Any time you’re traveling through the backcountry, there are potential dangers to consider. Wildlife such as bears, mountain lions, or venomous snakes may pose a threat; a sudden change in weather could force you to seek shelter; you might become stranded due to an injury or simply wander off-course. However, one of the last threats many hikers and campers expect is that of another human.

Most people we’ve encountered on trails over the years are friendly and helpful, or at the very least willing to mind their own business. Unfortunately, that was not the case for a pair of hikers in southwest Virginia last weekend. The man and woman were hiking on the well-known Appalachian Trail (AT) on Saturday when a stranger, now said to be 30-year-old James Jordan, attacked them with a machete.

Photo: Wythe County Sheriff’s Office / WSLS

According to WSLS, both victims were left injured and bleeding after the attack — the male victim sent out an SOS notification from his cell phone, while the female walked six miles to find other hikers and call for help. Authorities responded to the attack as soon as possible, and were able to apprehend Jordan and the machete he reportedly used. The female victim is expected to recover, but sadly the male victim died as a result of his injuries.

Photo: Flickr.com/bikeriders

In a press conference, County Sheriff Keith Dunagan described the incident to WSLS as “isolated,” but information has surfaced to indicate that Jordan — who goes by the trail name “Sovereign” — previously threatened other hikers in April in North Carolina and Tennessee. He was reportedly found with a knife and machete, and charged with criminal impersonation (giving a false name to police), aggravated assault, and possession of drugs. After being briefly jailed for these offenses, he was released on probation.

Then, at 3:30 AM on Saturday, May 11th, Jordan reportedly approached yet another group of hikers in a tent to ask for a flashlight — they stayed in the tent, gave him what he asked for, and reported the incident after he left. Law enforcement was said to be “on high alert” as a result. Later that day, the machete attack occurred.

This tragic incident is a reminder of several important lessons. First, it’s essential to have a reliable means of calling for help — without it, more deaths could have occurred, or the perpetrator may have escaped. Second, self-defense should always be a top priority, even if you’re traveling on an established trail with a companion. We’ve met hikers who scoff at the idea of carrying a gun in the backcountry, calling it unnecessary or paranoid, but we suspect that those same individuals would change their tune if they found themselves facing a machete-wielding murderer.

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