In memory of Oregon Trail Angel Lloyd Gust (1928-2014)

This is a guest post by Angela Ballard, RN who, along with her husband Duffy Ballard, MD, is the author of the award-winning book A Blistered Kind of Love (Mountaineers Books, 2003) about their PCT adventure in 2000. In 2010, Lloyd Gust was instrumental in making their section-hike of a previously missed portion of the Oregon PCT a success. The family has provided these wonderful photos of Lloyd and his wife Barbara, daughters Toni McKeel, Carla Nordlinder and son Rodney Gust.

By the time I met Lloyd Gust in 2010, trail angels and trail magic along the Pacific Crest Trail were nothing new to me. Ten years earlier, during our thru-hike, my husband and I had been the lucky recipients of all sorts of munificent acts from strangers. Among these were a bacon and egg breakfast when we’d run out of food; Gatorade and a cold hose on a 110-degree day; a stranger actually loaning us her car so we could go buy a new stove; and more – rides, comfortable beds, and laundry services – how brave!


So, even after surviving a decade of “normal” life (where strangers don’t just hand you sodas because you look hot, motel owners don’t let you sleep on their lawns, and unknown persons don’t loan you their cars!) I thought I knew all about angels and magic. Of course (and you know where this is going)… I was wrong. Wrong – because I hadn’t yet met Lloyd Gust.

Looking back, it’s a miracle we even got to Oregon for that 2010 section-hike. Leaving our 1½-year-old and our 5-year-old to go backpacking for two weeks was difficult logistically and emotionally. Perhaps that’s why we were not as well prepared for the trip as we should have been and perhaps that’s why I’m a bit fuzzy on the details of trailheads, mileages, etc. But what is crystal clear is the impression Lloyd left on me.


We’d been hearing about Lloyd for a while. A friend in Bend, Oregon, knew him through work, and repeatedly said, “You gotta meet this guy. He’s incredible!” We ended up spending time with Lloyd (bumping into him at trailheads by accident at first) on multiple occasions. But it was during a long, bumpy drive in his Chevy Cavalier (with gallons of water sloshing around in the back) that we really got to know him.

Devoted, intrepid, and fervent regarding his role as PCT ambassador, educator, and trail angel; these were my first impressions of Lloyd. Within minutes I would also discover that he was a doting father whose first trail magic involved stashing lemon drops along trails to keep his children happily hiking. His advice as a wilderness-lover, accomplished outdoorsman, and parent was apropos; coming just as I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever manage “real” hikes with our cubby-legged, TV-loving youngsters. Here was a man who’d made trails a huge part of his family’s life as well as his own. How did he know this was just what I needed to hear?


Earlier that morning, Lloyd had picked us up at 7 a.m. “sharp to drive more than an hour and half to a Mt. Jefferson trailhead. He’d been militaristic about the time, because after shuttling us he needed to refill water caches and help many, many other hikers. He referred to a little notebook of appointments as he said this. Of course there would be phone calls all day and into the night, too: for instance, PCTers with medical problems (broken hip?), transportation problems (mule in a ditch?), gear problems (sole-flapping shoes?), and even bug problems (bed bugs? Lloyd could identify bugs over the phone and recommend how to get rid of them, too).

Lloyd did his Oregon trail angeling with a generous heart and helped wilderness journeymen and women as an offshoot of his personal passion for the outdoors. And he did so with a practicality, intelligence (he was fluent in multiple languages) and professionalism that allowed him to thickly blanket “his” 300 miles of trail (stretching from Windigo Pass to just south of Mount Hood) with seemingly miraculous acts of kindness.


I’m sure that Lloyd’s army career (he joined in 1942 and served in Japan in WWII and later in Korea), his world travels (he’d visited nearly every continent) and his 20 years running a travel company with his wife Barbara helped him orchestrate and prioritize his busy daily schedule. But it was his devotion to and intimate knowledge of the PCT and the Three Sisters region that made it such a privilege to spend time with him. Long car rides were educational and entertaining with Lloyd. He’d hiked much of PCT in sections with his late wife and was also among a trio of friends who summited all of the Three Sisters (North, Middle, and South, each over 10,000 feet in elevation) in a single 24-hour period. His daughter Toni McKeel of Carnation, Wash., says that the three mountaineers “Had such fun that they got up the next morning and climbed Broken Top, too.” No small achievement considering that Broken Top is over 9,000 feet.


