fbpx
Variety

27 Years Alone In The Woods: How The Last Hermit Survived!

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Have you ever just had enough and decided to disappear? With no trace left?

Check out the story of Christopher Knight who, in 1986, left the world behind him and headed deep into the wilderness.

Christopher Disappears in The Wilderness

There come times in life when we feel like leaving everything behind, ditching our jobs, renouncing our families and reconnecting with our base instincts.

We never act on this urge, but it is still there.

Well, one heeded the call, one Christopher Knight walked the woods for a whopping 27 years.


It was in 1986. Christopher Knight was in his twenties when he disappeared into the woods, leaving his family household in Massachusetts with no way to trace him.

His trail got cold after he left his car in a non-discriminatory location and delved deep into the shrubbery, with his only companions being some basic camping supplies.

Why did he leave?

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Christopher Knight grew up in the state of Massachusetts, a lonesome, introverted child, albeit in a loving family.

His inability to fit into society led to his defection to the woods in 1986, with the intent of never being seen again.

His trip began with a simple thought; to disappear. He craved detaching himself from the bonds of society.

It grew into a raging inferno within that ended up with him finally packing up and riding into the proverbial sunset, his mighty steed a car that braved the unforgiving folds of the forest until it ran out of gas.


This lead Christopher to disembark from it, leaving his keys in and walking deeper into the forest.

He had a nomad pattern; briefly staying at different places, only for him to finally settle down in one place that was far from any prying eyes or anyone searching for him.

Surviving The Harsh Cold

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images

Surviving the winter was a harrowing ordeal, for the weather was cruel and merciless.

Even so, Christopher never indulged himself in the warmth of a bonfire; for he worried the smoke would be a dead giveaway as to his location.

Christopher went out of his way to remain unfound, painting his equipment in camouflage patterns and colors.

Christopher took a page of his quadruple neighbors’ books and fattened himself with sugar and alcohol for upcoming winters, entering a nigh hibernation state at that time.

His beard, which he grew long and shaggy, helped cover his face and neck. He would sleep irregularly during the day, lest he freezes to death at night.

The Rules He Followed to Stay Hidden

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Survival was a harrowing ordeal, indeed, and it leads Christopher to resort to illegal means to make it through winter.

Even so, Christopher had to abide by some stipulations he had made to avoid being found.

For one, he never stole in snowy days, fearing the snow would lead to his location through his footprints.

He also only stole in the dead of the night, and only from empty houses.

Christopher bent nature to his will, packing the heavy items he would steal on previously stolen canoes –he would correct you and say they were borrowed- and sending them towards his camp using the lake’s current.

His Detachment From Society

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Christopher’s long years in seclusion from humanity lead to him dissociating himself from humans, becoming a hermit through and through.

Technology is alien to him. He had absolutely no inkling of what the more modern gadgets were used for, nor how they work.

He resorted to books, newspapers, and magazines he would swipe out of the houses he would raid to stay remotely connected to the outside world.

Christopher claims that, despite his proficiency in burglary, he was always terrified of being caught.

He would use screwdrivers and penlights, tools he carried in his trusty backpack, to make his way into and within the houses.

He never raided a house without a watch on him to keep him from being in the first wisps of dawn that would awake the house dwellers.

The Birth of The North Pond Hermit

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


However sneaky and subtle he was, the items he stole were missed, and this raised the hackles of the people living in the premises of his activities.

This caused him to become a creature of folklore to them, akin to the fae and other eldritch creatures. As such, Christopher Knight became known as The North Pond Hermit.

People Try To Catch The North Pond Hermit


People in the area he focused on in his raids began attempting to catch him, or even a glimpse of him. Traps, cameras, and security systems had been installed to catch him.

However, Knight proved to be more elusive than they first assumed him to be, accustomed to being invisible as he was.

Some people would even stay up beyond the sunrise to, hopefully, finally see him, to no avail, for Christopher was much more cunning than they gave him credit for.

“We always felt like he was watching us,’ says one of the local people.

Christopher, now referred to as The North Pond Hermit, had the North Pond’s residents in a state of helplessness, completely floored by his sheer tenacity and resilience.

The North Pond Hermit’s Influence

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Not a single house was safe. People found batteries, meat, and camping supplies missing, and no lock was an obstacle for him.

