“He just has some things on his mind he’s trying to work out.”
May 3, 2012 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Why Noah Went to the Woods: He was a proud Marine who survived three brutal tours in Iraq and had plans to redeploy with the national guard. But when 30-year-old Noah Pippin vanished inside Montana’s remote Bob Marshall Wilderness, he left behind a trail of haunting secrets—and a mystery that may never be solved. "The Pippins were alarmed. Given their son’s strict adherence to his moral code, a scenario in which Noah had intentionally shirked his military duty was nearly inconceivable. After several calls to his phone went straight to voice mail, they began to investigate, discovering that they knew far less about their son than they had imagined."
posted by the man of twists and turns (42 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Ooo. It sounds like Noah was a man of many twists and turns himself. Eponysterical?
posted by limeonaire at 6:23 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Very sad story. Thanks for sharing.

Feeling like they were in over their heads, the Pippins finally revealed their conversations [with Miguel] to Detective Walsh, who told them without hesitation that the calls were part of a common scam used to shake down families of missing persons. “I see this kind of thing every day,” he said. The phone calls from Miguel ceased. Ugh, that is awful, vultures swooping in on desperately sad people.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:27 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a TV show about this story on Youtube if you liked the article and want more. I have been fascinated with this story ever since I read it in Outside magazine because I quite regularly fantasize about "leaving it all" and going to the Bob Marshall Complex to do it. Here was a guy who actually did that, in the Bob no less, and left sparse enough reasoning that I am able to project my own reasoning onto him...which makes this mystery all the more addictive to me. I often wonder about what became of him or what the end-game of his plan was.
posted by jnnla at 6:54 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

A fascinating piece, thanks TMOTAT.
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 PM on May 3, 2012

And now that I've read it: Very interesting! And spooky. I hope he's found someday.
posted by limeonaire at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2012

...and now you've kept me at work an hour after I meant to leave, unable to tear myself away until I finished it! Fascinating and sad article, and thanks for the link to the TV show.
posted by janerica at 7:12 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This one really stood out: "Instead of tackling the big questions, Pippin wove ever more complicated defenses of the smallest points." Makes me wonder more about the people on the other side of the screennames.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:26 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

What a fascinating article. It's amazing to me that even in this massively connected world, people can still disappear.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:33 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

People can disappear so easily if they want to, but you have to be a true 'Blank' (Max Headroom reference...)
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:35 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

the Pippins.... are devout Christians

I figured as much from the fact that they named their sons Noah, Caleb and Josiah.
posted by orange swan at 7:36 PM on May 3, 2012

Man, oh man. That area is certainly God's country and The Bob is serious wilderness; you don't just wander in in the winter without a plan. Sometimes enlightened and crazy are right next to each other. I hope his plan has gone they way he wanted.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:39 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting this story.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:51 PM on May 3, 2012

Touching. I hope he's found peace.
posted by arcticseal at 8:05 PM on May 3, 2012

Wow. That was awesome/devastating. Thanks. I've forwarded this on to a lot of people who need to read it.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 8:28 PM on May 3, 2012

Wonderful post and TY jnnla for the TV link.
posted by TangerineGurl at 8:57 PM on May 3, 2012

This was a remarkable read. Thanks for posting it.

It's tangential to the story, but this is passage leapt out at me:
The Marine whom Noah admired most was Matthew Trigo, who had proven himself an exceptional warrior in his first two tours. The letter of commendation for his Bronze Star reads like a Hollywood script. Trigo takes out three enemy vehicles with his Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. Trigo rushes into gunfire and digs a position with his folding shovel, then decimates the enemy. Trigo loads a single round into his machine gun and from 750 yards kills the driver of a moving car. But Trigo takes no credit for running into gunfire to drag his brothers to safety. “They were lifted by the Holy Spirit,” he told me. “I was just an ambassador. Best case: I save you. Worst case: I’m with my Father in Heaven.” A wall of muscle with a kind face and thin-rimmed eyeglasses, Trigo is a master of nine martial arts disciplines and was something like Charlie Company’s resident mystic. When he learned that Noah was estranged from his Christian upbringing, Trigo tried to coax him back into the flock.