Lloyd started hiking in his late teens and introduced the idea to Barbara while they were dating. He then proposed to Barbara at the top of Obsidian Falls between the Middle and North Sister. Lloyd and Barbara had three children whom they welcomed to backpacking life early on. “Imagine trying to outfit little kids in hiking gear 57 years ago,” exclaims his daughter Toni. “But we did some amazing trips in surplus army down bags, handmade tents and jackets and with homemade meals.” When Toni was just four years old the family hiked the Mount Rainier Wonderland Trail together. “It was a way of life,” she says, “and we just endured school and winter between hiking seasons.”


Later, although they had stopped hiking, Lloyd and Barbara moved to Bend so that they could see “their” mountains every day and drive to trailheads for picnics. Lloyd also adopted a section of the McKenzie Pass Highway, which he kept spotless. When Barbara passed away in 2005, Lloyd was devastated – the couple had been married for 55 years and together for 61. Lloyd’s children were very worried about him, so, upon reading a book about the PCT and learning about trail angels they talked him into becoming one. The work, Toni says, eventually restored Lloyd’s will to live such that while many would call him a “lifesaver” and a “godsend,” the PCT and its hikers ended up saving Lloyd, too.

Towards the end of his trail angeling days Lloyd was assisting upwards of 300 hikers per year. “I loved it. I loved every bit of it,” Gust has been quoted as saying. The hikers, he added, “were my total life.” Indeed, from May to September Lloyd was a fulltime trail angel, even cutting short a Sunday morning visit with his daughter when he got a call that the water cache at Windigo Pass was dry.


Lloyd stepped down as trail angel in 2013 because at age 86 he thought he should stop driving. He died of congestive heart failure on October 1, 2014, but his legacy lives on.

Fellow PCT trail angel Donna Saufley of Agua Dulce, Calif., who is beloved in her own right, remembers Lloyd fondly. “Lloyd was boundlessly enthusiastic about helping hikers,” she says. “He went to great lengths to make sure that information about his section was available for them, even as far south as Agua Dulce. It was apparent he reveled in being of service, and it seemed to bring him joy and purpose. His devotion to this service still glowed brightly, even when his body began to forsake him. He found ways to still be of assistance, advocating and coordinating. He was, and will ever be remembered as, a friend to hikers.”

Hikers whose lives he touched have expressed similar sentiments including:

  • “Lloyd is in the Trail Angel Hall of Fame”
  • “Lloyd will forever walk with us on the trail”
  • “He could make extraordinary things happen and act like it was not a big deal”
  • “People like Lloyd are what makes hiking the long trails such a wonderful experience.”

“His all-consuming passion for the ‘job’,” adds Lloyd’s daughter, “made a deep impression on many.”

Myself included.

Indeed, Lloyd was a unique force of trail magic, and while no one can replace him, he mentored fellow Bend resident Brian Douglass to be his successor. But beyond a single trail angel, I think that Lloyd would have wished that we all follow his example in our daily lives, at least a little bit.

Can you sprinkle some magic on someone today? Can you share a passion for trails and the outdoors in a way that opens up previously unforeseen possibilities? Can you buoy up a mom, like me, to hide candies or do whatever else it takes to make sure her kids know the peace of nature and the majesty of the mountains? Lloyd inspired me in this way and I will never forget him for it. He wanted nothing in return, but I’ll try to pay it forward anyway.

Lloyd is survived by his sister Eunice Endicott, daughter Carla Nordlinder, daughter Toni McKeel, son Rodney Gust, and two more generations of hikers. The family is planning a public memorial service later this year at the Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall St., Bend, Oregon.

At the request of family, remembrances may be made to:

Pacific Crest Trail Association, 1331 Garden Hwy, Sacramento, CA 95833,


Partners In Care Hospice, 2075 NE Wyatt Ct., Bend, OR 97701,

“In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. In the woods is perpetual youth.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson Nature (1836) Ralph Waldo Emerson

Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Manager, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.