It got to the point that the residents started leaving notes on their doors, pleading with him not to break in and to just tell them what he needed for them to leave the requests outside.

Christopher’s raids were so encompassing that, by 2002, he had raided 75% of the homes in North Pond. Even then, no one believed that he truly existed; yet his effect could not be ignored.

One kid, in a homeowner reunion, exclaimed that The North Pond Hermit stole all of his Halloween candy, much to his chagrin.

The Last Hurrah: April 4th, 2013

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Christopher decided to break into the Pine Tree summer camp, a recently opened camp, an hour away from his location.

Christopher managed to open the diner with his trusty screwdriver.

Once he got access in, he indulged his hunger by picking up some bacon and Smarties. This, unfortunately for Knight, set the alarm off.

The alarm notified Sergeant Terry Hughes, who headed to the camp as fast as physically possible.

Aside from answering the call of duty, Sergeant Terry had been obsessed by the Hermit’s case, and it spurred him to head to the camp with due haste. The sight he was met with was far from what he expected.

Christopher Knight was immaculately shaven, clad in very warm, woolen clothes and far from being emaciated.

Sergeant Hughes paged Diane Perkins-Vance, a trooper who had been actively pursuing Knight, after which he shone his light on the sneaking Hermit, finally apprehending him.

The Face Behind The Mantle

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Surprisingly, The North Pond Hermit was very docile, abiding by the officer’s words with no disputes whatsoever.

Christopher stopped his attempt to sneak out at the behest of Sergeant Hughes, raising his hands up in the air with no signs of defiance.

Sergeant Hughes says “I was ready to hate this guy,” a feeling he just could not muster towards the middle-aged Hermit.

The Hermit was compliant enough to divulge his name, age, and death of birth (December 7th, 1965).

He could not provide his address due to lacking one and had absolutely no idea about how long he stayed in the forest.

No Contact With Humanity for 27 Years

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


According to Sergeant Hughes in an interview with National Geographic, “Christopher answered all of my questions dutifully.

When I asked how long he’s been there, he just paused. He didn’t know. He was unsure how long he’s been there.”

Christopher was then incarcerated. The only way they could determine how long he had been in the forest is by using historical milestones.

The milestone used was the Chernobyl incident, which occurred when Christopher was twenty years old, thus gauging his time in the forest to be 27 years.

By the time he was caught, Christopher was 47 years old. He had not visited a doctor in all of his time in the wild.

He also had only made contact with a single human since his disappearance; a wandering hiker to whom he said “Hi,” while passing by.

Knight’s Life Before Defection

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


During one of the many conversations Christopher had with Michael Finkle, a writer at GQ, in jail, he revealed that he was not accustomed to his hermit life before heading to the forest.

 “I never slept in a tent before my first night in the forest,” he said. “A couple of hunting trips, I slept in the back of the pickup, but never alone and never in a tent.”

It seems his immediate surroundings helped shape him into the introvert he turned out to be. Private and quiet, his family influenced him heavily.

“Culturally my family is old Yankee. We’re not emotionally bleeding all over each other. We’re not touchy-feely.

Stoicism is expected,” Christopher said to Finkle. This turned out to be the precursor for Michael’s eventual defection, isolating himself in the wilderness and providing psychology with a very rich subject to study.

His Family Never Deferred to The Police

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


His parents were very loving, and they never abused him. He admits to the fact that he never felt ostracized by them.

What is surprising is that, after his eventual disappearance, his entire family never alerted the Police Authority.

Her brothers, who had their doubts about the fact that he was alive, to begin with, never let their fears be known by their mother, who took his disappearance the worst.

“My brothers supposed I was dead, but never expressed this to my mom,” he said to Finkle. “They always wanted to give her hope.

Maybe he’s in Texas, they’d say, or he’s in the Rocky Mountains. Look at me, I’m in my prison clothes. That’s not how I was raised. I couldn’t face her.”

The Motives Behind The Journey

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images

Christopher’s life until his disappearance was rather uneventful. He was not popular in high school, but he was not bullied either.

In fact, he graduated early and with remarkable grades. He then partook in an electronics training at Sylvania Technical School, based in Waltham.

This allowed him to work for an alarm system company, later on, hence his knowledge of how they functioned during his raids.

After a short while of working in the company, he bought a car, the very same one he drove into the forest, and quit after a few months.

