Last summer I walked Hadrian’s Wall, 84 miles across England. It was a challenge but nowhere near the gruelling trek of the Pacific Crest Trail. PCT is more than 2,600 miles long and doesn’t have a pub at the end of each stretch. And while we were in wild country for some of the walk, we were always within a mile or so from at least a farm. There was no chance of becoming “lost”.

The difficulties that PCT hikers face — and sometimes underestimate — is what attracts some climbers. Stunning views, remote wilderness, potential injuries, wild camping, and a sense of accomplishment all play a factor. While some hikers will do PCT in sections, over the course of many years, there are some thru-hikers determined to complete it within a few months. They typically start at the Mexican board in the spring and reach Canada by early fall. These thru-hikers are required to apply for a permit which helps manage the number of hikers and spread out their start dates to avoid clumping on the trail.

And yet, despite these discomforts, the experience was so life-altering, it wasn’t uncommon for thru-hikers to be afflicted by what they called post-hike depression after they completed the journey and reintegrated into society. ~ Loc. 620

Author Andrea Lankford has just about seen it all. She thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (the East Coast cousin of the PCT), served as a National Park Service ranger, led search and rescue efforts, operated as a criminal investigator, fought fires, and taught wilderness rescue skills. She left NPS and became a registered nurse, but the unsolved cases of the PCT continued to haunt her.

Salisha Blackburn, for Storybook Photography, 2023

Trail of the Lost collects the investigations of Lankford as she searches for three hikers who went missing. She wrangles members of online groups, family members, locals, and psychics. She reviews trail logs, creates timelines, and then heads out in a plane fitted with lidar to search for new clues. She even discredits bunk science that preys on the last hopes of grieving families. Lankford puts her own safety on the trail time and again, determined to figure out what happened to the hikers.

The book is compelling as an interesting true crime/accident narrative, but it is also mindful. It does not sensationalize the disappearance of the hikers. Instead it puts them, as humans, and shows them to be the complicated, distinctive people they are. She highlights the hard work of all the amateur detectives dedicating their free time to finding answers. Lankford also reminds us all that answering the call of the wild is a dangerous game.

Thank you to Hachette for access to the e-galley. Read via NetGalley.

Publisher: ‎Hachette Books (August 22, 2023)
Language: ‎English
Hardcover: ‎352 pages
ISBN-10: ‎0306831953