival requirements have to be met as part of the terms of use? Like, can Rangers turn you away from desert park inroads if you can't prove you have enough water with you? Or remove you from the snowy boonies if you can't prove you have a coat?

Many years ago I got a permit to climb Mt. Katahdin in the winter and there were a ton of requirements. Your team needed a rope, helmets, a few pieces of protection, and many other things. They had limitations on how far you could go each day on your approach. It was pretty restrictive. This was back in '94 or so, I don't know if it's changed. Baxter SP in Maine is kind of unique though, as far as rules go. Most places you're allowed to be as reckless as you want and nobody can stop you.

(sadly I got a new job and had to bail from the trip so a winter ascent of Katahdin was not to be.)

This whole story is heartbreaking. There had to have been some sort of dementia at play. It IS easy to get lost in the Northeast woods, but they're jut not that big and pretty much a couple hours in any direction, max, will get you to a trail, or a logging road, or a skimobile trail.

I lost my tent once when I went out to hang a bear bag. My buddy and I went the recommended 100 yards or so to hang the food, we hung it, and then we spent about twenty minutes trying to find the tent again. Hanging a bag is difficult and we were walking around in circles and got a bit turned around.

It bothers me that so much talk is about cell phone reception. I do bring my phone when I hike but I generally assume it's not going to work and I never rely on it. You never want to go further than you would without it. Five minutes learning the most basic map and compass skills will help you a lot more than a dead cell phone.

I don't know what happened to this woman, why she stayed put for so long. Maybe she had some issues, maybe she was just scared. Whatever happened, it's tragic. Getting lost can happen to anyone, even those of you who think you're smarter than that. Trails are often hard to see even when you're on them, it's very easy to lose them. Don't judge.

Hike safe, friends.
posted by bondcliff at 5:27 PM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yes, it's impossible to carry detailed maps for the AT. You just cover too much ground. Add not necessarily, as the trail is obvious, heavily used and well marked (mostly, not so much in Maine). And the AT is brutal, you don't want to carry anything extra.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:28 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


And I also have to wonder just what it IS about the need some people have to try to blame the victim of misfortune and figure out a spin on it so that it's the victim's fault.

Just-World fallacy. Insulates you from the idea that terrible things simply happen.

Every long distance hiker is afraid deep down about what could happen. One of my best friends who is a seriously experienced hiker, got a green twig fracture in her leg slipping on a patch of wet grass. If it had happened on one of her wilderness hikes, she would be dead.
posted by frumiousb at 5:32 PM on May 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


Ogre Lawless outdoorsy dudes are especially curious about how they can avoid meeting a similar fate

This is why my girlfriend and I look forward to and read Accidents in North American Mountaineering.
posted by mlis at 5:36 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


There was a dreadful thread here some years ago about the Bay Area tech guy who, with his family, got stuck on a logging road in the snow. He died. So many people seemed gleeful to catalogue what they saw as his obvious mistakes.

A friend of mine who is an experienced wilderness and winter hiker and camper nearly died in a blizzard. In the parking lot of a trailhead.

It can be very useful to look at what went wrong, with an eye to keeping the bad thing from happening again to other people, but outside of SAR reports, there's often a level of hubris displayed people who want to pick these incidents apart. Which is interesting considering how often hubris plays a role in how wrong things can go when you are in the wilderness.

(One of my favorite reads is the site for the Mount Washington Search and Rescue incident reports.)
posted by rtha at 5:42 PM on May 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


This whole story is heartbreaking. There had to have been some sort of dementia at play. It IS easy to get lost in the Northeast woods, but they're jut not that big and pretty much a couple hours in any direction, max, will get you to a trail, or a logging road, or a skimobile trail.

A couple hours in brush and trees so thick you can't see your hand at the end of your arm might cover you a mile, and it's incredibly common for lost people to walk in a circle when they're convinced they're walking straight. And literally everything about being lost in the woods tells people to stay put if they can do so safely. She thought she was doing the right thing, until she wasn't.
posted by rtha at 5:48 PM on May 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


peeedro Tell us more, Doctor...

Anyone interested in this story should read the centralmaine.com article maggieb linked to at the beginning of this thread.
posted by mlis at 5:58 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, really curious as to how people can read articles about how a woman kept herself alive for a month in the wilderness, even going so far as to maintain a perfectly clear and lucid journal about her experiences including a request to have her family contacted, and insist that she was out of her mind with early Alzheimer's or was just plain dotty. Honest to god, wtf.
posted by palomar at 6:04 PM on May 27, 2016 [52 favorites]


and insist that she was out of her mind with early Alzheimer's or was just plain dotty.

I should not have used the word dementia, and sorry if that was offensive to anyone, but as the article (which I read, btw) mlis links to points out, this was not a person who fully had her wits about her on the trail, and it sounded like things were getting worse. Maybe it was as simple as she got flustered when tired or stressed, maybe she was just exhausted from months of hiking, I don't know.
posted by bondcliff at 6:12 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Most hikers cannot navigate off trail at all in the US because they never go off trail. Not bashing, just an observation. It's quite a different culture than in other places where it's taught in grade school, for example.. I hike a lot and used to supervise a lot of young outdoors professionals and I'd say 95% of my friends and former co-workers are map-incompetent. We flagged every off trail thing we did because I got tired of losing them constantly in the woods.

I have a good friend who is a VERY experienced American mountaineer with lots of impressive ascents and is famous for getting lost constantly. He can barely read a map. In his defense he's from the US West and you barely ever need to there.
posted by fshgrl at 6:15 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maybe it was as simple as she got flustered when tired or stressed, maybe she was just exhausted from months of hiking, I don't know.

Right. Exactly. You don't know. We don't know. So it seems like it might be a bad idea to keep speculating, doesn't it?
posted by palomar at 6:18 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I did wilderness search and rescue for a few years (maybe 10-12 in total in New Mexico and Oregon).

