Two Years After A Hiker Vanished On The Appalachian Trail, They Found Her Diary

Getting the chance to hike one of the most famous trails in the world is a dream for many people, and it was especially so for a particular hiker. Geraldine “Gerry” Largay wanted nothing more than to trek across the Appalachian Trail. After planning her trip, she made sure to bring along her journal to document everything. When the journal was discovered a couple of years after she left, people could finally start putting the pieces together about her disappearance. This is her story.

Meet Gerry

gerry wearing a blue shirt
Chris Busby/Jane Lee/Mainer
Chris Busby/Jane Lee/Mainer

Geraldine “Gerry” Largay spent her career working as a nurse and made sure to put others before herself. She was devoted to her family, friends, and her church.

One of her greatest pastimes was hiking and she would go any chance she got. After she retired, she was ready to spend her newly found free time hiking around the world. She immediately thought of her number one choice, which was pretty close to her home.

She Chose The Appalachian Trail

gerry and her grandson on a hike
The Largay Family/The Boston Globe
The Largay Family/The Boston Globe

Gerry came up with the idea to hike the more than 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail in November 2012. She did everything she could to prepare, such as taking practice hikes and figuring out what to pack.

She wanted her husband George to accompany her on the trip, but he wasn’t a fan of hiking. He agreed to meet her on several stops across the trail to bring her supplies and do general check-ins. Gerry was fortunate to have a friend who would hike with her.

Gerry Sets Out On Her Hike

A trail sign at Clingmans Dome, a major scenic viewing point along the Appalachian Trail
George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Gerry and George were able to perfect their routine as Gerry set out to begin the trek with her friend Jane Lee. Gerry and Jane started their journey on April 23, 2013, by heading north from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

They planned to start in the middle of the Appalachian Trail and head to Mount Katahdin. After they reached Mount Katahdin, George would drive them back to the middle and they would hike to the south end at Springer Mountain in Georgia.

Gerry Started The Hike Off Strong

A sign post directs hikers on the Hunt Trail, a section of the Appalachian Trail
Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

It didn’t take long for Gerry to notice all of the beautiful plants and animals along the trail, which she made sure to document in her journal. While Gerry and Jane would sometimes sleep along the trail, George didn’t like that being a regular thing.

He would try and pick them up almost every night to take them to a safe campground or motel to sleep. Gerry was given the hiking nickname “Inchworm” because was friendly to everyone she met along the trail.

Gerry Went Solo

foggy solo hike along the Appalachian Trail
Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

A little over a month into Gerry and Jane’s trip, Jane received some news about a family emergency. This meant she would have to go home and leave Gerry alone.

Gerry still wanted to continue the journey, so she rearranged her plans and kept going. Her hike continued to get more remote the further she went. George wasn’t able to meet her as often as he would’ve liked, so Gerry would spend more nights alone on the trail.

She Hiked Almost A Thousand Miles

One of relatively few carved signs along the Appalachian Trail footpath from Maine to Georgia
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

It was now mid-July of 2013 and Gerry had hiked close to one thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail. Mount Katahdin was almost 200 miles away, so she was near the end of her first trip.

First, she needed to pick up more gear because she would be entering a very tough part of the trek. In order to get the gear, she would need to hike 22 miles over mountainous terrain. She brought her tent just in case she would need to spend the night.

A Quick Trip To The Bathroom

an empty forest with lots of trees
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Backpackers are expected to follow certain guidelines in order to keep the trails looking clean and to not disturb other living things. When someone goes to the bathroom, they don’t want to be seen.

On July 22, 2013, Gerry wandered off the trail about 80 paces in order to relieve herself. She was now on land that belonged to the state of Maine and had been logged previously. After she was done, she tried to make her way back to the trail.

Something Wasn’t Right

gerry and george smiling in a cave
Gerry Largay/Facebook
Gerry Largay/Facebook

All of the discarded trees and brush threw Gerry off and she realized she was now lost. Since she couldn’t find the trail, she texted George to let him know what was going on.

“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,” Gerry texted to George. She pressed send, but she didn’t have service and the text didn’t go through.

Figuring Out A Plan

gerry and george at a waterfall
Gerry Largay/Facebook
Gerry Largay/Facebook

Gerry realized that it was crucial that her husband get her text, so she climbed as high as she could to try and get a signal on her phone. Unfortunately, she was unable to find service.

She decided to make a camp, so she pitched her tent and waited. A downpour of rain started, so she tried to text George again. “Lost since yesterday. Off trail 3 or 4 miles. Call police for what to do pls. Xox,” Gerry texted George. The text never went through.

George Noticed Gerry Was Missing

george largay in a striped polo shirt
Tennessean/YouTube
Tennessean/YouTube

George was planning to pick Gerry up, so she could get more gear for the latter part of her hike. He wasn’t surprised she didn’t show up the first day because it had happened before.

