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The Heartbreaking Notes from a Woman Who Disappeared on the Appalachian Trail

By: Riley Brown | Last updated: Nov 01, 2021

The Appalachian Trail is known for its length and rugged terrain, making it one of the most difficult long-distance trails in the world. Following the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine, this trail crosses 14 states of the U.S.

The trail winds its way through landscapes that range from dense forests to exposed mountain peaks, with breathtaking views at every turn. On July 22, 2013, a hiker vanished while hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Her tragic story left many across the world brokenhearted.

Who Was She?

Geraldine “Gerry” Largay was a wife and a mother of four from Baileyville, Maine. Her absence left a hole in the lives of her family and friends, who searched desperately for answers following her disappearance. Gerry was 66 years old when she set out on the Appalachian Trail.

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Her hike began in West Virginia and led her into the middle of Maine. She hiked with others along the trail but wandered most of the way alone. After a consistent back-and-forth via text message with her husband, George Largay, she stopped responding.

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Her Love for the Outdoors

Gerry made it her life’s mission to appreciate nature and the great outdoors, even becoming a member of the Local Nature Conservancy. She devoted a significant amount of her leisure time to volunteering, supported in her efforts by her loving husband.

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Many have a deep love of nature, a trait that gets passed on from generation to generation. Gerry had a true love for nature and expressed her gratitude through her work. You can see from the smile on her face that the great outdoors, in all of its mystery and splendor, is where she felt most at home.

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Flora and Fauna

The stunning scenery, the flowers, and the creatures that permeate the forest never failed to rouse Gerry out on her hikes. She loved the quiet moments when she could just take in her surroundings and enjoy the serene beauty of the natural world.

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It must have been as if time stood still out there, far away from the bustle and noise of modern life. We’ve all experienced it at one point or another; the calmness of the forest, the scrubs and bushes swaying in the breeze, the feeling of being one with nature. It can make you feel as if you’ve left behind all the troubles of the world.

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Gerry and Her Grandchild

Gerry had always been attached to the trail. She would get out and hike whenever she could, around once a week. Kerry, Gerry’s daughter, brought her own daughter into the world, making Gerry a grandmother. Gerry must have enjoyed taking her granddaughter on her hikes, too.

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As her hobby continued throughout the years, she became more and more ambitious. Her goal was to hike more than 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Gerry made up her mind and preparations for the trek were underway.

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Planning Time

At first, George objected to the idea. The Appalachian Trail is known for its difficult and exhausting terrain. Even for a young hiker at peak physical fitness, the Trail can still present a challenge, and Gerry was 66-years old.

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But Gerry was already determined to do it. George set aside his uncertainty and stood behind his wife’s decision. When they got to their daughter’s house, Gerry and her family began plotting points on the long journey she was about to face.

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Trial and Error

Before she embarked on her trip, her family and friends wanted to make sure that she was fit and ready. They wanted to support her so much that they took a practice trek together. This no doubt gave Gerry some much-needed motivation, seeing the immense support that her family and friends wanted to give her.

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Gerry became more and more determined as the days passed and her training began to pay off. After all the preparations were finalized, Gerry was ready to take the plunge.

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The Start of Her Journey

On April 23, 2013, Gerry and her friend Jane Lee began their great expedition. The two set out from Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. The trip started quite well, with just a little rain. The two were off to a good start, both excited about the journey to come.

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Having had so much time to plot their route, they decided on heading north from the trail’s center, to Mount Katahdin’s endpoint. From there they would circle back to their starting point. After that, they would journey down to Springer Mountain, on the southern section of the path.

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A Glimpse of Their Adventure

Nothing could stop Gerry, Jane, and the other hikers on their journey on the Appalachian Trail. Not even the appearance of rain and fog that lightly screened the country view. In Gerry’s journal, she mentioned a beautiful flower that she had come across earlier in the day.

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Fog is somewhat considered a hiker’s mortal enemy. With poor visibility, one wrong step can cause a lot of damage. Stick to the habit of looking up and down the route and comparing it to a map while visibility is good.

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Sudden Changes

While things were going smoothly, Jane received some bad news from her family back home. Because of this, Jane had to break off and go back, leaving Gerry alone with other hikers. This wasn’t a big deal, being that Gerry was such an amicable and agreeable person.

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The Franconia Ridge is one of the most breathtaking views you’ll encounter on the Appalachian Trail. It is also one of the most challenging terrains that you’ll ever have to face when hiking. When the weather is bad it becomes a no-go zone. If the weather is poor, it is advisable to take another path.