It is certainly best to stay put once you know you're lost at least for a few days - it conserves your energy and makes finding you generally easier. If you can build a smoky fire during the day or a bright fire at night, that's good too (my very first mission was for someone who'd broken his leg at the top of a mountain and his friend went for help - if the friend had left him with a fire and materials to keep the fire going, we'd have found him warm and happy around 10pm, instead we found him cold and very unhappy around daybreak).

Going downhill may be good in some places, but can also lead you into bogs and dangerous canyons, depending on the area. Going uphill may enable cell service, but be careful not to wear out the battery - on one search a guy talked to the sheriff's department on his cell phone and we got a rough triangulation, but then he just let the battery drain and walked, so was not where we thought he was and his phone was off.

Maps and compass are good - but on something like the AT, you're never going to carry enough detailed maps to help in this kind of situation and you need serious practice to know how to locate yourself once you're lost. GPS is good, but requires the right terrain loads and lots of batteries (and a good signal - I've been in places where the signal was completely unavailable because of the terrain).

I don't think this woman did anything really out of line. She might have done well to mark her campsite and search out from it, but she'd already managed to lose the trail doing about the same thing.
posted by Death and Gravity at 6:29 PM on May 27, 2016 [18 favorites]


[Folks, knock it off with the personal sniping. If someone says something you have a problem with, flag it and *move on*.]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:32 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


From the Central Maine article:

“There were many leads over the next 26 months, ranging from persons of interest for possible criminal activity related to Gerry’s disappearance, identity theft involving Gerry’s personal information, geographic information by psychics, sightings in different states, to information suggesting Bigfoot was responsible for her disappearance,” Adam wrote in his report. “All of these leads were investigated with our investigative partners.”

Uh, yeah, so spending time on those psychic leads and Bigfoot, wtf?
posted by storybored at 6:33 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe YOU ask questions after hearing that someone has cancer. I'M usually too busy saying "oh God, I'm so sorry to hear that". Maybe later the question I ask is "Is there anything I can do to help the family?"


Congratulations to you, but in fact for most of us it's human nature to find a reason why this couldn't happen to us. If someone was shot on the street, we hope it was a drug deal, if someone dies in a car accident we hope they weren't wearing a seatbelt, if someone dies on the trail we hope they were unprepared. It's not an indictment of the victim. It's just human nature to insulate ourselves. Again, congratulations to you for being immune to this basic and inappropriate instinct.
posted by ftm at 6:35 PM on May 27, 2016 [12 favorites]


I might hope those things deep down in the same way I hope never to die, but I don't go around publicly speculating about what screw-up somebody must have made to cause their own death. Because I would hate to think about somebody thinking that about me. I don't want the one thing everyone thinks about my life after I'm gone is that I blundered my way out when in fact I only did what I thought I was supposed to do.
posted by bleep at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Holy shit. I really assumed she'd fallen somehow and died within a couple days. Four weeks. Wow.
posted by maryr at 6:48 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lot's of people actually don't second-guess victims. I'm also getting a bit of a gendered tone to the critique as well - I doubt people would be wondering what the victim had done wrong if it was a MAN who'd been found dead.

It's pretty much been covered but you're right and wrong. Women who do outdoors stuff obviously put up with tons more questioning and second-guessing of their skills than men, and there has been some gendered critique of her (much more other places than here). And whenever someone gets lost people come out to explain why it's their fault and what they should've done instead. But most of the speculation and dissection of wilderness accidents is looking for a cause not to blame but to educate. Everyone who does outdoors stuff or offtrail stuff or climbing or whatever knows a bad decision or two can be the difference between going home or getting lost or being immobilized by an injury. Figuring out what went wrong helps others in the future, and while it comes across as insensitive and whether or not she was at fault she made choices that took her to where she ended up.
posted by edeezy at 6:49 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


.

Love your life. Do what you love. And don't let anyone tell you you're doing it wrong.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:53 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


"outdoorsy dudes are especially curious about how they can avoid meeting a similar fate "

My college roommate was a member of the mountaineering club, and I recall him & his friends sitting around reading "Accidents in North American Mountaineering", a periodical which, at least in those days, carried a description of every reported fatal mountaineering accident that was reported. As I (vaguely and distantly) recall, the usual sentiment was, "whoa, better not do that", sprinkled with an occasional "what a bozo" and the more common "oh, shit, nothing you could have done about that" for the stuff that seemed like just, well, bad luck.
posted by mr vino at 6:59 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


It all makes tragic sense to me--except for one thing. I just don't understand the lack of a fire. I really don't. The NYT article briefly refers to "lighters" being found at her camp; the long pdf report linked above talks in more detail about her 2 lighters and 22 dry matches and 2 birthday candles, the lack of a fire or fire ring, the existence of plenty of dead brushwood that would have burned. The only signs of attempted fire were some scorch marks on a few dead trees. Day after day and week after week, waiting there all alone, with no big warm smoky campfire for company. I wish I knew what happened.
posted by theatro at 7:06 PM on May 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


This happened to a local guy on the Northville-Placid trail (NY US) in the 90's. Got off the main trail, got turned around, decided to wait for help and died waiting. He kept a journal until the end, too. He was just a few miles from a road.
posted by release the hardwoods! at 7:12 PM on May 27, 2016


Back in 2015 on the anniversary of her disappearance there was some rumbling about the whole situation having something to do with a Navy facility up there.

It had a pretty heavy conspiracy bent, but it seems the truth is not quite so fascinating, but instead quite sad.
posted by HycoSpeed at 7:22 PM on May 27, 2016


One of things I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about are dead trees. There's a lot of them here because of pine beetle, whole hillsides, and they're scary as fuck - they can and do fall at any time. So like lightning, drowning, and exposure, I spend a lot of time thinking about dead trees.

