A Hiker Was Found Dead on the Appalachian Trail. Friends Said He Was “Tough as Nails.”
Michael Charles Lombardo, 55, frequently walked the famed trail with his pet Chihuahua
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This story was originally published on Backpacker.
Sheriff’s deputies in Virginia found the body of a hiker in his tent near the town of Damascus on Sunday, law enforcement confirmed. The campsite was located near the Appalachian Trail.
Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said he understood 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 A.M. 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.
According to Lombardo’s girlfriend, Julie Brostow, he had suffered from multiple health issues and injuries over the years. He lost one of his eyes at age 15, and had his arm amputated at age 37 after he was struck by lightning. Then, he lost enough muscle in one leg that doctors were unsure he would be able to walk again.
Bristow said the injuries and ailments weren’t enough to stop Lombardo, who she described as “tough as nails.” 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 flared up. Beau Hendricks, a family acquaintance, said Lombardo recently turned down an offer to be picked up from the trail, and shortly thereafter fell out of contact. Bristow said Lombardo was afraid of going to the hospital, and believes he likely died in his sleep.
Damascus police chief Kermit Turner said he understood Lombardo had been driving himself along the trail and hiking sections of it when his car broke down. At the time of Lombardo’s death, Turner said, the car was still being repaired at a local garage.
Lombardo, 55, had been hiking sections of 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 pet chihuahua, Lombardo had occasionally left the trail to avoid subjecting the dog to cold weather. In previous hikes he had skipped sections of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park because officials there forbid pets.
After the discovery of Lombardo’s body, Hendricks organized a search for his dog; the chihuahua later turned up safe at a nearby home, apparently drawn to the sound of other dogs.
Bristow said she plans to scatter Lombardo’s ashes this coming October at one of those few spots along the Appalachian Trail that he had never been to: McAfee Knob, the Virginia mountain known for some of the trail’s best views.