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Success on the Northern Section

Almost three months after their journey began, Gerry and the rest of the hikers were able to finish the northern section of the trail. On July 21, they reached 900-miles on the northern section of the track. This must have made Gerry very proud of herself.

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The fact that she was about 200 miles from Mount Katahdin only fueled her desire to finish the trail even more. But before she reached George to pick up some supplies for the remaining portion of the trip, she had to endure a 22-mile hike on rough terrain.

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The Night Before the Tragedy

Before she began her hike on the perilous track, Gerry had to stop for the night. She’d already planned to spend two days in the area, so she was still on schedule. Gerry exchanged her tent for a bed for the night in the shelter at Poplar Ridge.

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On the morning of July 22nd, she bid farewell to some of the other hikers as she readied herself to take on the challenges of the day. Gerry seemed excited, not knowing what to expect ahead.

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What Went Wrong?

Gerry texted George on July 22, 2013, saying she was off to continue the hike. She hit send and didn’t wait for the reply. It was 7:00 AM, and she began her hike paying close attention to the trail.

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Gerry faced the usual problems that come with being around a group for extended periods of time, specifically “nature’s call”. When Jane was by her side, using a bathroom presented a challenge as she would need to secure privacy in an open environment. Sometimes, they would have to lag far back from the rest of the hikers to make sure they were alone.

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One Big Mistake

The hike was going well so far, but she needed to use the restroom. In search of a secluded place, Gerry hadn’t noticed that she’d stepped off the trail she was supposed to be following. Her co-hikers didn’t notice her absence for some time.

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When she realized she was alone and nothing around her seemed familiar, she tried to get back on the trail. She reached a forest that had been used for logging a decade earlier and had since degraded into a mess of abandoned logs, cracked trees, and wild vegetation.

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Even worse, there was no signal for her cell phone. In search of one, she walked about in desperation, without taking account of her direction or heading, thinking of nothing else but getting a text to her husband.

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In the hope of finding some help, she texted her husband, saying, “In some trouble. Got off trail… Now lost. Can you call AMC to see if a trail maintainer can help me? [I’m] somewhere north of woods road.” Unfortunately, Gerry’s messages did not reach her husband.

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Her Disappearance

Exhausted, Gerry decided to set up camp for the night, hoping to find help the next morning. When she woke up, she tried sending the same message to her husband, but to no avail. She tried not to panic and spent the next few hours searching for help.

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While all of this was happening, George arrived at the designated area. He waited for his wife to come according to their plan, but Gerry did not show up. At first, George was not worried. But as the weather became more severe, he became more and more concerned.

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Missing Gerry

The next day, Gerry still did not appear at their allocated meeting point. George became anxious and alerted the authorities, reporting her missing. Not long after, the Maine Warden Service launched a search and rescue operation for Gerry.

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According to Jane, Gerry did not have a good sense of direction, walking off the trail multiple times when she was by her side. With the police and volunteers ready, the search for Gerry began. They searched for her in the countryside, but there’s no sign of her.

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Search and Rescue Operation

After investigating the countryside, the authorities and some volunteers started following Gerry’s original trail. They started searching a stretch of the trail north of Poplar Ridge, initially a part of Gerry’s hiking route. However, the investigation ran into problems due to misinformation.

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There was a lot of conflicting information about Gerry’s disappearance. Some said that they saw Gerry in Spaulding, an area far from her original route, which later the authorities believed was a false tip. Some teenagers also reported seeing her in a place that would have been too far out of the way.

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Clues and Signs

Some police officers and volunteers searched for her in the Poplar Ridge. Others were taking steps to expand their coverage of the area by exploring further out. The authorities welcomed every helping hand they could get in their search, exhausting every possibility in an effort to find her.

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Meanwhile, Gerry did not stop trying to pursue help. In the hopes that it might help someone find her, she hung pieces of her silver-colored blanket under spots where the sun’s rays broke through the trees. She made sure to place her tent where it could be seen by other people.

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Her Survival

As each day passed, Gerry grew more and more concerned that she would run out of food. She was trying hard to ration her supply, but the days were long and getting harder. She was lost, alone, and running out of food. She only had enough for the next few days.

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Time was not on Gerry’s or the rescue party’s side. The rescuers knew that her chances of survival in the forest, alone and with limited food, were getting slimmer as each day passed. To step up their search, they put a helicopter in the sky to widen the spotlight.

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Relief from Her Situation

Gerry found solace by writing in her journal. She also passed the time by reading a book she’d brought with her for the trip. She also discovered a new passion for dental floss. All these distractions were necessary to give her some relief from isolation and anxiety.

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Days and nights passed. On August 6, a whole 15 days after her initial disappearance, she decided to send another text message to her husband, but due to a lack of service, it was never received.

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No Trace of Gerry

The authorities and the volunteers had already covered 23 square miles. They did the best they could, searching high and low for her every day. Understandably, the frustration of coming up empty time after time began to weigh heavily on the hearts of the search team.

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On July 30, with no sign of Gerry, the authorities called off their search. It’s heartbreaking knowing that she was out there waiting for someone to help her. The authorities must have felt a heavy weight on their shoulders as they failed to bring her home.

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Gerry’s Disappearance Still Unsolved

Over the next few years, her family, friends, and those who had volunteered to be a part of her search and rescue operation were still tortured by Gerry’s unsolved case. Her family never blamed the authorities for a lack of trying. They saw how hard they had worked just to bring their Gerry back home.

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The experience of losing someone is one of the hardest things a person has to go through, and not being able to find peace by knowing what happened must have been even worse. All you can do is mourn and remember that they will always be with you in your heart and mind.

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Two Years Later

After two long years without news of her fate, a forester working near the route discovered a tent identical to Gerry’s. Inside were human remains. The forester immediately reported his discovery. The next day, a small crew of professionals gathered to investigate.

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Upon hearing the news, Lieutenant Kevin Adam went immediately to the scene. He was a part of Gerry’s search and rescue effort two years earlier. Reporting on his experience, he said, “I saw a flattened tent, with a green backpack outside of it and a human skull with what I believed to be a sleeping bag around it. I was 99% certain that this was Gerry Largay’s.”

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Caught On Film

They had to hike through the forest for at least two hours to reach Gerry’s tent. The agonizing thought of being able to see her grew gradually with each step. After a long walk, they reached their destination, and as expected, their hearts sank at what they saw.

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The team was accompanied by a film crew who were filming an episode of North Woods Law. The team took a look inside the tent and saw Gerry’s body with some of her belongings. Gerry’s initial identification inside the tent was all caught on film.

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Where It Comes to an End

After so many years of agony, Gerry’s body had been found. As the news spread, those who had joined the rescue team two years ago finally had some peace back in their hearts. Many tears were undoubtedly shed that day.

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We can all agree that there’s no more emotional feeling than finding a lost person, but uncovering a lost person’s fate is at least some consolation. “There’s nobody that wanted to bring her home more than we did. I really feel for the family,” Warden Kris Maccabe said.

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Her Belongings

Not only was Gerry’s body inside the tent, but also some of her things. They were crucial in confirming her identity. They also found Gerry’s phone. On the cell phone were the unsent messages Gerry had been desperately trying to send to her husband.

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They also found a credit card that she had torn up and buried in pieces so that no one could use its information. There were also signs that she had run out of food and water during her time in the tent, a detail that will be remembered by the hearts and minds of the people who found her.

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Her Journal

Of the items that were found during the investigation, her journal is the most precious. Gerry’s thoughts and anxieties were written in a little moss-covered diary. Everything she’d been through over the course of her ordeal in the forest had been documented.

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Gerry even wrote that she knew she’d end up dying in the woods, which was heartbreaking for the family to read. Inside the journal, Gerry wrote these words: “When you find my body please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” the entry read. “It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you find me – no matter how many years from now.”

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Her Last Entry

As Kevin Adams stated, Gerry wasn’t able to find food to eat or water to drink in the forest. A lack of water and sustenance can affect the brain’s ability to accurately process information, including the passage of time. For this reason, Adams is not sure whether the date indicated in her journal is reliable.

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However, the last entry in her journal was on August 18, which was 27 days after she’d gone missing and 18 days after the search had been called off. The authorities who had read her journal could not accurately track Gerry’s movement based on what she wrote.

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Cause of Death

As the investigation reached its endpoint, the authorities concluded that the cause of Gerry’s death was starvation and dehydration. A good reminder for everybody to stay hydrated and maintain a healthy diet, whether you’re out in the wilderness or not.

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We shouldn’t forget she was also 66-years-old when she climbed the trail. Having nothing to line her stomach must have been hard. One of the most devastating discoveries was that her tent was actually relatively close to a public path.

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Gerry’s Final Request

The authorities discovered Gerry’s final request which stated: “Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of [my family members].” Of course, they respected her wishes and sent her belongings to her family who, for two long years, had been waiting for news of her fate.

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Gerry’s family found comfort in having her belongings returned. They’d waited for a long time, two years, to finally be reunited with her remains. Though it must have been heartbreaking, her family was still thankful that her body and final thoughts had been found.

