Survival Wilderness Survival

Survival Lessons After Park Service Releases More Information on Death of Appalachian Trail Hiker

geraldine largay

“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me—no matter how many years from now.”

At the time, 66-year-old Geraldine Largay didn’t know when those words would be read. In the summer of 2013, Largay lost her bearings in the woods of Maine while hiking the Appalachian Trail. She was unable to connect with loved ones via cell phone and unable to find the trail again. Tragically, Largay perished that summer, but her body wasn’t discovered until two years later.

Last Thursday, the Maine Warden Service released its extensive files on Largay’s mysterious disappearance. These documents included false leads, possible criminal suspects, the last text messages she had tried to send (all outside of cell service), and brief excerpts from her journal. Totaling more than 1,500 pages, this information is full of cautionary examples for any outdoorsperson to remember.

Largay was alone. She was known to have great difficulty navigating. She stayed in the dense forest for a month, waiting for help that wasn’t coming. She could not feed herself after her food supply ran out. These are just a few of the fatal factors in this sad case. The only silver lining in this case is that other adventurers can learn from it, and avoid landing in the same dire situation. Here are a few takeaways.

1. None of us should go out alone. We know there is strength in numbers.

2. We all need to improve our navigational skills, and have multiple methods to find our way—not just a battery-dependent GPS unit.

3. We need to be able to call for help when we go outside cell phone range. A satellite phone or personal locator beacon could have done this.

4. We need to self-rescue while we still have strength, if we suspect that help isn’t coming.

5. We need to know how to survive in the wild, if we plan to go into the wild.

Of course, there are more things to know than this. And that’s why we all have to do our homework before we head out onto the trail. But perhaps this tragedy will give other ill-prepared adventurers pause, and perhaps that second thought will give them the tools they need to survive.

Find out more details about this story over at the New York Times. Our deepest condolences go out to the Largay family and their friends.

Photograph of Largay via Maine Warden Service