“Bring on your Nietzsche,” Trigo told Pippin. “Give it your best shot. I’m just a Neanderthal Marine, but I’ve got truth and light on my side.”

“You’re my hero,” Noah told Trigo. “I want to be like you.”

“You can’t be nice to me and then hard on yourself,” said Trigo. Like Pippin’s family, Trigo had noticed Noah’s tendency to be self-critical. “I’ve lied, I’ve cheated. I kill men. I’m no better than you. Anything that’s awesome about me is awesome about you.
[Emphasis added.]

Wherever Noah is, up there or down here, I hope he found peace with himself.
posted by cribcage at 10:07 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

That was a tough read. I have a friend who disappeared on a hike in New Zealand and the sad probability is that something bad happened and he died alone in the wilderness; but between a dozen possible sightings, no physical evidence found in an extensive search, and the last people who met him describing behavior that was not like him at all, it leaves you with no closure. All I have is hope that he's out there somewhere and a bunch of puzzle pieces that won't fit together.
posted by peeedro at 11:20 PM on May 3, 2012

Disturbing. Noah looks amazingly like me, when my weight is up (his weight was up when those photos were taken). I too have been known to camp out without gear (curiously, the last time I did that was a few miles from his parent's house).

Sounds to me like he was seeking his end. He couldn't take his own life directly. He could only wander in to a situation that wouldn't allow him to wander back out. Maybe brother bear was kind. Maybe he slipped into that sweet warm feeling they say you get as you freeze to death.

What I didn't see explained at all was, why did he leave the Corps? Did they not want him to re-enlist? Was he not offered the usual bonus for that? Could he not return to the Corps? I don't expect the USMC to abandon their own so completely.
posted by Goofyy at 11:28 PM on May 3, 2012

These bits might help answer your questions, Goofyy:

NOAH PIPPIN NEVER sought treatment for, nor was he diagnosed with, post-traumatic stress disorder. He once told his parents that he was worried that any sort of medical treatment—even for the hearing loss he suffered—might rule out future jobs in the military or law enforcement.
Pippin admitted that he’d had some financial problems. The only way to get out from under them, he said, had been to join the National Guard for the signing bonus—which he’d already spent—and now he was locked into more duty. He told the hunter he didn’t want to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan. He was adamant about it.

posted by aniola at 11:49 PM on May 3, 2012

I feel for the man, and am queasy from the crazy religion of everyone around him. Dunno, the juxtaposition of the two has me almost nauseous.
posted by maxwelton at 12:26 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

What a terribly sad story, for all concerned. I wonder would it be better or worse for his family if his body is found some day in the future.
posted by StephenF at 2:20 AM on May 4, 2012

He reads schizophrenic to me.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:58 AM on May 4, 2012

Google map of the area he hiked, with all the spots (and potential spots) marked.
posted by Houstonian at 5:10 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

All those encounters on the trail were with his ghost.
posted by humanfont at 5:22 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel for the man, and am queasy from the crazy religion of everyone around him.

"Noah simply hadn’t been himself that week. “Normally, he would have laid on the couch and I would have scratched his back and he’d tell me the things deep in his heart,” said Rosalie."

posted by 445supermag at 7:29 AM on May 4, 2012

To expand on my prior comment, I grew up in that region and have spent a lot of time hiking the trails in the Rockies from Canada down to Wyoming. This experience of the stranger on the trail who later turns our to be some recently or even longer lost lone hiker happens with enough frequency that it alsmost feels like an urban legend; until it happens to you.

One day you'll be up in the Wind Rivers, Beartooth or some other remote place, off the main trails. You'll meet a stranger, where no stranger ought to be. You might share a cup of coffee or a cigarette, but never seem to want to stay or take food or supplies. During the whole encounter it always feel like something is off. They leave your group and go off away. Then later it turns out the stranger matches someone gone missing. Mountain rescue and search teams go out with trackers and dogs and nothing is found.

I was hiking up in the Winds with some buddies up towards Leg Lake. A place reputed to have some incredibly potent fishing for Cutthroat trout, a permanent snowfield/glacier as a hell of a high wall to climb. There is no real trail and the place is miles from anything resembling one. Anyway the guy is comming back opposite the direction we're going. We talk for a few minutes. We offer him some gorp and water, he says no thanks but I'd one of us has a cigarette he'd be obliged. Well none of us do, and so off he goes. We all felt a bit weird about te encounter though. Later on we saw the guys obit in the local paper, he'd died in a car wreck a week before.

The Shoshone and old time trappers have many stories about these kinds of ghosts. The high Rockies are at the edge of the spirit world and not to be entered into lightly or alone.
posted by humanfont at 7:43 AM on May 4, 2012 [46 favorites]

Wow. Been keeping tabs on the Pippin case - the TV station I work at in Great Falls (where the Kerseys are from) has done a few stories about the search, and one of our Helena reporters went with the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff on the snowy search - but this adds whole new levels of mystery and...sadness?

I wish the "living on a beach in Mexico" thing had turned out to be true.
posted by davidmsc at 8:38 AM on May 4, 2012

Shades of Chris McCandless & Into the Wild, but darker. Echoing others' hopes that he found peace.
posted by yoga at 9:00 AM on May 4, 2012

The story of the human toll of these worthless wars just keeps going and going and won't end until after everyone involved is long dead. I sometimes just wish everyone who duped the country into this madness would get their own personal hell - to just witness first-hand every single awful thing they caused, everything that continues and will continue to happen, to millions of people directly and indirectly involved, for years and years and years

They should be walking through every second of every day of their lives with the voice in their head we call a conscience just screaming "WHY?!"


I hope this guy snuck into Canada and got a new identity. He sounds intelligent, and it would be a relatively logical move given his circumstances
posted by crayz at 9:02 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel for the man, and am queasy from the crazy religion of everyone around him.

I'm an atheist, and I am completely bewildered by this statement.

These people are filled with love and hope by their worship of Christ. Why should you be queasy about that? When Iraqi mothers cry out to Allah for their dead children, when Tibetan Buddhists turn to their own faith for comfort in the face of cruel oppression, does it make you sick?

I'm honestly curious.
posted by General Tonic at 9:15 AM on May 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think that part of the discomfort is that, though I feel for them, and I think they're probably very good people who meant well by their persistence, it seems possible that some of the reason Noah drew away from them and some of the other people close to him was their *unrelenting* interest in converting him back into a Christian, instead of simply accepting his decision.

I mean, that bit about how they ambushed him with some stranger military guy at a family gathering so he could debate religion with Noah just seemed offensive to me, and frankly, if my family pulled that kind of shit, I'd seriously consider never coming back.

Now, I wouldn't disappear. Obviously this situation was much huger and deeper than his misgivings about Christianity and a struggle with his family's religion. It seems more likely that what he witnessed and had to participate in as a soldier and a cop conflicted greatly with his personal ethical code. Very few people can handle that jarring of a conflict well.
posted by RedEmma at 10:06 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

PTSD and depression were the demons haunting Noah, not his rural upbringing or his Christian family. Seeing his poor parents blamed is enough to make me queasy.
posted by General Tonic at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not having your parents accept that you're okay without Christianity can be very depressing. I don't blame them for the loss of their son, and I don't think that keeping kids away from TV or moving to the middle of nowhere is irresponsible. (If that's so, there are a *whole lot* of terrible parents who turn out some pretty awesome kids.) I mean, there are about a gazillion parents around the world who move to different neighborhoods to keep their kids away from "bad influences." Is that over-protective?

I do think that people who truly believe that their kids are in hell without Jesus cause a world of hurt when they don't stop pestering them as adults when they choose their own path. I understand that they think they're doing what they have to do according to their religion.But, just like immigrant parents who try to force their children to accept the ways of the old country, they alienate their children unnecessarily with their rigidity.

Of course PTSD is a serious issue. But to ignore the religious conflict is to ignore something his parents themselves seem to identify as part of his personal struggle.
posted by RedEmma at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

But of course, having gone three times into a third world shithole of death and insanity, subject to the constant threat of grotesque personal destruction, seeing both people you love and hate shredded like so much slaughterhouse offal, and knowing that each time you went of your own volition wasn't what drove him nuts. No, it was the fucking Christianity.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

These people are filled with love and hope by their worship of Christ. Why should you be queasy about that?

