Hiking can be a fun pastime, as well as a healthy way of getting exercise. However, it can easily become just as dangerous. One should never go hiking without proper preparation or an appropriate knowledge base. Some people learn this lesson the hard way. And others even lose their lives. Such was the case of Gerry Largay, who tried hiking the Appalachian Trail, the long hiking trail in the world.
Who Was Gerry Largay?
Geraldine Largay, called Gerry by her friends and family, was a 66-year-old woman and retired Air Force nurse. She was happily married to her husband, George, and with a daughter named Kerry, who had had children of her own. She loved nature, even joining her local nature conservancy. It was from her love of nature that her interest in hiking came from.
The Appalachian Trail
The trail that Gerry wanted to hike more than any other was the Appalachian Trail, the most dangerous one in America, and possibly the world. Roughly 2,190 miles (3,524.46 km), it is the longest hiking trail in the world. The mountainous regions and changes in elevation makes it similar to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times. Not only that, but the treachery of the trail can lead to people easily becoming lost, even if they stop off of it for just a minute. And, in addition, there have been at least 13 murders on the trail since 1974, with no killer ever being found.
Despite, knowing the danger, Gerry was adamant on still hiking the trail. She and George decided to move to Brentwood, Tennessee from their family home in Atlanta, Florida to be closer to their daughter and the trail. At that point, it was only a matter of time before Gerry hiked the trail, herself. From there, Gerry began taking hiking classes, in order to increase her chances of finishing the trail.
Getting Ready To Hike
When Gerry was finally ready to hike, she wasn’t physically capable of carrying all the items she would need to in order to finish the hike by herself. An old back injury prevented her from carrying a heavy pack. To help, George agreed to bring her supplies at certain points on the trail in order for her to resupply. She would also hike with her friend, Jane Lee.
Gerry and Jane were to begin their hike at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. From there, they’d hike from the center of the trail to the northern end at Mt. Katahdin. They’d then catch a ferry back to their starting point and go south to Springer Mountain.
The Hike Begins
Gerry and Jane’s hike began April 23rd 2013. As all who hike on the Appalachian Trail do, Gerry took a trail name, her’s being “Inchworm”. Despite pouring rain, Gerry and Jane’s hike didn’t have any real issues. Gerry wrote about much of the flora and other cheerful entries in her journal as she hiked.
The first major hiccup in Gerry’s hike was when Jane needed to leave. A family emergency in June required she leave the trail. Despite her friend backing out, Gerry decided to soldier on. This may have been a fatal mistake. In interviews with Jane Lee, she later revealed that Gerry had trouble keeping up with her during the hike, and may have even had trouble using the compass.
By July, Gerry had hiked more than 900 miles. With only 200 miles left until Mt. Katahdin, her goal seemed much more attainable at this point. However, the ground for 22 miles before her next resupply was particularly treacherous. As such, she decided to take that portion of the hike in two days. The evening of July 21st, she managed to find shelter on Poplar Ridge before taking off the following morning.
It was during July 22nd that Gerry sealed her fate. She briefly stepped off the trail in order to relieve herself. And by the time she was finished, she found herself in a tree graveyard. She realized she was lost and attempted to text George. She told him of her plight to contact trail officials to help her. But, due to poor cell service, her text never reached her husband.
The first day, George didn’t find anything too out of the ordinary. It had stormed pretty hard the night before, so he thought Gerry might have just been running late. However, the next day was when George figured out that something was awry. At this point, the authorities got involved.
For 26 days, Gerry continued to survive and tried to send text messages to her husband, none of which he ever received. Her originally happy and whimsical journal entries became much more grim. At some point, Gerry seemed to accept her fate, just writing that she wanted to make sure her husband or daughter read her journal.
The police and other officials did everything in their power to try to find Gerry. K9 and aerial units combed the area where she went missing, but to no avail. They attempted to follow the tips of other hikers, but they always turned out to be wild goose chases. The search continued, but the 66-year-old woman went missing for two years.
One day, Police Lieutenant Kevin Adam received word of a possible body off of the trail. He thought “The possibilities were: it was a human body; it was animal bones, or if it was a human body, was it Gerry Largay?” Adam later arrived at the location where the body was thought to be, and the case was cracked. He had found Gerry Largay.
A skull had been found in an orange tent, placed in such a way that it was practically invisible unless right next to it. In addition, Gerry Largay’s personal effects were in the campsite, including her journal. It was later determined that she had died from exposure.
Must Be Seen
Upon finding the body, missed opportunities for being found became apparent to Adam. There was a clearing, not to far from the camp site, where aerial vehicles could have seen her. Additionally, there were many charred trees, clear evidence of Gerry attempting to make a fire. Retired Warden Roger Guay has said how important it is to not only be prepared to survive, but to also be prepared to be found.
Following the discovery of Gerry’s body, George and her daughter, Kerry, thanked officials for their hard work and dedication. As such, they asked for privacy from the media while they began their grieving process with this new sense of closure. The site of Gerry’s death was marked with a cross, where her tent once was.
What Could Have Been
The campsite had been only two miles away from the Appalachian Trail. After only a few minutes of walking, Adam was able to find a clearer area with good visibility. After 25 more minutes, he was able to find a logging road that led to lodging.
Lessons To Learn
While a dangerous trail to hike on its own, this case truly highlights the importance of being prepared when going on a hike. With her navigational equipment, Gerry should’ve been able to find her way back to the trail, especially given how close it was. However, Gerry was not capable of properly reading her compass. Additionally, she didn’t have the knowledge or skillset to ensure someone could find her, as previously mentioned, even if they were looking for her.
Hiking can still be fun, even if dangerous, but that’s why someone needs to take the steps to minimize the risk. There is much to learn from Gerry Largay, so that others do not repeat the same mistakes as her.