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“Tough-as-Nails” Appalachian Trail Hiker Found Dead in Tent in Virginia

No foul play suspected in the death of section hiker Michael Charles Lombardo.

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Sheriff’s deputies found an Appalachian Trail hiker’s body in a tent near Damascus, Virginia on Sunday, law enforcement has confirmed.

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said a local hiker had alerted Damascus police and the Forest Service to the campsite. When deputies reached the tent, located about a mile off the AT, at about 2:30 AM on Sunday, they discovered the person inside had passed away several days prior.

Andis identified the deceased hiker as Michael Charles Lombardo, 55, of Dunnellon, Florida. Law enforcement does not suspect any foul play in Lombardo’s death, and his body will undergo an autopsy in Roanoke.

Damascus Police Chief Kermit Turner said he understood Lombardo had been driving himself along the trail, hiking sections of it, when his car broke down in town. At the time of Lombardo’s death, he said, the car was still being repaired at a local garage.

Lombardo suffered from a number of health issues and injuries over the years, Julie Bristow, his girlfriend, said, starting when he lost one of his eyes at age 15. He would later have his arm amputated after being struck by lightning at age 37, and lost enough of the muscle in one leg that doctors were unsure he would be able to walk again. Still, said Bristow, that wasn’t enough to stop “tough-as-nails” Lombardo, who she met at a hostel near the trail in Virginia in 2016. The first time she tried to lift his heavy pack, she says, she “got tears in [her] eyes.”

“He loved helping people on the trail, he was good at everything … hanging the bear bag, starting fires, using all the equipment, and helping people with theirs and giving suggestions,” Bristow wrote in a text. “He just loved the camaraderie that went on with the trail.”

In the days before his death, Lombardo told Bristow that an old hernia he had previously suffered had reemerged. Beau Hendricks, a family acquaintance of Lombardo, said that he turned down an offer to be picked up from the trail, and shortly thereafter fell out of contact. Bristow believes that Lombardo, who she describes as afraid of going to the hospital, may have died in his sleep.

Lombardo, 55, had been piecing together the Appalachian Trail for years, said Bristow, and he had completed most of it with a few exceptions. A dog lover who typically hiked with his Chihuahua, Lombardo had occasionally left the trail to avoid subjecting her to cold weather, and had skipped sections of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that don’t allow animals. After the discovery of Lombardo’s body, Hendricks organized a search for his dog, which had disappeared; she later turned up safe at a local’s house, apparently drawn to the sound of their own barking dogs.

This October, Bristow said, she hopes to scatter Lombardo’s ashes at one of those few spots he had never been to: McAfee Knob, the Virginia mountain known for some of the trail’s best views.

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