"Filled with love and hope" for very specific people and things, not the world in general--which they look on with disgust as hopelessly corrupt. They turn their back on their non-Christian neighbors and the real problems in the world today to concentrate on a fairy story. Many of these people actively campaign to make the world worse for anyone who doesn't also believe their fairy story, up to the point of sending armed men into the homes of terrified families half a world away to root out them "mooslim terrists."

(I bet if you took the driver of the car bomb and the soldiers inside the humvee and listed their good and bad qualities as people, the lists would be remarkably similar.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:44 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel for his family, it sounds as though they all loved each other, but Noah and his family just didn't connect. Poor soul.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:55 PM on May 4, 2012

I don't believe a word of this idealized drivel.
posted by telstar at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

This kid was pretty well fucked without his parents help. Uncle Sam and the military abhor two things. Common sense and trying to get out of a deployment.

I imagine that he took that particular assignment because his re-up bonus would be so high and that he would be banking tax-free dollars while in the zone. But then he was left with only three options. Fulfill his contract, suicide or disappear. By then it was too late to ask for help with finance or illness.

What really pisses me off is that his problems could have been avoided if he had asked for help...or was CAPABLE of asking. I guess it's pretty common knowledge now that front-line troops, combat infantry etc., are discouraged and even programmed to STFU, and be warriors. No questions, no complaining, no sick-call.

I know that the U.S. military in general is trying to change the culture but it's really difficult for C.O.s when 1/3 of their roster is a bunch of fuck-ups willing to do such extreme things as chop off their own fingers to avoid another deployment. That doesn't work, by the way. Lose fingers, still deploy.

Anyway, I'm hoping that Noah survives, but even if he does, his world of shit isn't over because there will be no mercy for him. He'll be charged with AWOL, desertion and probably other things. I wish him as much good luck as he can fuckin' handle.
posted by snsranch at 4:22 PM on May 4, 2012

Ghostride The Whip writes "It's amazing to me that even in this massively connected world, people can still disappear."

Once you get out of sight of development it's really easy to fall in a ditch or something and never be seen again. It's extremely easy in the back country wilderness areas featured in the story.
posted by Mitheral at 6:09 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are so many unidentified people on the Doe Network who were found in the wilderness, evidently hiking. I suspect a number of them were trying to work things out, or get away from it all, or escape personal demons.
posted by andraste at 3:41 PM on May 7, 2012

The parents identified the corrupt world around them, but chose to isolate their kids from it rather than prepare them for it.... The problem is when the kids only get a religious education and no modern context.

I think you're reading too much into the article. I'm not seeing the justification in the article for the claim that the Pippins were "isolating" their children from the outside world, just reducing its influence. Noah was, after all, allowed to go to friends' houses where the Pippins were undoubtedly aware that TV and video games were available. And their new home was Traverse City: not a metropolis, to be sure, but hardly the middle of nowhere. And I hardly think that choosing not to have a TV in one's home and encouraging children to play outside more constitutes bad parenting.


They turn their back on their non-Christian neighbors

Where do you see that in the article?

Many of these people actively campaign to make the world worse for anyone who doesn't also believe their fairy story

Some do, but we have no evidence that the Pippins are among them.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:50 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's likely that the active and persistent attempts to convert him made him feel that his family and friends wouldn't understand what he was going through. If your parents move to a small town to get away from the corruption of the big city, if they don't let you watch tv for fear of what you might see... how can they possibly look at you the same way when you tell them about the things you've seen and done in a war zone? Pippin would be pretty justified in assuming they couldn't cope with that knowledge.

PTSD doesn't have to be a death sentence; neither does financial difficulty or not wanting to go into combat again. But if you've got no-one who really understands you, or takes your problems seriously, then how can you get help?

I only half believe all the never smoked, drank, etc thing. I'm sure he thought they were bad things for your honour or ability in combat or whatever, but that doesn't mean he didn't partake. And it's very hard not to read his desire to be like Trigo as a desire to be able to compartmentalise or brush off problems with simple faith, not a desire to actually have that faith. He could have converted anytime if that's what he really wanted. Or maybe it was just the desire to be happy, which Trigo gives the impression of (not that you can judge from someone's exterior).
posted by harriet vane at 4:42 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

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