Tragedy on the Pacific Crest Trail

CAMPO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 24: A monument marking the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail sits along the U.S.-Mexico border on January 24, 2019 near Campo, California. The trail is a 2,650 mile trek from Mexico to Canada. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Since 2012, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail has seen an influx of hopefuls making their own attempt at the arduous and challenging distance, made famous in part by the book Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s account of her crossing, and the movie of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon.

The trail, which starts at the northern border of Mexico and ends at the southern Canadian border, traverses California, Oregon, and Washington. It features every type of landscape and all the permutations of precipitation west coast weather has to offer.

In March 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The “Pacific Crest Trail Association asked long-distance hikers to leave the trail, lest they carry the coronavirus to small towns ill-equipped to cope.” As Louise Farr reports at Alta, Hiker Trevor Laher’s father Doug begged him to leave the trail and come home. The government order and the pleas were not enough. Trevor continued on, at his peril, not falling victim to the virus but the perilous conditions of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Trevor often assured Karen that only 11 PCT hikers had died along the trail since it had been officially declared finished in 1993, but exact figures are difficult to pin down. The number could be as high as 20. At least 5 hikers have disappeared and not been found. In fact, there have been 11 deaths on or near the trail in California, 8 of those in the desert section.

Dave and Marilyn drove on a parallel road for a mile, watching Trevor appear and disappear between bushes. They honked the car horn and waved, and he clicked his hiking poles, grinning in acknowledgment. “That was the last time we talked to him or saw him,” says Marilyn. Then the world changed.

“The sun came out, the wind died almost completely, and it was perfect blue skies,” Cody recalls. “There was a very light snow on everything, maybe a quarter of an inch. It was quite a beautiful morning. But that also, I think, lulled us into a false sense of security.”

For the briefest time, he managed to stay in place. Then, suddenly, he began sliding feet first, gathering momentum until he hit a rock and began cartwheeling into an icy gorge.

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