Appalachian Trail hiker Geraldine Largay survived for nearly a month after getting lost along the trail in Franklin County in July 2013, and documented her final days in a journal that was among the personal effects found by the Maine Warden Service when it recovered her remains more than two years later.
The journal entries, as well as text messages she tried to send her husband on a cellphone that also was recovered, were among documents released Wednesday by the warden service that paint a picture of a slight misadventure that turned tragic when a massive search-and-rescue effort scoured the vast area in vain.
“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” Largay wrote in a journal entry dated Aug. 6. “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.”
Problems began for Largay, a 66-year-old hiker from Brentwood, Tennessee, when she got lost after leaving the trail for a bathroom break while heading north en route to the Spaulding lean-to on July 22, 2013. At 11 a.m., she used her blue Samsung phone to text her husband: “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.”
But the message wouldn’t transmit because there was no cell coverage in the area. She tried sending the text 10 more times over the next hour and a half.
The next day, walking west through the dense and vast woods of northern Franklin County, seeking a higher elevation in the hopes of getting a cellphone signal, she tried texting her husband again at 4:18 p.m.: “Lost since yesterday. Off trail 3 or 4 miles. Call police for what to do pls. Xox.”
She tried sending it again 20 minutes later. Still nothing.
At that point, Largay decided her best chance of survival would be staying put. She set up a tent on a bed of pine needles and sticks, and wrote in a journal every day for at least the next 18 days. A final entry was dated Aug. 18 – 26 days after she set up camp.
The warden service found Largay’s remains and her campsite more than two years later, detailing the search-and-recovery effort in a report on Nov. 12, 2015, that was part of a 1,579-page case file obtained Wednesday by the Morning Sentinel. The warden service’s case file, which was first reported by the Boston Globe, contains hundreds of pages of evidence photographs, witness interviews and tips.
Largay kept the journal and her cellphone in a bag that was recovered by the warden service after a forester came across her tent and skeletal remains and led wardens to the site on Oct. 15, 2015. The warden service had not previously disclosed that a journal had been found there.
Warden service spokesman Cpl. John MacDonald declined to comment Wednesday when asked about the report and its contents.
David Fox, a friend of the Largay family who has previously acted as a spokesman, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
A SINGLE CLUE TO GO ON
Largay, a through-hiker nicknamed “Inchworm,” started on the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail in West Virginia in April with a friend, Jane Lee.
Largay’s husband of 42 years, George Largay, told police that the trail, which starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine, was on his wife’s “bucket list” and that he had supported the women along the way, meeting them at different locations and taking them to motels to sleep, do their laundry and shower.
Lee had to leave the trail because of a family emergency, and Largay decided to continue on alone. Her husband reported her missing on July 24, 2013, after she failed to show up at a prearranged meeting point on state Route 27 in Wyman Township. That was two days after she was last seen by other hikers early on July 22, at the Poplar Ridge lean-to.
Largay died in her sleeping bag inside a zipped tent, according to a report from the chief medical examiner released in January. She died from a lack of food and water and environmental exposure, the report said.
She was about 2 miles from the Appalachian Trail, on land belonging to the U.S. Navy. The warden service, volunteer groups, police and others looked for Largay over 26 months, and the search is considered one of the most lengthy and expensive in state history.
“Investigation would take time to work through several false leads, false identifications, and locating and finding hikers who had valuable information and continued to hike the trail,” Lt. Kevin Adam of the warden service wrote in his report filed Nov. 12, 2015.
After seven days of intense searching, the effort was suspended on July 30, 2013, though periodic efforts would continue over the coming months.
A photo of Largay taken at the Poplar Ridge lean-to by another hiker was the single clue that investigators had to go on.
“There were many leads over the next 26 months, ranging from persons of interest for possible criminal activity related to Gerry’s disappearance, identity theft involving Gerry’s personal information, geographic information by psychics, sightings in different states, to information suggesting Bigfoot was responsible for her disappearance,” Adam wrote in his report. “All of these leads were investigated with our investigative partners.”
The forester, who was working on a contract for the U.S. Navy, came across Largay’s tent and remains on Oct. 11, 2015.
POOR SENSE OF DIRECTION
Though Largay’s family and friends described her as an experienced hiker, the wardens’ case file indicated she had a poor sense of direction, and when she made a mistake would become easily flustered.
Lee, who described herself as Largay’s best friend, told the wardens about multiple occasions when she had to backtrack on the trail to find her hiking companion. In those cases, Largay had either become lost or had fallen behind, Lee told investigators. Lee also said her friend was scared of the dark and of being alone, and never wanted to bring extra supplies because she had a sore back and wanted to avoid carrying a heavy pack.
Lee, who didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday, told the wardens that she was certain Largay’s husband wasn’t aware of her struggles, and he too told them that “Gerry was probably in over her head.”
On Oct. 18, 2015, Adam and other game wardens met with Largay’s husband and other family members to show them where Largay was found, arriving at the site after hiking through thick softwood trees along the Appalachian Trail, into more open terrain with hardwoods, past old logging roads, down and up steep ridges and over brooks.
“After everyone finished looking around the campsite, the family left a cross where the tent was located along with several family mementos,” Adam wrote. “After clearing the campsite, we headed south.”