Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do hikers need to carry a gun now?

Do hikers need to pack heat when venturing into the wilderness? I raise this question after reading about several violent acts in the wilderness within the last year. Allow me to list a few of these in chronological order:

* The FBI continues to search for the person(s) who murdered Scott Lilly on the Appalachian Trail in central Virginia. His “partially buried” body was found on August 12th of last year. The FBI recently announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).

* Last August, during a violent rampage, an Indiana man stabbed and killed a 76-year-old assistant Boy Scout leader while hiking with three others on a rail trail near Bunker Hill, IN.

* On September 25th, 2011, a female driving in the Nantahala National Forest stopped to render aid to a person she believed was incapacitated, while lying beside the road. At that time a firearm was used to subdue the victim, and then she was forcibly raped. As far as I know this case has not been solved.

* Last October an avid hiker was found dead on a trail in the San Luis Obispo area with severe trauma to his head and face - presumably murdered.

* Back in March there was the highly publicised case of two men disappearing in the Smokies - five days apart - without a trace. In both cases, officials dealt with conflicting clues and details. Did they commit suicide? Did they try to disappear without a trace? Were the two incidents in anyway connected - by someone who possibly kidnapped them and/or murdered them? No other clues in the two cases have emerged.

* Perhaps one of the most shocking incidents I've seen related to this subject is learning of two teenagers who were arrested in Utah this past April, after constructing booby traps on a popular trail near Provo.

* The most recent incident, which happened within the past week, and prompted this posting, was this:

It was a little before midnight Monday when Hensley said Unicoi County 911 received a call stating an individual was holding several hikers hostage at the Beauty Spot lookout on Unaka Mountain. Hensley, who took the call, said the caller stated the man had approached the group of five hikers with a handgun drawn, told them that he was a game warden, and ordered them to get down on their hands and knees. The 911 call, Hensley said, came from one of the hikers allegedly being taken hostage.

Two of the hostages happened to be U.S. Coast Guard officers, who were able to take the gun away, and then proceeded to hogtie the assailant!

In addition to these particular incidences, National Parks and the USFS have issued warnings from time to time about drug traffickers using parks to transport drugs, set-up meth labs, and even cultivate marijuana within park boundaries.

So in the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye: What's going on? Are these isolated incidences, or is there a trend we need to be aware of? Other than hiking in groups, taking self-defense classes, what else can hikers do to protect themselves while out on the trail?



Anonymous said...

Lets add to that the two elderly hikers murdered in Pisgah National Forest and a Young woman out hiking with her dog on New Years Day in Georgia..also murdered, both, by a drifter using public land to live on.

I hike a lot my myself, or with my wife. We have met so many nice and interesting people on the trail. I have met a few strange ones. On one hike from Newfound Gap (GSMNP) to Charlies Bunion, this guy "attached" himself to us and it was not until we arrived at the Bunion, that other hikers began showing up. I was so glad to have other around...the guy made the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Even with a firearm in your pack, a "crazy" can easy get the drop on you in the wilderness. But you would be stupid not to have a plan.
Those cans of bear mace work on homo sapiens also.

My wife and I always carry big ass knives on our sides, hopefully to deter people like this. Who knows, I may want and have a firearm in my pack still.

-Thompson Gunner

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...


I do recall those incidents.

Speaking of strange hikers, we ran into a guy at a lake in Rocky Mtn NP a couple of years ago who took off all his clothes, in front of us and others, about 100 feet away, and jumped into the water. I can understand if you didn't think anyone else was around, but he knew we were there!

Also, I relayed this story on my FB account:

Back in the mid-80s I did a short evening hike with a small group to one of the overlooks in Red River Gorge in central Kentucky. Just before reaching the overlook an extended Vietnamese family passed us heading back towards the trailhead. We exchanged greetings, thought they looked like nice enough people, and didn’t think anything more about it.

Roughly fifteen minutes later we began hearing some shouting from at least two different locations in the valley below us. Although we couldn’t understand what was being said, it didn’t sound particularly friendly. Another 30 minutes or so passed before we decided to head back up the trail before it got too dark. We hadn’t walked too far when three guys, dressed in full battle fatigues, with war-painted faces and large hunting knives sticking out of their belts, approached us from the opposite direction. They asked us if we had seen any “gooks” (a common disparaging term used to describe the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War). We knew who they were looking for. Although we had just passed the Vietnamese family less than an hour before, we played dumb and told them we hadn’t seen anybody. To this day we have no idea what was going on that evening, but it didn’t appear to be a good situation.

Good point about the bear mace!