His trip began from Moosehead Lake, in 1986, and the car was found later. Some say some hikers ended up jacking it after they found it in the middle of the forest.

Asperger Disorder Effect on Christopher Knight

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


It seems Christopher’s inability to fit into society is not the result of his upbringing, but also of a mental disorder.

Asperger’s disorder is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication.

Asperger’s is caused by a “combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause changes in brain development.”

It is mostly hereditary, and brain imaging has no identified a common underlying condition.

He Never Got Bothered

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


When asked why he left the world behind, Christopher said: “I felt very uncomfortable being around other people.”

Finkel elaborates afterward, “Now I had thought at first there might have been a specific triggering action…

And he insisted that there was nothing like that at all. He said the tug to be alone was like this gravitational force.”

Contrary to popular belief, Christopher was never lonely in the wilderness, despite spending over two decades alone.

In his book, Stranger in The Woods, which is based on Christopher’s journey, Finkel says “First he was never for a moment, in all 27 years, bored. He was never lonely. He said that he felt almost the opposite of that.

He said he felt utterly and intricately connected to everything else in the world. It was difficult for him to tell where his body ended, and the woods began.

He said he felt this utter communion with nature and with the outside world.”

Way of Life of The Hermit

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Knight lived at the expense of what he stole. He slept in a tent covered by layers of camouflage, inside which a metal bedframe was placed with a mattress and several blankets on it.

There were also several sanitary products, such as razors, toilet paper, shampoo, and pest control products.

He could not indulge in a healthy diet, however, due to his thieving-based living, as the police found several snacks, chocolates and crackers, enough to fatten him for the winter.

The Court’s Decree


Despite never harming anyone, Christopher Knight was charged for burglary. He is suspected of over 100 burglaries, but he only pleaded guilty to six of them at first, then to an additional seven at a later court.

He was then taken to the Kennebec Country Jail in Augusta to spend his seven-month sentence.

He was scheduled for a rehabilitation program to allow him to integrate into modern society seamlessly. Should he prove not compliant, he will end up spending seven years in jail.

Christopher’s Reaction to Being Called Hermit

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


Christopher was rather upset that he is referred to as a hermit. In the court, he said “When I came out of the woods, they applied the label ‘hermit’ to me. The strange idea to me.

 I had never thought of myself as a hermit. Then I got worried. I knew with the label ‘hermit’ comes the idea of crazy.”

Christopher has been a model prisoner in his short time in jail. In his time there, when asked about any insight he had gained in his hermitage, he would say that:  

“Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable … my perception. But … when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for … To put it romantically, I was completely free.”

Other hermits


by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


If you think Christopher’s story is unique, you would be sorely mistaken. Christopher Knight is far from being the only hermit ever recorded.

Some have gained as much fame and notoriety as the North Pond Hermit, the most famous of which is Sara Maitland.

Sara Maitland


Sara lives alone on the outskirts of Scotland in a small, cozy home. When asked why she lives so many miles away from civilization, her answer “Ecstasy,” might confuse someone not similar-minded to the elderly hermit.

Sara prefers to stay by her lonesome, and she enjoys solitude immensely. To defend her way of life, she says:

Sara does not see consider herself selfish by any stretch. She simply sees it as her making a choice to find peace, and she had found it in solitude.

Leopard Man of Skye

by Andy Molloy/Portland Herald via Getty Images


A.K.A The Most Tattooed Senior, Tom Leppard is a former soldier who served in the English army. During his army years, Tom went on to get a full-body tattoo of a leopard-skin design.

He was the first to ever hold the Guinness Title for the Most Tattooed Man, his entry in the Guinness World Records states, “a leopard-skin design, with all the skin between the dark spots, tattooed saffron yellow.”

Tom served for 28 years. He then retired to a simple hut made of rocks and plastic sheets on Skye Isle in Scotland.

He rode his canoe all the way to the city to get his necessities before rowing back to his modest home, where there was no electricity and no furniture.

20 years of living in his hut later, Tom moved to a one-bedroom home in 2008. Tom confessed that he only moved to his home in Bradford, Skye, due to his ripe age.

The sudden change brought some novelty to Tom’s life, as he says “It’s certainly very strange being surrounded by four walls and a roof, but I’ll get used to it.”

Tom lived in his modest home for 8 years before passing away, having lived a long and rich life.

See Also: 8 Travel Alone Best Places (2020)