That's because it's impossible not to spend a lot of time outdoors and not think about how things might go bad; how one tiny mistake in the right sequence of other mistakes or timing can cause injury or death; and how easy it is to cross the line of being in control of a situation to not for the simple reason that you are out in nature. That line is so, so easily crossed, so fragile; with the knowledge that every time I'm out in nature I'm making mistakes, some of which I'm aware of, some not, that line can be a frightening place.

You can't control dead trees, but you can control if you camp beneath them or to some extent if you might be caught in a wind storm among them. You can also control if you have a compass or matches or are in shape. So there's other things you can control but then there's the endless variation of error both physically and mentally. Goddamn, there's so many mistakes a person can make out there. And so much of the time we get away with them. But those other times. . . So when I read cases like this I suspect one of the reasons I tear them ruthlessly apart in my head is to re-establish some control or confidence. Certainly there's useful information about what and what not to do, but admittedly the control is facade, a kind of psychological crutch, and useful only in that extent. And I don't know. . . the more time I spend out there, the more experience I get, the more OH SHITs or THAT WAS CLOSE or the more damn, that could have been bad I have, the more that crutch is helpful, mentally. (Honestly, I suspect it's possible that crutch replaces the confidence of the inexperienced as well.)

So I don't regard speculation as victim blaming or hubris. There are certainly cases I read with what I call grim interest, with all kinds of outcomes good and bad. Then there are cases like this which haunt me and about which I endlessly speculate, and the speculation isn't judgement but an endless and futile searching for an answer. I'm searching for a way to avoid those dead trees. So here, when I read how close to the trail she was, how close to a road, I think, why didn't she try to get out or explore the area a little bit? Why? and put myself in her mindset - she had low supplies to begin with, she was 66, she went through what sounds like some very cold and wet weather, which can exhaust one really quickly - it's quite possible she had the strength to make her camp and survive, but by the time she realized she needed to get out, it was too late for her physically, maybe? And so on, and so on. It's not judgement, it's sheer frustration, agony, and horror on the victim's part. It's dumb but it's also a kind of searching for a way to make it better for her, to overturn the outcome even though that's an impossible task, because ohgod ohgod you want her to survive. When I think about cases like this I want them to live so badly. And you bet I'm also experiencing similar pangs and questioning of the SAR, although it's harder to do because I just don't know enough of their role.

The simple cases, the ones where it's pretty open and closed or the victim did do something really stupid, aren't the ones you think about. It's the ones with the cascade of simple mistakes or simple events. In this case, she was so happy in that earlier photo, she stepped off the trail to go to the bathroom and everything went wrong from there - how horrible that is and also it's something all of us who hike and backpack do all the time, it's so awful of a sequence coming from such a common thing to do, it's impossible not to think about those choices and events. (On preview - I really like the idea of viewing the situations as choices, not mistakes.) The world is full of dead trees and sometimes they fall.

I'm not saying that this makes it right. I'm not saying there isn't ego and useless armchair mountaineering or even gender bias out there- there is! But I must admit though, that as useless as my reasoning behind doing it is, I do think that the endless looping in my head of what ifs and what would I have done and what was the right answer and there was no way the person could have avoided this or there is no clear right answer is also a form of experience. It's not lived experience, it's second hand, but it is a way of gaining some perspective that builds your knowledge base. I hate saying that because it seems like I'm using these people, but it's true.

But along with that I want to quietly say using that second hand experience has saved my hide a few times that I know of, and probably more than a few times that I don't. And in that respect, I hope that if I make choices that lead to my death* that someone dissecting it might learn something that saves them. But with that I have to recognize that Largay and others might not have felt the same way.

*My true fear is not that I die but that I make choices that cause hundreds of people to risk their lives looking for me.
posted by barchan at 7:25 PM on May 27, 2016 [33 favorites]


There was a dreadful thread here some years ago about the Bay Area tech guy who, with his family, got stuck on a logging road in the snow. He died. So many people seemed gleeful to catalogue what they saw as his obvious mistakes.

James Kim. This story has stayed with me - I was working at CNET at the time and was the web dev who put the black eyebrow on one of our sites when he was found.

These types of stories are so tragic - Gerry was so close to rescue, James could have lived if he'd stayed with his family who were found eventually. One stayed put and one went for help. I like to think that people do the best they can, especially in circumstances they know nothing about - no need to blame them for their actions. Hindsight is 20/20 and just because you might have done something differently is no reason to think that it would have worked in that situation.
posted by bendy at 7:41 PM on May 27, 2016 [15 favorites]


Although I guess even orienting a map in thick enough underbrush could be difficult.

Last year I helped someone locate some property corners on some acreage, and at one point to try and follow a property line we used compasses to head exactly west from a corner pin. In dense trees (though less dense than where she was), and relaxed and not lost, and both reasonably map-literate and knowing the land, we still popped out quite far from where we were aiming at.

Now, it would have been good enough to hit a road, but it can be very easy to miss a trail when you come in from the side, so there's no guarantee that just following a compass bearing would have magically produced a better result.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:28 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


It would the brought her back to the AT because the AT is a long feature and she knew which side of it she was on. But to do that you'd have to be able to look at a map and see where you left the trail which is only easy in retrospect if you are very used to correlating topo features to real features.

Broadly speaking, if I got lost off the AT on the west side but south of a large mountain I could head east and as long as I kept south of said mtn I'd intersect the trail. I'd use terrain features to improve my understanding of my location along the way. Of course that assumes you're not hurt, starving and the terrain is reasonably passable. Don't ever climb down into a gully!

