Hiker who went missing on Appalachian trail survived 26 days before dying

A journal found with the remains of 66-year-old Geraldine Largay show that she tried in vain to send SOS messages but finally accepted she would die

A hiker survived for 26 days after disappearing off the Appalachian trail and wrote desperate journal entries and text messages that have only recently reached her family, according to documents newly released by the Maine warden service.

Geraldine Largay, known to her friends as Gerry, disappeared on 22 July 2013 after leaving the trail to relieve herself, wardens said in the report. She remained missing for over two years. The only clear clue investigators had was a photo of her, taken early the morning she went missing, near a log lean-to whose three walls are covered by a corrugated tin roof, a fire pit nearby.

The report, released on Wednesday as part of a public records request, details what wardens know of Largays final days and what she herself wrote.

In a notebook entry dated 6 August 2013, two weeks after she lost her way, Largay made a desperate plea: When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry, she wrote. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me no matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.

Largays husband George was not far away on the morning she went missing. He had driven to the Route 27 Crossing, about a 22-mile hike away from the shelter where his wife was last seen. Largay had committed to a thru hike of the 2,168-mile Appalachian trail, and had already traversed more than 1,000 miles. Like many hikers, she took a trail name: hers was Inchworm. Her husband met her along the trail for small reunions and resupplies.

Largay, 66, was a retired air force nurse who had hiked long trails near her home in Tennessee, taken a course on doing the trail and easily made friends on the trail. Wed kid that she put the joie in joie de vivre, her husband told the Brentwood Home Page in 2013.

Hiking the Appalachian trail and sleeping in tents and wearing the same stuff for three and four days in the rain not on my bucket list, he said. But she needed to be supported on the hike, because she had limits on what she could carry, so I simply had to say, OK, suck it up. Whats six months in the grand scheme of things? So I did it.

The documents show that Largay, 66, tried to text her husband after she lost her way. At about 11am that day, she wrote: In somm trouble. Got off trail to go to br. Now lost. Can u call AMC to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of woods road. XOX.

The text never sent because of poor or nonexistent cell service. Largay tried to find higher ground, the wardens wrote, and attempted to send the text 10 more times in the next hour and a half. She eventually camped down for the night.

The next day she tried to text again, with an undelivered message at 4.18pm: Lost since yesterday. Off trail 3 or 4 miles. Call police for what to do pls. XOX.

By the next day, George Largay was concerned and the official search began. Over the next few weeks it expanded past the warden service to include search aircraft, state police, national park rangers and fire departments. They pursued hikers tips, scoured side trails and set dogs to searching to no avail. Heavy rains that week obscured the trail, and Largay remained lost, a face on trail signposts for other hikers to look for.

Adam now knows that at least three K9 teams came to about 100 yards of the camp.

The newly released documents, first reported by the Boston Globe, also show that close friends cast doubt on Largays ability to hike alone. Her friend Jane Lee, who had hiked much of the trail with Largay before a personal emergency called her away, told wardens that her friend sometimes struggled to keep up, and had questionable skills with a compass.

In October 2015, a forester working for the US navy, which has property bordering the trail, found a possible body, according to the report. Lieutenant Kevin Adam later described his thinking that afternoon, writing: The possibilities were: it was a human body; it was animal bones, or if it was a human body, was it Gerry Largay?

When he arrived at the site, his doubts evaporated. I saw a flattened tent, with a green backpack outside of it and a human skull with what I believed to be a sleeping bag around it. I was 99% certain that this was Gerry Largays.

The campsite was difficult to see unless you were right next to it, Adam wrote, noting that the tent was under several large trees whose branches obstructed the sky. The site was in dense woods near the border of the navy and public properties, and Largay had built a bedding area out of small trees, pine needles and possibly some dirt in an attempt to keep her tent out of any water, Adam wrote. She also had tied a space blanket between branches to provide some cover.

There was also evidence of lost opportunities: an open canopy nearby where she could have been seen from the sky, had her tent been under it. Largay had also tried to set fires, Adam suggested, noting nearby trees that had been charred black, seemingly not from lightning but by human hands.

In the camp they found the basics for hiking maps, a rain jacket, a space blanket, string, Ziploc bags, a flashlight that still worked and small human reminders: a blue baseball cap, dental floss, a homemade necklace with white stone wrapped in string.

They also found her notebook, moss growing on it, titled: George Please Read XOXO. Entries explained that she had spent about two days wandering after a wrong turn across a stream, and that she had tried to find ridges where she could regain some sense of place.

The entries continued until 18 August, nearly a month after her disappearance, though Adam wrote: We are unsure if this is a correct date or not.

A medical examiner ruled that Largay had died of exposure, and in their most recent public statement the family thanked the warden service for their dedication to this case.

It became apparent from day one that this was personal to them and they would not rest until Gerry was found, the family said in January, asking for privacy as we continue our grieving process with this new chapter of closure.

Largays husband and daughter did not immediately respond to an interview request, and a family friend and spokesman, David Fox, was not immediately available for comment.

The warden service said it would release a statement later on Thursday. At the site, the family has placed a cross where Largays tent had stood, along with several mementoes.

The camp was less than two miles from the Appalachian trail. Adam wrote that walking south from the campsite, the dense forest became open woods with good visibility after 60-70 yards, and after another 25 minutes he found a clear logging road that led to lodging. In total the walk took about 30 minutes.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/26/hiker-who-went-missing-on-appalachian-trail-survived-26-days-before-dying