In July of 2016, I posted a blog about Stacey Kozel, a 41-year-old hiker from Medina, Ohio, who was in the midst of a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. When she was 19, Stacey was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage many parts of the body. Lupus often times aggressively attacks an individual during flare-up episodes. Stacey became paralyzed in her legs after one particular flare-up in March 2014.
After this traumatic flare, Stacey recovered most of the control of her arms and upper body, but her legs never responded. She found herself restricted to an electric wheelchair until she discovered a brace that actually functions like a mechanical exoskeleton. It allows someone with paralyzed legs to walk again because, in essence, it does the walking for you. My post of July 2016 found Stacey at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. She later claimed to have completed her thru-hike of the trail.
This past hiking season (2017), Stacey reported thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada – 2,650 miles). She began her hike on March 30 and completed the journey the last week of August – a journey of 5 months. However, her thru-hike has come under some question. Many are scratching their heads when trying to validate her journey. As with the Appalachian Trail, the PCT goes on an honor system regarding thru-hikes. There are no mandatory sign-ins, or photographic proof, or tangible evidence to be submitted with a claim of hiking the entire trail.
Stacey recently received national coverage when ABC reported her recent completion of the PCT. The story found its way to many sources of the news around the world, and she indicated that she was hoping to write a book about her adventures. Shortly after the ABC story was released, the hiking community began to examine her claims.
Most thru-hikers of the PTC plan on around five months to complete the journey, assuming good conditions. This year however, there were not good conditions: the Sierra Nevada mountains were snow packed far longer than usual. In early July, the streams were nearly impassable and very dangerous while then the mountains were still snowed covered. Several people have died trying to finish the PCT this year. For the hikers who made it out of the Sierras, they were faced with numerous wildfires through Oregon and Washington lasting into the later part of the summer. Stacey claims to have hiked up to 30 miles per day to stay ahead of the fires.
Concern was drawn to Stacey’s hike from the lack of testimony. Nobody has been able to verify that they saw Kozel on the trail. Patrick Redford, in his blog at https://deadspin.com/ comments, ”PCT hikers are, like the hiking community in general, inherently collaborative and cooperative, since completing such a demanding athletic feat essentially requires help from other hikers and trail angels, who house and feed hikers as they make their way up the trail. Nobody makes it to Canada alone.”
Redford personally spoke with many trail angels and 2017 PCT thru-hikers. He read the posts of dozens of PCT’ers via their Facebook pages. He concludes “The PCT is a long, desolate road, but it’s not without a well-developed network of people keeping an eye on the trail. None of them ever saw her.”
Clay (Bonnyman) Evans in his blog found at http://claybonnymanevans.com/ concurs with the lack of evidence of a successful thru-hike and doubts that Kozel thru-hiked the PTC or the AT. “All this is really, truly a shame. Stacey Kozel would be inspiring simply doing sections of the trail, but in her exaggerations, she has diminished anything she has done on the trail. It’s very clear that she did virtually none of the PCT, and only limited portions of the AT.”
Stacey still stands behind her claims of thru-hiking both long trails. However, her Facebook page has been removed and no positive evidence has been forthcoming. I hope she can, and will, defend her claims or at least tell her true story.