I've done this kind of thing a million times, finding old field sites, hiking in trailless areas, taking shortcuts etc. It helps a lot mentally if you consider yourself more "not there yet" than lost. And if there's more than one person you will have a spirited debate about direction.
posted by fshgrl at 8:42 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


And don't underestimate how horrific the bugs are either. In thick woods it would be awfully tempting to stay in the tent and wait for rescue. They can drive you mad and significantly impact your physical wellbeing
posted by fshgrl at 8:46 PM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, really curious as to how people can read articles about how a woman kept herself alive for a month in the wilderness, even going so far as to maintain a perfectly clear and lucid journal about her experiences including a request to have her family contacted, and insist that she was out of her mind with early Alzheimer's or was just plain dotty.

I think the operative issue might be not everyone conceiving of this as the "wilderness" - she was within a few miles of a ski resort and would have reached a state route within ten miles moving in any direction.

For comparison, I have walked from Portland, Maine to Manchester, New Hampshire, about a hundred miles straight plus add a couple dozen for road zig-zaggyness, in a bit more than a week. Maybe half again the distance would have brought me to Boston. And I've never been in very good shape, and hence did that slowly; a friend's teenaged brother figured he could have made Portland to Manchester in a single day on a bike.

I've hiked in NH's White Mountains a few times; the terrain is much more rugged than any route between the cities further south, but it doesn't seem like enough to prevent a fit person who had just hiked a thousand miles from leaving such a confined area in the course of a month. So I think that's why people are speculating about whether there was some other obstacle impairing her. The article mentions a back injury, for example.

It's a really tragic and heartbreaking story, in any case.
posted by XMLicious at 8:55 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


This article has a non-conspiratorial take on how the Navy SERE facility might have been a factor in her death.
posted by jjwiseman at 9:09 PM on May 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


> Note that the SPOT also has a satellite "I'm OK" message you can send for relatives and friends that shows exactly where you are...

Except for when it doesn't work. According to many of the people in a hiking group I read, SPOTs don't always work well with thick tree cover -- which is what she encountered. The DeLor​me in reach has a slightly better reputation, but this is based on anecdotes on a Facebook group, not research. And of course either is better than neither.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:24 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


It would the brought her back to the AT because the AT is a long feature and she knew which side of it she was on. But to do that you'd have to be able to look at a map and see where you left the trail which is only easy in retrospect if you are very used to correlating topo features to real features.

The only time I have been on the Appalachian Trail was in Virginia, and that section was so heavily used that it was about the width of a logging road. You couldn't miss it in any way, even at night. But I've had plenty of "now is this the trail, or is it a nearby deer path?" moments elsewhere, and I've missed trails coming from the side more than a few times.

I guess my inclination is to cut her a lot of slack -- the standard advice is to stay put, she might have had some health issues, and searchers made it very close to her camp. A slightly different set of events and the story would be about the plucky woman who survived for weeks before being found, rather than this sad story.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:25 PM on May 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


> and the terrain is reasonably passable.

The SAR people call this difficult terrain. I can imagine it would be quite easy - even if you are not someone with an acknowledged bad sense of direction and tendency to get flustered when feeling turned around - to, say, walk five feet off your intended course in order to get around a thicket of deadfalls, and then to do that again and again, in small enough increments that you don't realize until it's too late that you are in a different ravine from the one you thought you were in. And maybe it's overcast or getting dark, and you're under heavy tree cover so it's hard to judge where the sun is.

People who keep saying if she'd just walked another [some number] of miles to get to the road to cabin or whatever: it seems like she'd already tried that, and it got her even more lost. So then she did what they say you should do when lost, which is to stay put. And by the time she may have realized this was not a strategy that was working, she may have been too weak and dehydrated to walk 10 miles through brush and rocks and rough terrain.
posted by rtha at 9:28 PM on May 27, 2016 [16 favorites]


I think the operative issue might be not everyone conceiving of this as the "wilderness" - she was within a few miles of a ski resort and would have reached a state route within ten miles moving in any direction.

Wilderness hiking is unlike trail hiking. Every few feet is a new obstacle that requires solving-- a deadfall, a tangle of thorns, muddy creek and each one drains you and pushes you slightly off course without you noticing. Hiking a straight-line mile could take the better part of a day.

Once she'd established that she was truly lost, staying put was a smarter course of action than just heading in a random direction.
posted by justkevin at 9:31 PM on May 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


I guess my inclination is to cut her a lot of slack -- the standard advice is to stay put, she might have had some health issues, and searchers made it very close to her camp.

Oh absolutely. My point was that being able to read a map and compass would allow most people to self rescue pretty easily. I wouldn't even need a compass, there a lot of features. But ime, most people, including hru hikers can't do that. It's not a common skill these days and the AT is kind of a highway so it's easy enough to be an experienced hiker and sensible and all and still not have that as a skill. I know TONS of experienced hikers that can't read a map worth beans.

Reading a map isn't intuitive, it's something you must be taught. But it is tragic to look at the map of where she was found as some on who can dead reckon navigate because it would have been easy to get out of there for me, if I were uninjured etc.

I think the take away from this is to know how to do it even if you think you won't need to because you plan to stay on the trail.

This isn't to bash this lady, it's the kind of learning from mistakes that saves lives in the future.

As an aside, the gender thing is kinda the opposite in most outdoor pursuits. Men make overwhelmingly more bad decisions to the point it's A Thing in safety courses. I've taken a ton and helped teach a few and one of the role playing scenarios is always the girlfriend/boyfriend dynamic.
posted by fshgrl at 10:07 PM on May 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


Dear self....do not click the links. This is only your own personal nightmare. You had recurring nightmares of this happening to you since childhood. Seriously, don't.
posted by threeturtles at 10:20 PM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Would a map have helped her? Yes to a compass, because she could tell herself "I am walking due west to pee behind a bush, I will walk due east to return to the trail," but I'm unclear what a map would've done; she didn't go very far, as I understand it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:22 PM on May 27, 2016


I'll tell you what: I'm half the age she was, and I just about keeled over twice in the past 15 minutes in my own room in my own apartment. I'd been sitting all day in fairly drafty conditions, had experienced an achy lower-back cramp earlier, and then got a couple nasty, painful foot cramps in a row when I went to get up and change my clothing just now. All of that to say, she could've been debilitated by something as simple as sleeping badly in cool, drafty conditions. Maybe muscles in her back or her foot locked up. We can't know for sure, but it could happen to the best of us, so we just have to be aware and be prepared.
posted by limeonaire at 10:23 PM on May 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


Hiking a straight-line mile could take the better part of a day.