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Giving Thanks

Her family was very thankful to all the people who had tried to bring Gerry home. Although the authorities had halted the search before Gerry’s passing, the family never resented them for doing so, having seen the time and energy they put into the search. For the family, that was enough.

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Gerry’s family released a statement following the discovery of her remains: “Gerry was doing exactly what she wanted to do. As the warden’s report indicates, she was lucid and thinking of others – as always – until the end.”

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Her Story

Many who have gone hiking at the Appalachian Trail can attest to the hardships of the trek. Some locations are not open to the public due to safety concerns and hazards. Gerry’s tragic story touched many people all over the world.

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One of those people was Maine-based writer Dee Dauphinee. In 2019, Dee published a book entitled When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay on the Appalachian Trail. This book recounts the events leading up to Gerry’s disappearance, despite the Trail being fully equipped with signs and warnings.

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When You Find My Body

The authorities were very generous with Dee, granting him extensive access to information about the search and Gerry’s eventual discovery years later. Dee’s book recounts the circumstances surrounding Gerry’s disappearance and the huge search and rescue operation that ensued.

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Dee believes that Gerry’s disappearance spurred Maine’s largest-ever missing-person hunt, which ended with her being assumed dead. Through his book, Dee wants people to learn from Gerry’s tale and to spread awareness to other hikers who plan to hike on the Appalachian Trail.

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The Importance of a Compass

In his book about Gerry’s disappearance, Dee points out the importance of using a compass while hiking. He said, “I’ve had several hundred emails from people [who] have read the book [and] said, ‘I went out and bought a compass,’ you know, and things like that.”

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In 2019, Dee told the Maine Public that he needed to stress that, contrary to common sense, even while hiking major pathways like the Appalachian Trail, a good hiker always has a compass at hand, because you never know what will happen while hiking.

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Inspiring Hikers

Imagine only having only food for three days, knowing that you’ll likely only last for three more weeks, at most. Although finding her body was a comfort, just thinking of how she left the world must hurt George to this day. Gerry’s story became an inspiration – and a warning – to other hikers.

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The pain of her absence still lingers in the hearts of her family and friends. “That was gut-wrenching. I knew [Gerry] was one tough cookie; I just didn’t realize how tough she was.” George said in an interview with The Boston Globe.

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Her Family and Friends

A few days after Gerry’s body had been discovered in the woods, the family went to visit the spot where she had taken her final breath. It was a difficult trek, but they were determined to see it through, out of love.

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They placed a handmade crucifix on the site, plastered with notes from the hiker’s adoring grandkids, family, and friends. Gerry’s daughter, Kerry, vowed to visit the location with her own children someday, to pay tribute to her mom.

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The Missing Two-Year-Old

We’ve learned from Gerry’s story that even a seasoned hiker can run into trouble on the Trail. There’s another story that took place in Michigan, but this time, a two-year-old girl called Gabriella Vitale went missing during a camping trip with her family.

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They were camping near Comins Township in Oscoda County, Michigan, an area notorious for Bigfoot sightings. Here, campers can enjoy fishing, hunting, and the fresh air of nature with its spectacular views and breathtaking lakes.

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Searching For Gabriella

The authorities were notified of Gabriella’s disappearance by her parents. As soon as the local deputies came on-site, a search was underway. For the Michigan State Police, finding her as soon as possible was a priority.

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The Michigan State Police posted a tweet on their Twitter account, stating: “MSP, the Oscoda County Sheriff’s Office and the DNR are mounting a search for two-year-old Gabriella Vitale. She wandered from her campsite on Reber Road west of M-33 and hasn’t been seen since. Anyone with info should contact police ASAP.”

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Collaborative Search and Rescue

Gabriella’s family also turned to social media for emotional support. The family asked friends to pray for Gabriella’s safe return. Sandi Vitale, a relative of the family, asked her Facebook community to “be on the lookout for Gabby.”

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After 27 long hours of searching, Gabriella showed up at the cabin of two volunteers. They found her with no footwear, wearing her pants and shirt. To everyone’s relief, she didn’t show any signs of injury. She was in a good mood, as though the thought of being lost in the forest alone hadn’t even crossed her mind.

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Her Overnight Survival

With the help of the authorities and some volunteers, Gabriella was returned to her family safe and sound. It was the joint search and rescue operation, as well as the help of social media, that led to a happy ending.

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“We are ecstatic she’s been found. She certainly helped by finding a residence,” Lieutenant House told The Detroit News. It was amazing that even at a very young age, Gabriella approached a place where people could find her—an inspiring story of community and hope.

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