Have you ever been camping or hiking in the wilderness when the vibe of the place just shifts into something unsafe? It’s is THE worst feeling. There you are, going about your business when some weirdo comes strolling along to wreck any sense of security. Ugh. Move along, man. We’re naturing here.
I was camping with a friend once when this truck-full of guys started driving back and forth in front of our site. They were obviously sizing us up and it was terrifying. With nothing that far off the main road bedsides camping, climbing and fishing (these people had not brought any gear with them at all) it was pretty clear that they were out there to cause trouble. Being at an otherwise deserted campground with no hope of defense and very limited cell service, my friend and I decided to pack our stuff and immediately peaced the heck out. Maybe it was rash and maybe it was hasty but I’ll tell you what; I didn’t get even a little bit murdered that weekend. We actually ended up crashing at a hotel for a change which, after a day of getting rained off routes, felt pretty darn incredible.
Girl on Paranoia
I get that I’m more neurotic than most people (I would double-back my shoelaces if I could) but I also get that there are psychos everywhere and sometimes they wander into the forest and stab people! And, as a female whose default setting is ‘crazy murder paranoia,’ the panic of what’s lurking just beyond the top out is ever effing present. All that being said, I can’t stop reading about murder and true crime. Whether or not it’s likely or common, this stuff does really happen to people and being unaware of that fact only makes you less safe and more murder-able. Plus it means I get to share my neuroses with all of you just in time for Halloween which I love!
Disclaimer: please keep in mind that this is a particularly PG-13 post.
5. The Cline Falls Axe Man
In summer of 1977 two young cyclists had just set out on a transcontinental bike tour when they decided to set camp for the night in Cline Falls, Oregon. Both women had gone to sleep in their tent when they were awoken abruptly by something crashing into their site. While they were sleeping a truck had sped into their tent, running over top of both of them and then stopping. The driver got out of the car, climbed underneath his vehicle to where the women were pinned and attacked them each with an axe. After striking them upwards of 20 times he got back into his car and drove away -leaving them both for dead. Badly injured but still able to walk, one of the women stumbled miraculously to a nearby roadway where she flagged down a passing car. The people in the car immediately stopped to help and had accompanied her back to the campsite to rescue her friend when the same truck as before drove back into the site. However, upon seeing that the women were now joined by several other people, the driver of the vehicle turned his car around, peeling out of the campground and onto the highway. Both recovered spectacularly and are still alive today. Unfortunately, the assailant of this horrendous crime was never definitively determined and no one was ever charged. I should definitely mention, however, that various locals have their theories about who is responsible and you can read much more that here if you so choose. It’s pretty fascinating!
4. The Odd Phenomena of the Appalachian Trail Murders
Insane fact: to date exactly 11 hikers have been murdered on the Appalachian trail. This number does not even include several other murders and two attempted murders that took place on nearby and/or surrounding trails. What is the strangest about the AT phenomena is that A) two of the slayings remain unsolved (namely, the most recent of them which happened in summer of 2011) and that B) zero hikers have ever been murdered on the PCT. Ever! So what the heck is that about, Appalachia? We knew you were weird but, come on…
Look, if you draw a two thousand-mile-long line across the United States at any angle, it’s going to pass through nine murder victims. – Bill Bryson
Some commentary about the stark contrast in fatalities on the AT as opposed to the PCT has brought up that the latter receives less than half the traffic.With higher visitation, you’re just going to have more crime and that’s unavoidable. Still, 11-0 is a slightly off-balanced ratio, don’t ya think? In the words of Bill Bryson, “look, if you draw a two thousand-mile-long line across the United States at any angle, it’s going to pass through nine murder victims” (A Walk in the Woods, 1998). In any case, while the AT is a beautiful, expansive and ultimately inviting trail, it isn’t one that I will be ever visiting alone or without a healthy supply of bear spray. Because you should just travel with that anyway.
I could honestly devote a whole post to these murders alone but primarily wanted to touch on the strangeness of the overall phenomena. If you are interested in learning more about the AT murders please click here or here or here.
3. The Dyatlov Pass Incident
The mysterious deaths of 9 hikers in the Siberian wilderness of Russia went unsolved for almost 50 years, inviting all manner of far-fetched explanations in it’s wake. Aliens, jealous lovers, Sasquatch and even a government conspiracy have been blamed at one point or another. That is, until a team of investigators decided to give the case another good look in the early 2000’s and came up with what is now believed to be the most reasonable explanation for the young group’s untimely passing. You can read all about their investigation (and I highly recommend that you do because it’s phenomenal) in the book Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar.