Yes. The 2nd Globe article mentions that it took searchers most of a day to reach the location of her camp and return to where they'd started from.
posted by XMLicious at 10:42 PM on May 27, 2016


I can totally see myself having gotten into this same situation; you're just going to take a dump. If anything being trail-salty would compound this problem.

Not a hiker, so actual question: is it because trails are busy that you would seek privacy to pee/poo far enough off to potentially get lost, or is that it's just a conditioned/civil behavior that isn't one of the things you leave behind when you head out into nature/wilderness?
posted by progosk at 12:24 AM on May 28, 2016


Not a hiker, so actual question: is it because trails are busy that you would seek privacy to pee/poo far enough off to potentially get lost, or is that it's just a conditioned/civil behavior that isn't one of the things you leave behind when you head out into nature/wilderness?

Comprehensive answers to your questions can be long and not entirely appropriate to the thread but the ATC pushes Leave No Trace principles because the AT corridor is so heavily traveled. LNT advocates disposing of physical waste at least 200 feet from water or trails.
posted by edeezy at 1:18 AM on May 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yes. The 2nd Globe article mentions that it took searchers most of a day to reach the location of her camp and return to where they'd started from.

That's because they came in through the western gate to the SERE installation, which is on Rt 16 many miles to the west. It's not because the location was isolated. This is where she was; the GPS coordinates are in the report. And I was more right than I knew; less than 100 yards north is a logging road down which a dog team searched on August 8th, while she was still alive and keeping her journal... but she was deaf and couldn't hear them. If she had followed the stream she was next to (and presumably getting water from, since she died of starvation and not thirst) a half mile downhill, she would have been on the old railroad cut, which runs into the Appalachian trail a mile in one direction, and turns into a road at a small hamlet a mile and a half the other. If she couldn't follow it due to it being overgrown, there was a stream just a few dozen yards further that did the same.

While she clearly shouldn't have been hiking alone -- she had a compass but didn't know how to use it, two ways of making fire but didn't know how to build one -- she didn't do terribly once she had stopped getting herself more lost. What really killed her was whoever told the search teams that they had seen her at the the next lean-to. If they had done the same intensive ground and aerial search in the right area, they almost surely would have found her. Even the secondary shoulder to shoulder foot search was too far north on the trail. By the time they got to the area she actually was, they were just doing trail searches, and she couldn't hear them and there was no fire for them to see or smell.
posted by tavella at 2:59 AM on May 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


I have a T-shirt I wear that says Warning: I Do Dumb Things. I've found that there are typically two reactions to this shirt. People who look at it, smile and respond with some variant of "me too," and people who look at it and say "I know a guy [it's always a guy] that shirt would be perfect for."

When this sort of story comes up, I see two reactions. One is "Oh geez, I can totally see that happening to me," and the other is "If only the person had...."

Just sayin'.
posted by DaveP at 5:02 AM on May 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


[One deleted. Let's not revive the whole argument and personal focus among commenters about if "everybody" feels a specific way or has a specific thought when they hear about something bad happening to someone.]
posted by taz at 5:02 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm late to this (and everything else, generally) but this is the sort of thing I could so easily imagine happening to me. Poor eyesight and ability determine directions, but above all poor ability to cope with the panic of being lost -- this is what keeps me from the wild places I would dearly love to see. All of us need time in unbroken nature, but if you're raised in an urban environment -- especially a dangerous one -- anxiety is a constant trail companion. From my childhood and brief adolescent time in such a place, I know how easy it is when small and defenseless to live as if hunted by predators far more savvy and strong than yourself. Enough encounters with same and your life shrinks to a small pale thing, and you hide wherever you can find like a bunny in a burrow.

I would never travel in wilderness alone but when I was in my early 20s, I took part in this wonderfully creative outdoor class combining astronomy, biology, and zoology, and at last got to visit places I'd only previously seen in pictures that made my heart soar. By then, though, years of living inside and afraid left me fairly unfit, and it was a struggle. I managed fairly well until the big conclusion: a hike down South Kaibab trail all the way to the bottom to make camp for merely a weekend until the long climb back up Bright Angel. Despite having companions, copious food and water, and several weeks of hiking other trails thus becoming more fit, it was one of the most terrifying things that's happened to me after a life filled with plenty of other horrors. I wrote about it in response to an AskMe question and despite the benefit of over a decade's worth of time to contemplate the experience, nothing I wrote then seems less true to me now.

It was terrible, and wonderful, and totally unpredictable -- it was life, which in places where mainly only humans dwell is so much more grey. In cities, threats are unpredictable, but the nature of them is not. You know what to do when you encounter a group making violent noises or a maltreated dog straining towards you on a barely tethered leash, and that is to get away to the safe places already mapped in your mind because you are always vigilant. On trails where humans have long ago murdered the truly threatening predators, it's a wholly different sort of threat. It's passive, cold, indifferent: it doesn't care if you've got family who will miss you or a job requiring your presence. You cannot persuade it to show you mercy, and running to escape can well get you only more lost.

Yet that vast indifference is the most beautiful thing about it because for once, for once humans and the wonderful and terrible things they do are not in your primary view. The city anxieties which constantly hunt your average life melt away. For once and at last you can take in nothing little but beauty and wonder. People who hike in the really deep off-trails face predator threat, including human: most of us know stories of the sort of vicious killings that have happened there. So when Geraldine Largay got lost, she knew to her toes the threat she might encounter, and I can't imagine her fear. She cowered and wrote to the people whom she knew valued and loved her, even as so many see her as a classic comic figure, a Mr Magoo, an old lady with an idiot grin who deserved what she got.