When she didn’t show up after a second day, he became concerned and contacted the police. They called the Warden Service who told them it was common for hikers not to show up when there are heavy downpours. George didn’t want to risk it and wait, so they got a volunteer search-and-rescue team, Border Patrol, a pilot, and local news outlets to help find Gerry.

Gerry Moved To A New Campsite

a hiker walking along a trail in the forest
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Multiple teams were out looking for the missing Gerry. She was able to hike to a stream she had seen the previous day and found some clean water. She thought it would be better to stay near the stream.

Gerry realized that George had probably told the police she was missing, so she did things to make herself seen, such as hanging silver Mylar emergency blanket pieces through the trees. She had to start rationing her food and praying that she would be found.

A Place Last Seen

gerry in her red fleece shirt
Maine Department Of Inland Fisheries And Wildlife/Facebook
Maine Department Of Inland Fisheries And Wildlife/Facebook

When hikers go missing on a trail, the team searching for them needs to know a “Place Last Seen.” This would be the last area someone was spotted while they were hiking.

Someone had taken a photo of Gerry in a red fleece shirt at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to, which was confirmed after a phone call with an eye-witness. More clues started to come in, but none were leading to Gerry’s location. Some witnesses said they saw her further on the trail, so the team needed to do some more digging.

Making A Map

map of the Appalachian Trail
Brian Skinner/Twitter
Brian Skinner/Twitter

Kevin Adam, a member of the Warden Service, put his team together in order to make a map of Gerry’s whereabouts. The map was divided into a grid and they examined the terrain.

They were able to pinpoint a general area around Mount Abraham and Spaulding Mountain, which was where they had the search-and-rescue teams look for her. They used helicopters, planes, the Civil Air Patrol, and even a K9 unit, but there was still no sign of Gerry.

Gerry Heard The Search-And-Rescue Crew

a helicopter flying over a mountain
Fan Peishen/Xinhua via Getty Images
Fan Peishen/Xinhua via Getty Images

Gerry was doing her best to survive while waiting to be rescued. She actually heard one of the aircraft and waved her red fleece shirt around in the air.

It was now July 28, six days after she went missing, and she had eaten her last remaining food. She was able to hear a search plane the next day, but it was further away than the one from the previous day. Gerry thought it might be a good idea to move her camp, but ultimately decided it was hopeless.

How Gerry Kept Busy

someone holding a compass and a map
Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Gerry was forced to spend her days alone in the wilderness, so she kept herself occupied. She practiced walking points with her compass, read and re-read a novel, sewed with dental floss, and wrote in her journal.

It was now July 30, eight days since she had been missing, and she heard a plane and helicopter flying above. She waved her red fleece shirt again, but no one was able to see her.

Adam Stopped The Search

a sign at the end of appalachian trail
Shaw’s Hiker Hostel/Facebook
Shaw’s Hiker Hostel/Facebook

On August 6, Kevin Adam with the Warden Service decided that his team had done all they could to search for Gerry. He packed up the mobile command center and went back to headquarters. The investigation would still continue.

That same day, Gerry turned her phone on to see if she had service. She did not. It had been 15 days since she’d gone missing and nine days without food. Gerry lit a fire to signal she was alive, but no one saw it. She put it out.

A Note From Her Diary

gerry and her family posing for a photo
The Largay Family/Boston Globe
The Largay Family/Boston Globe

Gerry realized her fate was looking grim, so she ripped out a page from her journal and wrote a note. “When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” she said.

She continued, “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.”

Kevin Adam Had The Wrong Information

Gerry's journal wrapped in a plastic bag
Inside Edition/YouTube
Inside Edition/YouTube

It had been 16 days since Gerry was last seen. It didn’t take long to realize that Kevin Adam had received false information about Gerry’s disappearance that had hindered their investigation. The search-and-rescue team had gone too far, which had made looking for Gerry nearly impossible.

The months passed. After two years, someone reported seeing an abandoned campsite. A forester was taking inventory of trees for a Navy survival school in Maine and saw a collapsed tent, green backpack, and sky-blue sleeping bag.

Gerry’s Campground And Body Were Found

tent
Inside Edition/YouTube
Inside Edition/YouTube

Maine law enforcement rushed over and determined that the body in the sleeping bag was Gerry. They found that Gerry had written in her journal every day until August 18, but authorities aren’t sure the date is correct.

Gerry was only 2,300 feet from a public road called Railroad Road and her family was upset that she was so close to help. She spent at least 19 days alone in the wilderness. “…I just didn’t realize how tough she was,” said George.

Examining The Remains

cross with messages from Gerry's grandkids
Boston Globe
Boston Globe

Investigators found that Gerry had chopped up her credit card and buried it to protect herself, but kept her driver’s license so she could be identified. She had neat stacks of pots and pans and kept the journal in a sealed plastic bag.

She had written each of her family members loving letters saying her last goodbyes. Her grandkids brought a small cross carrying heartfelt messages that they left at the campsite. Gerry’s story was so heartbreaking that author D. Dauphinee wrote When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay on the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness.