It's difficult to know exactly how many people have died on the famed Pacific Crest Trail since it was completed in 1993, but Louise Farr at Alta estimates the figure could be as high as 20. Her story, however, focuses only on the most recent of those—the death 22-year-old Trevor Laher on March 27 of last year. Laher, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, slipped on ice under deep snow near Apache Peak in the San Jacinto mountains. "For the briefest time, he managed to stay in place" after falling, writes Farr, basing her account on the recollections of two fellow hikers Laher had befriended on the trail and was with. "Then, suddenly, he began sliding feet first, gathering momentum until he hit a rock and began cartwheeling into an icy gorge." The two other hikers—Australian Cody McMahon, 26, and German Jannek Loffler, 23—could do nothing but set off an emergency beacon and wait for help. They tethered themselves to trees and had to be rescued themselves.
Laher, who had plenty of hiking experience as well as a software engineering job awaiting him at Microsoft, embarked on the trial over the protests of his family and girlfriend. But he could not be persuaded to give up the idea, nor to quit when his loved ones implored him to come off the trail as COVID began to spread. His father, Doug, stayed in touch with Laher and tried to provide him with as much feedback as possible from hikers ahead of him. However, he found little about the Apache Peak area. Unbeknownst to him, a volunteer unit had been posting about multiple icy accidents. “I tell PCTers it’s the most dangerous section of the PCT,” says one volunteer, adding that climate change is making it even more so because of rain and ice. "It’s just getting much, much more complicated and much more unpredictable." Click to read the full story, including the plans of Laher's father to retrace his son's route. (This hiking duo aims to complete the coveted "Triple Crown.")