But she made the trip anyway and the last picture of her ever taken tells me why, though I didn't need to see it to know the answer. She was awake and alive in a wilderness, free from city distractions and fears. If you've learned not to rely on gods or men to help you, the natural world is an easy cathedral to embrace. So she embraced it, blind eyes and old bones be damned.

Damn us for making such a wreck of the world that so many of us -- particularly, the smallest and weakest -- can barely survive inhabiting it. Damn us for our short-sighted and pure venality as we rob and poison the woods that we should rightly worship, it being so clear that we are inferior to them. Damn everyone laughing at Geraldine Largay, a braver and more magnificent person than they will ever be. It's becoming impossible not to believe that most of us fully deserve the hell we now occupy -- but there are so many wonderful beasts, human and animal alike, who don't, and never did, but who will burn alongside the rest of us anyway.
posted by melissa may at 6:33 AM on May 28, 2016 [20 favorites]


Although this was a trail, having seen the Reserve Faunique des Laurentides, I can easily imagine walking off the path in a forest, regardless of the number of nearby peaks, and becoming completely lost. Sometimes those conifers get dense enough to block your path. Once you run out of water, or start feeling tired, it must get awfully hard to be sensible and energetic.
posted by constantinescharity at 6:39 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


The difference between the Boston Globe article and the Portland Press Herald's is shocking. It's like they were talking about two different people wrt to her Trail experience.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:58 AM on May 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


The latest from the Portland Press Herald: Largay's family has issued a statement rebutting the findings critical of her trail skills.

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/28/largays-family-refutes-warden-findings-critical-of-hikers-skills/

(Apologies re: the link -- I'm on mobile.)
posted by virago at 11:14 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can totally see myself having gotten into this same situation; you're just going to take a dump. If anything being trail-salty would compound this problem. Who thinks about it after the tenth time? The fiftieth? You're going to make it back to the trail because you always make it back to the trail.

This is what you must train yourself to do without fail.

Look backwards.

Before you step off the trail look backwards for a landmark -- a tall tree or bush or boulder. Then as you proceed off trail, stop periodically and look backwards. Make sure you can see your original landmark or find a new landmark.

The problem people have going off trail is that they scramble into the brush, stumbling around and zigzagging. They get to their destination, turn around and to their horror find they are looking at a landscape they have never set eyes on before. They have no idea which way to go because they never looked back since they left the trail.

It takes active discipline to stop and look backwards when you are concentrating on moving forward to your destination. Most people get into trouble because they lack discipline or lose concentration. Situational awareness at all times is essential.
posted by JackFlash at 12:05 PM on May 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


Just-World fallacy. Insulates you from the idea that terrible things simply happen.

But in this case terrible things did not "just happen." She made a long series of avoidable errors. One mistake may not kill you but a series of mistakes will. People can learn from studying those mistakes.
posted by JackFlash at 12:15 PM on May 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Would a map have helped her? Yes to a compass, because she could tell herself "I am walking due west to pee behind a bush, I will walk due east to return to the trail," but I'm unclear what a map would've done; she didn't go very far, as I understand it.

Oh sure. If I am hiking I am constantly glancing at the map to see where I am. If I were alone I'd be paying a lot more attention too so I'd probably have noted when I passed the old railroad embankment crossing the trail etc so I'd have known roughly where I was. It's just a habit born of years and years of hiking, sailing and fieldwork. So even without a compass I'd have an idea of where I was and know that I was bounded by a lake, two roads and a ravine or whatever. Then you use the map to figure out a way back that avoids things like ravines and lakes and makes use of easier travel like abandoned roads or ridgelines.

It is stupidly easy to get lost in thick woods, that's why a map helps (and flagging tape!). But you can't pull it out after you get lost, you have to constantly track your location several times per day and note things like creeks, ridges or trails as you pass them. I mean we have pulled out a map after we were lost and dead reckoned back to where we were going but that's hard on steep terrain or in the woods or if you're tired or out of practice or your map is old or large scale.

One easy thing to do is to bring some flagging or other brightly colored objects. Clip one to a tree where you leave the trail (so your co workers can find you later) then clip the next to another tree while you can still see the trail. Then clip the next one while you can still easily see the first one. Repeat. This is how we find out way back to pick up points usually. I've also followed this kind of flagging in on game trails that friends have left for me to find. The rule is that you can always see the next piece of flagging from the one you're at and if you can't you don't move your feet.
posted by fshgrl at 1:42 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Where I live now, the house is in a little forested bowl, with hillsides curving around it. The woods start 6 feet behind the house, quickly become a tangle, and then the bowl curves up. Once, around a year after moving here, I went out behind the house looking for my cat.. And got completely turned around in this small area. Even though I knew that 50 feet straight in any direction would take me to climbing the hill, or my own house or driveway. Of course I found my way out in a few minutes, but I could feel the panic starting.

On the other hand, I often hike old logging roads without a map. It's much much easier than bushwacking and is not hard to stay oriented and to retrace your way, as long as you mark the point where you got onto the logging road and any confusing branch/merge points.

Reading now that her camp was on a hill above such an old logging road, which intersected the AT in both directions, leaves me wondering..
posted by joeyh at 2:51 PM on May 28, 2016


She stepped off the trail on Sunday to go to the loo. LNT encourages a certain distance. Most hikers (apparently) drop their pack on the Trail before heading off. If she had done that, maybe they would have found her on Thursday.

But it rained all day Tuesday before anyone knew she was missing. Having the pack with her enabled her to survive that rain (and live for another couple weeks).

Then the searchers were looking in the wrong location initially because they confused her with another solo woman hiker (despite the obvious age difference) (and then there was that strange phone call to the motel).

