On October 3rd of 2012, I summited Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, ending my 2000 mile Appalachian Trail journey. On the trek down the mountain, it was getting late in the day, when myself and my trail buddies came across a woman in her 40’s who had blood on her face. She was asking the hikers ahead of us if anyone had a granola bar she could buy. She had left her food bag with her pack at the ranger station near the parking lot. She was planning on hiking Katahdin, then going south bound through the 100-Mile Wilderness.
My boyfriend gave her the rest of the food he had. It wasn’t much, but it was the best we could do. She was about two miles from the summit of Katahdin and planned on continuing her hike to the top. I could see that she was determined to reach the summit and probably wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise. I mentioned to her, “You know, it will be getting dark soon.”
She didn’t seem concerned. “I have a headlamp,” she told me.
We left her, and continued down the mountain. “That headlamp isn’t going to bring very much comfort when it gets dark up there,” my boyfriend told me.
I agreed. She was already above treeline, so the trail ahead of her would be exposed to the elements. It was October in Maine, so the nights were extremely cold, even when wrapped up in a sleeping bag. It would probably be dark shortly after she reached the summit, and she was carrying only a day pack, meaning she might have to sleep on top of the mountain without a sleeping bag and with little food.
Back in the parking lot of Baxter State Park, a group of about ten thru-hikers gathered eating snacks and celebrating our accomplishment. We were all elated as we discussed where we would go next and the soft beds and hot showers that awaited us at our parents’ homes.
Amid the joyous conversation, someone mentioned the woman we had seen close to the summit. One hiker stated that he had seen her fall eight feet from a rock with rebar. That was why she had blood on her face when I saw her. We took a little comfort knowing that there were two thru-hikers that were still headed up the mountain when we were headed down. She would be able to ask them for help if she needed it.
The next morning, on my way out of the park, a ranger told me that there was still a pack at the station and asked if I knew anything about it. I told him about the woman I had seen, where I had last seen her, and I let him know that she was out of food.
That woman was Sarah Pierson of Massachusetts, and she was missing for a day and a half.
According to news sources, she reached the summit around the time it got dark. She was lost on top of the mountain for several hours, and then she hiked down the mountain (not on a trail). Rangers had already begun searching for her, when she turned up at Abol Campground the following evening, wandering out of the woods.
For more on her story, check out this Bangor Daily News article.
In more recent and tragic news, Geraldine “Inchworm” Largay, 66, has been missing in the Maine wilderness since July 22, 2013. She walked from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and was planning on hiking to Katahdin, before she vanished from the trail just north of Rangeley, Maine.
She was supposed to be meeting her husband at a road crossing on Tuesday the 23rd, but she didn’t show up. He had been traveling by car along the trail, and meeting Geraldine every few days. On Tuesday, it was pouring rain, so Geraldine’s husband assumed that she chose to camp out instead of hiking the thirteen miles to meet him.
Geraldine was last seen on Monday, July 22nd, by three young SoBo (south bound) men on Lone Mountain, about three miles South of Spaulding Mountain Lean-To. They said that she appeared to be fine when they saw her. She texted her husband then continued toward Spaulding Mountain Lean-To. She was not seen by any more hikers afterwards, and the hikers that stayed at Spaulding lean-to on Monday and Tuesday night say that she was not there.
Contradictory to the statements given by multiple hikers that Geraldine didn’t stay at Spaulding lean-to, an unknown caller had information otherwise. On the evening of Wednesday, the 24th, the owner of a Stratton motel and hostel (a popular spot for hikers) received a phone call from a woman who wanted to get word to Geraldine’s husband that she would be late in meeting him. The woman said that she had spent the night of Tuesday, the 23rd, at Spaulding lean-to with Geraldine. Police have tried to locate this caller, but she hasn’t came forward.
Hundreds of people have contributed to the search for Geraldine on foot, ATV, horseback, and airplane. Over one hundred search-and-rescue personnel and multiple search dogs did a fine-tooth-comb grid search of the Lone Mountain area on August 4th, thirteen days after she went missing.
One theory is that Geraldine, who was previously healthy, had a sudden stroke, became disoriented, and wandered off the trail. If this were the case, wouldn’t she have lost her gear? Could she really have wandered so far, while having a stroke, that rescuers couldn’t find her or her pack?
For the full story, read the Portland Phoenix article on Gerry’s disappearance.
The search continues for Gerry. We can only hope that she is found alive. A big thank you to everyone that has contributed to searching for her.
While Gerry “Inchworm” Largay was an experienced hiker who knew what she was doing, Sarah Pierson probably wasn’t. I’m not entirely convinced that Gerry’s disappearance was preventable, but I do believe that Sarah’s trouble on Katahdin was.
Here’s some tips for staying safe on the trail:
- Always research where you are going.
- If you’re hiking solo, tell people where you are. Text your mom and tell her what shelter/campsite you’re at.
- Always bring plenty of food and water.
- If you’re new to hiking, try to be at camp before dark. Save a night hiking adventure until you’re more experienced or you have a friend to go with you.
- It’s a good idea to push your limits, but don’t put yourself in real danger.
- If you’re injured or in trouble, tell another hiker. Even a complete stranger will be willing to help a fellow hiker.
- Make sure you have a good battery in your phone before you hit the trail. Leave it on airplane mode or turned off, so you can call for help if needed.
- Keep pepper spray and a pocket knife in your hipbelt pocket, so you can defend yourself if necessary.