Nine hikers set out on a group expedition in February of 1959 and were reported missing when they failed to return home by the following March. That April, the bodies of all nine were found lying in the snow hundreds of yards from their camping site, most of them without shoes or even socks on. The tent had been sliced open from the inside, indicating that the occupants had fled from it in a panic. However, there wasn’t much around them to suggest a pursuit and none of the victims had been physically harmed in any way that pointed to an attack. (One woman was found without her eyes missing, though, and another seemed to have misplaced her tongue. But, honestly, don’t read too much into those details because they matter surprisingly little.)
The real drama of this story lies with a camera that was retrieved from inside the torn open tent of the Dyatlov group. Eichar’s book includes scans of almost all the images and let me just tell you, they are chilling. Particularly the last image which was shot the night of the hikers’ deaths. Upon viewing that last photo ever taken by the group, my entire body literally covered in goosebumps and I know I’m being a really big tease right now but a part of me doesn’t want to spoil what ultimately killed these individuals because it’s so fascinating to read! OK, fine, it was wind. They were killed by wind. (The technical term being Infrasound-Induced Panic) But still, isn’t that just the craziest thing ever? So be sure to add that to your list of things you need to be afraid of. THANKS NATURE!
2. The Backpacker Murders
The bodies of murdered backpackers started showing up in the Belanglo State Forest of southeastern Australia in the summer of 1989. Over the next three years a total of seven bodies were found after all having been stabbed and tortured in a similar manner and covered ceremoniously with branches and leaves. It was apparent by the first couple of murders, of course, that the area was home to an active serial killer. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that assailant behind the vicious attacks was revealed to be Ivan Milat.
According to his own confession, Milat would travel up and down the highway, stopping for hitch-hikers and backpackers and offering them rides. He would then bind and torture his victims, leading them around on leashes for awhile before ultimately killing them. Many of the slain were European travelers who had been missing for some time when Milat was finally charged with the crimes. Upon his arrest, “mementos” of his victims were unearthed at his home including the shirt of a British hitchhiker named Paul Onions who Milat had attempted to abduct in 1990. Onion’s testimony turned out to be a crucial component of the resolution of the case in that it was because of his description of his attacker that Milat first become a suspect. The movie Wolf Creek was inspired by the backpacker murders.
1. The Lost Girls of Panama
This mystery makes my skin crawl because of how vividly I can imagine it happening to me. In April of 2014, two young exchange students went for a hike in the Panamanian jungle near Boquete. They were seen leaving by some locals mid-morning and then never heard from again. The usual scenarios were hypothesized; they got lost, they ran into trouble; they ran away, etc. And when the backpack of one of the young women was located by an indigenous woman nine months later, the speculations were only intensified. Pieces of the two women’s remains were soon after identified, but so were the remains of as many as three other individuals. Seems like a chill place.
It is important to mention that cannibalistic tribes do exist in and around Panama. However, whether or not that fact is important to the investigation of the case in particular is heavily debated. The state of the remains when they were found (small pieces of bones all scattered about with other unidentified remains) does point strongly toward the camp of foul play. However, the Attorney General at the time didn’t delay in dismissing this, declaring instead that the two women had obviously been “dragged to death” in the violent nearby river. It isn’t much of a secret to Panamanian locals that the Attorney General’s conclusion makes no sense at all. Especially when taking into consideration other important details like that one of the missing women’s shorts were found folded neatly on a nearby tree-trunk. As in the four prior cases, I could go on and on about crazy details. The most important detail in this case is that it remains unsolved and, since in my personal opinion the deaths were not accidental, someone out there is walking around knowing exactly what happened to these poor young women. And that’s scary AF.
“Getting up to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” – Ed Viesturs
Girl on Risk
As wanderers, we throw ourselves into a lot of situations that other, normal-er people might shake their heads at. We know this, we understand this, we accept this as all part of what it takes to be an explorer. But that doesn’t mean that needless risks need to be taken when you’re out on your own. In the words of famed Everest mountaineer, Ed Viesturs, “getting up to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory” (No Shortcuts To The Top, 2006) Someone out there loves you and wants you to come home. That being said, if you are called to travel alone, please let someone know where you will be and exactly when they can expect to hear from you next. If you get attacked or lost or even sprain an ankle this information is crucial to your chances of survival. And while that very-well should be an obvious thing to say, it isn’t always taken seriously. Travel with bear spray. Travel with a knife. Travel with a first aid kit. Putting yourself at the mercy of nature when you’re on the wall is enough of a risk as it is. Don’t let recklessness or carelessness be what takes you down out there. Please be safe and, as always, climb on.