So she might have been found sooner if she'd left her pack on the trail? Or would she have died sooner from exposure because they were looking in the wrong area?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:17 PM on May 28, 2016


Just-World fallacy. Insulates you from the idea that terrible things simply happen.

But in this case terrible things did not "just happen." She made a long series of avoidable errors. One mistake may not kill you but a series of mistakes will. People can learn from studying those mistakes.


Maybe. But a lot of the discussion about her possible dementia and inability to read a compass and panic disorders is clearly stemming from the need to believe this could never happen to them more than any desire to learn from her experience. I've been distance and wilderness hiking for many many years now and I have seen terrible things happen to experienced and inexperienced hikers alike. And they often happen at just the kind of moment like stepping off trail to use the bathroom. The fact is, most hikers make those kinds of mistakes on a regular basis without consequence-- virtually nobody is disciplined all the time on a long distance hike. It's just that most hikers are not unlucky enough to be in a position to have people dissecting all their mistakes in detail.

She caught a lot of bad breaks in addition to making mistakes-- the searchers looking in the wrong place because of the false sighting and the weird phone call comes immediately to mind.
posted by frumiousb at 6:00 PM on May 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


The discussion of very specific skills seem overwrought to me, and your point about bad breaks that could happen to any of us is significant and true frumiousb, but I really think it's important to appreciate that this all happened not only ten minutes away from the start of a trail (according to one of the Globe articles) but close enough to a ski resort that someone with 20/20 vision might have actually been able to see it if not for intervening hills and trees, and not much further from completely-enclosing Maine roads and towns.

It's the point that melissa may makes about fear—we don't know for certain what happened, but this could have been a "you have nothing to fear but fear itself" situation: just terror and having lost track of where she was in a big-picture sense (lost track as she traversed a thousand fucking miles! so quite understandably!) might have led her to hopelessness due to believing she was in some kind of Siberia-like immense trackless waste when this was hardly the case.

It seems salient to me because I attended a college one state over from Maine and many of the students coming from more urban areas had completely distorted perceptions and would regard as a forlorn wilderness and as the "middle of nowhere" places that are probably more densely settled than nearly every city on Earth were a few hundred years ago. Forget learning all the survival-reality-TV skills with compasses and fire-building (okay maybe don't really forget those if you're intending to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, which I've never even considered doing and will let others comment on) but just keeping track in a very general sense of the type of area you're in could be lifesaving or at the very least stress-reducing, even if you just get stranded due to car troubles somewhere.

(Conversely, even though I've visited all sorts of different cities across North America and Europe, when I find myself in particular urban environments like giant looming industrial parks that go on forever I'll realize that I've become tense and anxious for no rational reason and have to consciously tamp that down, which would probably seem silly to people who live near places like that all the time.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:19 PM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Previously
posted by rmd1023 at 7:52 PM on May 28, 2016


Situational awareness at all times is essential.

That is exactly true JackFlash, which is why the outdoors and all it offers us is cut off from so much urban humanity. The more hostile the city, the more vigilant you must be against your vulnerabilities. The stress of feeling fundamentally unsafe leads in a very well documented way to PTSD and other psychological problems too numerous to list, and whose evidence is daily visible in every US city of any size (and quite a few rural places, too). The vast majority of our citizens will never spend a day in the woods, or even see unbroken stretches of land from their various vantage points. I know I've been plenty autobiographical enough already, but I grew up watching this truth profoundly deform my own family -- who rarely if ever stirred from their spaces on the couch, and not for lack of desire. I know, because the media they consumed -- much of it designed by and for a far more high-brow audience -- focused on that PBS staple, nature.

I spent way too much of my life sitting between them but learned to long for and love nature anyway, before I'd ever set foot in it. I watched Mutual of Omaha and wanted to join in exploring the wild kingdom. I watched Cosmos and wanted to travel to the stars. I also watched Sesame Street and loved it wholeheartedly -- even had the playset for some happy birthday -- but the part that always confused me was, where did they hide the real monsters? I was never afraid of the weirder characters who lived in garbage pails or vanted to suck my blood -- I recognized them, and knew who their gruff or strangely accented counterparts were meant to be, instinctively. Sesame Street had (has?) no predators. My street sure as hell did though, and the experience of the violence they do and subsequent fear has stunted many a life more than mine.

I want everyone to love wild places because we all need them just to live but also to be free. As of today, the people who need that freedom most are the least likely to get it. Maybe these things could never happen to people of strong mind and spirit -- but how did their minds and spirits get that way at all? So much human misery is about absence of access -- to reliable, good quality food, shelter, education -- or the quieter and more beautiful places where at last you might relax and hope to feel wonder.
posted by melissa may at 8:00 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


fshgrl: "One easy thing to do is to bring some flagging or other brightly colored objects. Clip one to a tree where you leave the trail (so your co workers can find you later) then clip the next to another tree while you can still see the trail. Then clip the next one while you can still easily see the first one. Repeat. "

Flagging tape is also useful if one becomes lost. Using the above technique to stake out a series of orthogonal lines out from your base (marking the pieces with your name and date) greatly increases the chance of foot searchers finding you (or your body).
posted by Mitheral at 11:08 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


But a lot of the discussion about her possible dementia and inability to read a compass and panic disorders is clearly stemming from the need to believe this could never happen to them more than any desire to learn from her experience.

Not really. I think people are focusing on maps etc because they wish more hikers would use them. Hiking the big thru trails, especially the AT, isn't a wilderness experience but it's wilderness adjacent. People forget that. Map and compass are super basic skills for backcountry hiking. I think it would be a good idea for a lot more thru hikers to take it a bit more seriously and accquire better backcountry skills.

