CARRABASSETT VALLEY – One day last week, Kathy Odvody said 12 people asked her if she was Geraldine Largay, the missing hiker from Tennessee.
“One night, I couldn’t sleep,” said Odvody, 62, who thinks she was hiking a portion of trail between Rangeley and Wyman Township a day behind Largay last weekend, but never saw her. “I was thinking about her.”
Every year, about 28 Appalachian Trail hikers get lost in Maine, said Lt. Kevin Adam of the Maine Warden Service.
But almost every time, they’re quickly found: 95 percent of the time, searchers find them in 12 hours. Within 24 hours, 98 percent of lost hikers are found.
That makes the case of Largay, 66, of Brentwood, Tenn., who had set out for Baxter State Park on the trail from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., an anomaly.
She text-messaged her husband last Sunday, saying she was atop Saddleback Mountain, near Rangeley. That night, she planned to stay at Poplar Ridge at a lean-to on the trail in Redington Township. Her last message to him Monday said she was headed north on the trail, according to the warden service.
But she never made a scheduled meeting with her husband, set for Tuesday in the parking lot near where the Appalachian Trail crosses Route 27 in Wyman Township.
After Poplar Ridge, Largay’s next stop would have been Spaulding Mountain in Mount Abram Township, a seven-mile hike, wardens say.
A hiker has reported seeing Largay — who went by the name “Inchworm” on the trail — between those two places, but it isn’t clear whether she made it to Spaulding Mountain, from where she should have headed north toward Sugarloaf and the crossing.
On day five of the search, Adam, running the search for Largay from a command post at Sugarloaf, a ski and golf resort in Carrabassett Valley, was worried.
“It is a mystifying search because we’ve done a lot of tactics that would normally produce results by now,” he said. “Why, all of a sudden, did she disappear?”
Adam said crews — in total, made up of 70 people — were searching an 18-mile area of trail between Route 4, near Rangeley, and Route 27 on Sunday.
The wardens have used “hasty searches” mostly, aimed at covering the most obvious places a lost person should be in the shortest amount of time possible, Adam said.
On Saturday, the warden service said 130 people searched for Largay. Wardens, dog teams, the Maine Association for Search and Rescue, U.S. Border Patrol and Civil Air Patrol members on ATVs, on horseback and in aircraft, have searched the area around Spaulding Mountain, about seven miles as the crow flies to the Route 27 crossing.
The topography of the area makes the search difficult, Adam said.
That’s shown best by taking a chairlift ride 3,600 feet up Sugarloaf Mountain. A short hike to the northern bank of the mountain shows a treacherous environment.
Between the mountain and Flagstaff Lake, there’s a deep valley and another steep peak. That descends into the man-made lake 10 miles away in a basin.
Until you look at the search area, Adam said, “you don’t have any appreciation for it.”
On most searches, crews search for two hours. If they don’t find anything, they return to the command post and re-evaluate the search. On this search, it takes one or two hours just for them to get to the correct area, he said.
And if a hiker were to get off the trail near Spaulding Mountain, there are hazards: big slides, streams and basins Adam calls “people-catchers,” hard to search in and get in and out of, he said.
“Some of those are very problematic to get down into the bottom of,” he said. “We’ve got to do it, but why would she do it?”
Odvody, the hiker from Waynesville, N.C., who goes by the name “Kaleidoscope” on the Appalachian Trail and said she has hiked half of it in her life, said the section of trail between Route 4 and Route 27 is “way more dangerous” than many other sections of the trail.
“If you go like six inches over, you can fall into forever and ever and ever-land,” said Odvody, ending a 65-mile, weeklong series of hikes at the Route 27 crossing in Wyman Township on Sunday.
Wardens have said Largay is 5-foot-5 and weighs 115 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a black shirt, tan pants and a blue hat and carrying a black-and-green backpack.
Her husband, George Largay, shook a reporter’s hand at the warden service’s command post, saying he shakes hands with each person helping to find his wife.
But he declined an interview and returned to a warden service trailer, where Adam said wardens were keeping four family members in case they find belongings of Largay’s that need identifying.
“They’re hopeful and very concerned that their wife, mother has been missing for multiple days in the woods of Maine,” Adam said. “And I would be, too.”
Late last week, George Largay told Portland television station WCSH that if lost, his wife would “use a lot of common sense to give herself the best chance of getting rescued,” and he would “call in the cavalry and throw in everything, including the kitchen sink, to find her in one piece.”
Until wardens find Largay, Adam said it’s hard to speculate as to what happened to her. He said he is worried she is dead or injured because of the natural hazards off the trail, but there is also a chance she is still walking.
Addressing the possibility of foul play, he said wardens haven’t found any sign of violence, and crime on the Appalachian Trail, especially in Maine, is rare.
Odvody, hiking the last portion of her trip alone, said the possibility of violence doesn’t cross her mind on the trail. She’s more worried about falling and getting injured.
“I never feel afraid in the woods,” she said. “This trail is so safe and there’s so much community.”
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at: