Over the years, there have been a number of deaths on the Pacific Crest Trail. With the trail’s growing popularity, it’s important that people realize that a PCT thru-hike does not take place in a controlled environment and that death on the PCT is an entirely realistic possibility for the ill-prepared (or even the well-prepared).
Not everyone who begins a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike will complete their mission of traversing the country-spanning 2,660 mi / 4,280 km trail. Many will leave the trail due to injury, some due to weather, others for financial reasons, and, unfortunately, a very small percentage will die.
So you are interested in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but you don’t know if you’re quite ready to drag yourself across a continent for five months and probably die?
Need to come up with some statistics to put to rest your family’s fears that you will be dragged from your sleeping bag in the night by a bloodthirsty animal? Want to know how you can expect to meet your maker should this hike turn out to be your last? Not interested in any of this and don’t know why you’re still reading?
Luckily for you, we have answers.
The total number of thru-hiker deaths on the Pacific Crest Trail? At the time this post is being updated (as I update it whenever news comes in), the number stands at 15. There have been 15 thru-hiker deaths on the PCT.
Fatalities by Cause
Here is a breakdown of what has caused them:
- 6 – Falling
- 3 – Heatstroke
- 2 – Drowning
- 2 – Cars
- 1 – Falling trees
- 1 – High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) (unconfirmed)
- 1 – Unknown
- 0 – Hypothermia
- 0 – Lightning
- 0 – Murder
- 0 – Mountain lions
- 0 – Bears
- 0 – Snakes
- 0 – Spiders
- 0 – Alien abduction
Pacific Crest Trail Hiker Deaths
Here is a detailed account of each of the deaths noted above (in chronological order from earliest to most recent):
HAPE (UNCONFIRMED) | Maddie Magee | May 28, 2022 | Twenty-three-year-old Maddie Magee died near the top of Forester Pass (the high point of the PCT) in California’s Sierra Nevada of (unconfirmed) high altitude pulmonary edema or HAPE (source)
FALL | Trevor Laher | March 27, 2020 | Twenty-two-year-old Trevor Laher slipped and fell on snow-covered ice near Apache Peak just outside Idyllwild, California (source)
FALLING TREE | Finn Bastian | August 27, 2019 | In Stevenson (Washington), Finn Bastian, a hiker from Germany, died after being hit by a falling tree on the PCT. Officials reported that the tree had rotted at the base, causing it to become unstable (source)
DROWNING | Wang Chaocui | Mid July, 2017 | In Yosemite National Park (California), Wang Chaocui was discovered in a river in Kerrick Canyon. The 2017 hiking season was plagued by many dangerous river crossings because of the unusually high snowpack from the previous winter (source)
DROWNING | Rika Morita | Mid July, 2017 | In Kings Canyon National Park (California), Rika Morita was discovered in the South Fork of the Kings River. The 2017 hiking season was plagued by many dangerous river crossings because of the unusually high snowpack from the previous winter (source)
HEATSTROKE (SUSPECTED) | Marvin Novo | May 29, 2017 | In the Mission Creek Preserve (California), Marvin Novo’s body was discovered along the West Fork Trail. It is suspected that his death was heat-related (source)
FALL | Dawson Johnson | July 2014 | Dawson Johnson, a 75-year-old hiker from Redwater, Texas, fell and died while hiking down from the Mount Whitney Summit to Crabtree Meadow (source)
HEATSTROKE | Timothy Evan Nodal | April 24, 2014 | Near Lake Morena (California) Timothy Nodal began to feel sick and emergency services were summoned. When firefighters reached him, they were going over his symptoms when he suddenly went into arrest. Emergency personnel was unable to revive him (source)
FALL | Ray “No Way Ray” Echols | May 15, 2006 | Near Deep Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest (California), Ray Echols lost his footing and fell approximately 200 feet to his death (source)
UNKNOWN | John Donovan | May 2005 | John Donovan died after becoming lost on Southern California’s Mt. San Jacinto in an unseasonal snowstorm. His body was not recovered until more than a year later. The cause of death is unknown, but hypothermia is suspected (source)
FALL | John Lowder | June 1999 | It’s thought John Lowder (69), a doctor from San Diego, slipped on some ice crossing New Army Pass in the Sierra and fell approximately 60 ft / 18 m off into a canyon in the Sierra Nevada. He broke one arm, both legs, and suffered a head injury. He succame to his injuries (which included internal bleeding and head trauma) before being found in his sleeping bag by hikers the day after his fall (source)
HIT BY CAR | Flicka Rodman | Nov. 19, 1995 | While taking a road walk detour down Highway 138 in Southern California, both he and Jane Rodman were struck and killed by a motorist who lost control of his vehicle after falling asleep at the wheel (he received a five-day jail sentence) (source)
HIT BY CAR | Jane Rodman | Nov. 19, 1995 | While taking a road walk detour down Highway 138 in Southern California, both she and Flicka Rodman were struck and killed by a motorist who lost control of his vehicle after falling asleep at the wheel (he received a five-day jail sentence) (source)
FALL | Jodi Zatchick | Winter 1983 | During a winter thru-hike attempt, Jodi Zatchick and her hiking partner Gerald Duran fell off a cliff face near Wrightwood, California after losing the trail and slipping on an icy slope (source)
FALL | Gerald Duran | Winter 1983 | During a winter thru-hike attempt, Gerald Duran and his hiking partner Jodi Zatchick fell off a cliff face near Wrightwood, California after losing the trail and slipping on an icy slope (source)
Fatalities by Location
The Pacific Crest Trail is typically divided into five distinct sections: the Desert, the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. Here are the number of fatalities that have occurred in each section.
- Desert: 9
- Sierra Nevada: 5
- Northern California: 0
- Oregon: 0
- Washington: 1
Other Hiker Deaths on the PCT
I also came across the following deaths which occurred on or near the PCT but did not involve thru-hikers:
FALL | 30-year-old male | March 31, 2022 | A man’s body was recovered just north of Forester Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail following a fall in monsoon-type weather(source)
LIGHTNING | Nicholas Torchia | July 30, 2021 | On the Sallie Keyes Cutoff near Muir Trail Ranch in the Sierra, Torchia was leaning against a tree for cover during a storm when the tree was struck by lightning (source)
HEATSTROKE | Unnamed Woman | June 16, 2021 | Emergency services were called to aid a woman near Anza (California) suffering from suspected heatstroke. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene (source)
FALL | Wayne Paul Pferdehirt | August 26, 2019 | Wayne Paul Pferdehirt (67), died in a fall near Mather Pass (Sierra). His body was found just below the summit (source)
FALL | Laurie Choate | September 5, 2018 | Laurie Choate, died in a fall hiking the Kendall Katwalk (Washington). She fell approximately 300 ft / 91 m and did not survive the fall (source)
FALL | Emily Lang | August 12, 2017 | Emily Lang (19), died in a fall along the PCT near Mount Hood (Oregon). Her body was found on rocks at the base of a waterfall about 6 mi / 9.6 km northwest of Timberline Lodge (source)
FALL | Emma Place | August 12, 2017 | Emma Place (19), died in a fall along the PCT near Mount Hood (Oregon). Her body was found on rocks at the base of a waterfall about 6 mi / 9.6 km northwest of Timberline Lodge (source)
FALLING TREE | Phillip Crosby | December 11, 2014 | Camped off the PCT near Mt. Ashland Ski Lodge (Oregon), Phillip Crosby was crushed by a tree that fell on his tent in strong wind (source)
FALL | 20-year-old male | August 20, 2013 | A man free-climbing a rock face with friends near the PCT in Yakima County (Washington) fell to his death (source)
HYPOTHERMIA | Karen Tellez | December 7, 1997 | A woman out hiking became separated from her group and died of suspected hypothermia near the PCT near Pine Canyon Road in Southern California (source)
SUICIDE | Douglas Cracker | October 29, 1988 | A hiker on the PCT discovered the body of Douglas Cracker, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, half a mile north of Highway 62 in Crater Lake National Park (source)
Lastly, I have also had some reports of deaths on the Pacific Crest Trail that I haven’t been able to find any source material for. If you know of any sources for the below deaths or have any that may need to be added to the list, please let me know in the comments.
UNKNOWN | Park Sun Chil (Happy Days) | April 13, 2018 | A hiker from South Korea is said to have passed away on the trail in Southern California.
And that’s it! That is readily available via the internet and that we know of.
It turns out that the Pacific Crest Trail is a safe place to be (and when the zombies, robots, or aliens finally decide to make their move, I’ll bet it’ll be even safer). Of course, there may be more death along the PCT than reported, but the reality is that there is little (but don’t trust me). So if you ever see a headline something like, “Hiker deaths on the PCT jump 200% in the National Scenic Trail’s deadliest year ever!“, know that this means ten people died doing something inherently dangerous (aka it’s clickbait).
So if you have some mental block about hiking the PCT because of all the scary things that are waiting for you out there, then know that despite those things actually existing, they are unlikely to kill you.
But also know that you’ll probably die out there.