A lot of people on the AT are there to party. It's a big party culture. I'm assuming this woman wasn't but the number of 20somethings who hike it in a cloud of pot smoke and "man"s makes it seem less serious than it could be. I've been assured that there's no way you can get lost and maps are not necessary by tons of people.
posted by fshgrl at 12:38 PM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, when her husband reported her missing, they questioned some young guys who'd just come off the trail going North. They said they'd passed an older woman. It was a different older woman, one who had left after Gerry left the overnight hut. And they said they'd seen her much farther North than she actually was. She was known to be a slow-paced hiker, hence, her trail name, Inchworm. So you could say "women in her 60's" to a group of 20-something-year-old guys, and they probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference from a moment passing them on the trail.

So all of the searching was concentrated further North, as someone said upthread.

If you want to know what the AT looks like in Maine, this YouTuber, Red Beard, makes decent hiking videos. The first part is a lot of boulder climbing and summit views, but if you skip ahead to the 30:00 minute mark, you will see some examples of the dense woods, although most of that is where it's flat, and she was going uphill.

I've been up in that area many times, we ride around and visit local swimming holes and stuff, and it's pretty damned dense up there, and bushwhacking in full summer can be a nightmare, especially if you're alone and scared. There are always people getting lost in the summer, in various places, and thankfully, most of them are found.

I have read that you should follow a stream down to civilization, and then someone else said don't ever climb down into a gully, so which is correct? We have gotten lost only once, on a poorly marked trail system going into and around a small bald top. When we got back down, we couldn't figure out which trail led out, and the signs were broken or missing. We heard shooting, and followed the sound through the woods to find the cops doing their weekend target practice in a field. We were quite a distance from the parking area. It went from being a pleasant Sunday stroll, to my husband collapsing at the side of the trail at one point, because he was overheated and our water was low. The only other human being we saw was a person bringing their dog out of the area after their morning walk. So I was panicking a bit, and fortunately he rallied enough to get up and start walking again, then said, "let's follow that shooting sound." Never again. Only places that I know are easy, well traveled, and well marked. My condolences to her family.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:59 PM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


.
posted by benzenedream at 11:20 PM on May 29, 2016


I have read that you should follow a stream down to civilization, and then someone else said don't ever climb down into a gully, so which is correct? We have gotten lost only once, on a poorly marked trail system going into and around a small bald top. When we got back down, we couldn't figure out which trail led out, and the signs were broken or missing. We heard shooting, and followed the sound through the woods to find the cops doing their weekend target practice in a field. We were quite a distance from the parking area. It went from being a pleasant Sunday stroll, to my husband collapsing at the side of the trail at one point, because he was overheated and our water was low. The only other human being we saw was a person bringing their dog out of the area after their morning walk. So I was panicking a bit, and fortunately he rallied enough to get up and start walking again

The correct answer here is that you should get a map, learn to read it and bring it with you the next time. Always bring a map!! You can print them out at home on waterproof paper these days.
posted by fshgrl at 1:22 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


Looking up a map ahead of time and making sure you have a paper copy ahead of time is the most important precaution, but as joeyh notes up above making sure your phone has an offline mapping app on it (such as OsmAnd, but there are many others) that will be accessible even when you don't have any signal may be worth it.

Based on how much storage space you want to use, you must select which regions to download and store high detail for, and IIRC there are also separate switches you have to flip within OsmAnd to make sure it downloads walking trail and topographical contour map data.
posted by XMLicious at 5:43 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


You don't even need a map on your phone. You can simply use an app like Where's My Car or Map My Hike. Your GPS marks your starting location or any way point you select. If at any time you don't know which way to go, the app will show you exactly what direction and how far your starting point is.

It's best not to rely on electronics for an emergency, but for someone like this person who reportedly had a poor sense of direction, it would have gotten her back onto the trail in two minutes, even with no map on the phone.
posted by JackFlash at 4:50 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


I use my GPS enabled camera like this. Taking a picture of the trail every few hundred metres will let you know where you need to go to get back (at least the direction if not the exact route).
posted by Mitheral at 7:00 PM on May 31, 2016


Yeah, anything that requires a battery isn't going to help at all if you're planning to walk 2000 miles in the woods. I will also note that she very clearly has an emergency whistle in the NYT photo at least. 3 blasts means you're lost and need help. 120dB can carry quite a distance in the mountains. In the end, going out like that is far better than never having lived at all.
posted by mike_bling at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2016


The vast majority of Appalachian trail hikers do not walk the full length without encountering a electrical outlet. I'd bet none of them do it without resupply dumps.

As an aside it's amazing what you can do with light weight batteries nowadays. My GPS enabled camera will easily get 200+ shots on a battery smaller and lighter than three stacked loonies. Even if you drop that down to 150 to account for GPS acquisition times that would allow you to image 30 kilometres of trail on a charge. Carry a few spares and you've got coverage for a week. For a day hiker like me this is more than enough charge to document my hikes.
posted by Mitheral at 1:40 PM on June 1, 2016


She also had a SPOT GPS locator beacon that she left behind in a motel. Whether she did not know that she had left it behind or was reluctant to backtrack to get it is unclear. That was a fatal error.

The SPOT beacon works almost anywhere on the planet and can summon help to your location with an accuracy of about 10 feet. If she had the device with her, she could have had help on the spot within a couple of hours. The device is about the size of a folding flip-phone. The batteries last for years.
posted by JackFlash at 2:01 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


According to the report there was activity on her phone for two weeks after she was last seen, so battery life by itself doesn't seem to have been a limiting factor.
posted by XMLicious at 3:01 PM on June 1, 2016


The desire to understand how someone seemingly well prepared made a series of decisions that lead to their death is a natural thing

A friend of mine who travels in the Grand Canyon and similar areas has been reading Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, mainly to try to learn from the mistakes of others. So many of the mistakes seem to be very small ones that were compounded by bad luck.

It seems to me that this is in some sense a way of honoring the memories of those people, by seeking to learn from their experience.
posted by yohko at 3:57 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Momma!   |   Officer Edith Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments