An Appalachian Trail expert who led the training course Geraldine Largay took before the thru-hiker got lost off the trail in 2013 and died in the woods says that the 66-year-old from Tennessee apparently did not follow his instruction to “go downhill and downstream.”

Warren Doyle, who is controversial within hiking circles because of his brash methods such as fording the Kennebec River and leading paid guided hikes along the trail, said he does not teach survival skills, such as how to make a fire or how to use a compass, because getting off course on the trail is so rare. Largay took Doyle’s five-day course with hiking partner Jane Lee about a year before embarking on the journey.

“The whole thing with Gerry was a perfect storm, and in the history of the trail, a very unusual tale,” Doyle said.

But a warden service report on Doyle within the Largay 1,579-page case file raises questions not just about Largay’s preparedness for the challenging hike but also Doyle’s role in training her. Those questions come just over three years after Largay went missing without a trace. Next month will mark one year since her remains were found just a mile off the trail in the remote woods of Redington Township.

Despite the passage of time, and the release of the Maine Warden Service’s report on their investigation into her disappearance and their search efforts, Appalachian Trail experts – including Doyle – are still mystified with how she became lost off the well-marked 2,184-mile trail and was not found.

‘DOWNHILL, DOWNSTREAM’

Investigators asked Doyle if he taught his students what to do should they become lost on the trail, and Doyle said he did not. In an interview with the Morning Sentinel, Doyle said he did cover how people get lost, and would tell students to retrace their steps, and if that failed, to go downhill and downstream.

“I wouldn’t say that’s teaching. I would say that’s common sense,” Doyle said. “But just because I share things with people doesn’t mean they listen.”

Doyle was also adamant that he would have told Largay, and any hiker he instructs, to not stay put unless they were unable to walk. Investigators would later learn that Largay walked toward high points in the woods after she got lost, trying unsuccessfully to send text messages to her husband.

“I would suggest as a cautionary tale for this whole thing, is not to be reliant on a cellphone and to question the advice that if you are not hurt that you should stay put – that you should make a cellphone call,” Doyle said.

In the report on Doyle, Maine Warden Service investigator Philip Dugas states that Doyle contacted authorities within the first week of the search, offering his expertise on where they should look, although Dugas states they had already searched the “obvious” sites. Dugas wrote that he asked Doyle for a copy of his course’s curriculum and Doyle said “he didn’t teach from a script.”

“There is no mention in any of Doyle’s material on his website regarding survival or skills such as fire building, lost person protocol or simple pathfinding direction,” Dugas wrote.

Largay, whose trail name was “Inchworm,” set out in April 2013 from Harper’s Ferry, West Virgina, with her friend and hiking partner Jane Lee to hike the northern half of the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, Largay’s husband, George, would meet the duo where the trail intersected roads, replenishing their supplies and bringing them to motels for the night, and dropping them back off at the trailhead the next morning.

But after Lee had to leave the trip because of a family emergency on June 30, 2013, Largay decided to finish the Maine stretch of their hike alone. Then the plan began to unravel.

On July 24, George Largay reported his wife missing after she failed to appear where the trail crossed Route 27 the prior day, setting off a massive search effort led by the Maine Warden Service. Her fate would not be known until October 2015 when a federal contractor found her remains and a campsite she had set up after becoming lost on land owned by the Navy – just under a mile from the trail.

‘SHE WAS A SPONGE’

Largay and Lee participated in Doyle’s five-day Appalachian Trail Institute preparation course in the fall of 2011 or the spring of 2012, Doyle said last week.

Warden service investigator Lt. Kevin Adam said that Largay had also taken a course with a woman who had completed the trail in record time, though he did not recall the woman’s name.

Doyle said his course includes classroom instruction time along with three 5- to 7-mile day hikes. He said the main goal is instilling hikers with the philosophical and psychological aspects of long distance hiking. Often people complete the course and realize that a thru-hike may not be right for them, he said.

Doyle does not teach from a curriculum, but rather he professes what he has learned through his 17 thru-hikes of the trail.

A two-page booklet on his website, titled “Walking the Entire Appalachian Trail: Fulfilling a Dream by Accomplishing the Task,” summarizes his “points of wisdom” about hiking the trail. The book shines light on the fact that his course was centered around a psychological preparation for hiking the trail.

“The Trail knows neither prejudice nor discrimination. Don’t expect any favors from the Trail. The Trail is inherently hard. Everything has to be earned. The Trail is a trial,” one bullet point of the booklet reads.

Doyle said he remembers Largay as eager to learn.

“She was a sponge,” Doyle said. “She wanted to learn a lot; she wanted to be prepared.”

GETTING OFF TRAIL

In preparation for their hike, during the summer of 2012, Lee and Largay hiked together, according to an interview between Lee and Dugas that is included in the warden service case file. However, Lee told Dugas that between 2012 and 2013 she had noticed a change in Largay’s hiking. Lee said Largay was “slower, less steady, purposeful, deliberate and more careful.”

Lee disclosed that on several occasions Largay would become disoriented and hike in the wrong direction. Lee said Largay would become “flustered and combative when she made these kind of mistakes.”

Largay was scared of the dark, of being alone, lacked confidence and was not able to cope with the obvious rigors of the trail, according to Dugas’ interview with Lee.

“If she got as far north as Maine and mental issues were playing, that plays on a long distance hiker completely,” said Craig Dickstein, Maine AT club member and trail overseer of the Kennebec District.