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Hiking couple lost in San Jacinto Wilderness find abandoned gear

Lost hikers survive in California mountains using supplies from missing man's campsite
Robert Jablon
May 10, 2006

Two lost hikers who survived three nights in rugged terrain were rescued after they scavenged supplies from the campsite of another hiker who vanished last year and is presumed dead.

The pair found a backpack containing clothing and matches in the deserted campsite of John Donovan, almost a year to the day after he disappeared in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Donovan's abandoned gear "gave us the means to get out," hiker Gina Allen said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

Allen, 24, and Brandon Day, 28, of Dallas, were in Southern California for a financial convention. They got lost Saturday west of Palm Springs after wandering off a trail during what was supposed to be a day hike.

At first, they were not too worried because they could hear voices.

"I still felt we were relatively close," Day said, recalling that he thought the trail would "be around this next boulder."

Prepared only for a brief hike, they wore light jackets and tennis shoes and had no food, spare clothing or cell phones.

With night closing in, they took shelter in a small cave between boulders and spent the night sleepless, freezing and hungry.

In the morning, they struggled to follow a stream downhill through boulder-strewn terrain. That night, they were frequently awakened by their own shivering.

But they kept going, with "the mantra from night one: 'We're going to get out of here. We're not going to die. It's not our time,"' Day said.

The third day was the worst for Allen, who was getting weaker.

"The very worst thoughts went through our mind, that we might be stuck here. I prayed a lot," she said.

On Monday, they discovered a campsite in a dead-end gorge. There was a foam sleeping mat, a poncho thrown into some branches for shade, a backpack, disposable razor, spoon and tennis shoes.

Day and Allen were elated, thinking someone there could help them find the way out. But something was wrong. The gear was wet. A radio and flashlight were corroded. They realized the place was deserted.

"I could just feel myself struck down," Allen said.

They found identification showing the camper was Donovan, 60, a retired social worker from Virginia. They learned later that he was an experienced hiker who had been following the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, from Southern California to the Canadian border, when he vanished May 2, 2005 in icy weather.

His journal, in the form of notes written on sketch paper and on the back of maps, depicted a man without hope of rescue, Day said.

"His last journal entry was one year ago to the day that we found it, which was very eerie," Day said. "Nobody knew where he was, nobody knew to come looking for him, so he was preparing for the end. We were looking at the words of a man who was passing."

They found salvation in his backpack: a warm sweater for Allen, dry socks for Day and matches. They lit a small signal fire and spotted a helicopter in the distance, but the crew did not see them.

On Tuesday morning, they came to a large culvert choked with dried-out vines and other foliage. Day struck another match.

"The whole acre or two caught fire, created a really big smoke signal" that finally alerted a helicopter crew, he said.

They were examined at a hospital and had only blisters and bruises.

"We feel great. We're thankful. We feel like we've been given a second chance," Day said by telephone from his Palm Desert hotel room.

Authorities planned to search the area over the weekend for signs of Donovan.

Day wants Donovan's relatives to know that his demise helped save them. "With tragedy comes rebirth," he said. "We have a real special thanks for that person."


TraditionalMountaineering Analysis
This couple stepped off the trail for a few moments and like many others, were unable to find it again. "They were not planning to become lost and therefore were not equipped".

Lesson to be learned - always assume you may become lost and follow the Basic Responsibilities and carry the Essential Systems. Perhaps Mr. Donovan would still be hiking had he not left his pack in the campsite. Never leave your pack. There are many examples of people who abandoned their pack to "make a run for it" who might have survived with the gear they left behind.

If you are not lost, it is best to keep moving and generating heat rather than to wait in one place until found. If you know where you need to go to car or camp, it is better to keep moving, even if painfully injured. There are many extreme examples of self rescue in traditional mountaineering literature.

If you are truly lost, it is better to to mark your location for rescuers and stay in one place for hours or days until found.

Surely, you have followed the Basic Responsibilities of the Backcountry Traveler so that someone will be looking for you. Surely you are dressed for the forecast weather. Surely you have the Ten Essentials so that you can protect yourself from seasonal weather changes and can keep hydrating and eating the right fuel to maintain your ability to keep using your large muscle groups to generate heat. Surely you will protect and exercise your fingers and toes relentlessly.

Sadly, there are many examples of folks who lost their way without a map and compass (or without the ability to use them), and without the Ten Essentials, who have survived losing feet and fingers and many more who have lost their lives.  Read more below. Surely, we can learn from the mistakes of others. --Webmeister Speik


The Rest of the Story
No more searches for missing hiker on PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
Friends say he was looking forward to retirement and the freedom to travel.
The Press-Enterprise

By Kenny Klein
Tuesday, June 21, 2005

John Donovan had looked forward to spending his retirement hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and exploring the wilderness throughout the United States, friends said Monday.

The 60-year-old Virginia hiker set out on his journey in April but was last seen in early May along the trail near Idyllwild. Rescuers have not scheduled any additional searches.

"The tragedy is that John talked about retirement as a time of freedom where he could experience the outdoors," said Chris Hook, 41, of Virginia, a friend and fellow hiker. "I believe somehow he got in serious trouble through a fall or something else and met his demise in the Idyllwild area."

Donovan, a former social worker at Central State Hospital in Virginia, retired in April, and then headed to the U.S.-Mexican border to begin his trek, friends and authorities said.

The Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington.

Rescuers have completed several searches for Donovan, who was last seen in the San Jacinto Wilderness May 3. This week, Riverside County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Terry Meadows said additional searches may be conducted but none are scheduled.

Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit members have combed the trail and others on and near Saddle Junction, east of Idyllwild and from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Idyllwild, Gwenda Yates, a rescue unit spokeswoman, said. They have also searched a 16-mile trek from Snow Creek to Black Mountain countless times, Yates said.

Snow and ice were on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Idyllwild area May 2 and May 3, Meadows said.

Donovan sent Hook an e-mail May 2 indicating the snow posed a problem.

"I hope the snow gods and mountain gods will be kind," Donovan wrote in his e-mail to Hook.

Hook described Donovan as an experienced hiker who had already completed the Washington and Oregon sections of the trail and was planning to finish the California part.

Hook said Donovan logged more than 10,000 miles hiking including the Appalachian Trail and Colorado Trail.

"I don't think he changed his trail route," Hook said. "He's not the type."

Donovan had hiked about 178 miles with a plan to hike 1,800 miles and finish in Oregon, Meadows said. Donovan, who did not have children, had planned to meet cousins in Wrightwood, friends and authorities said.

Another hiker, Chris Kagay, said he hiked on and off with Donovan to Anza. Kagay said Donovan was going north toward Devil's Slide and Fuller Ridge near Idyllwild as other hikers headed south away from the snow. Kagay said he camped with Donovan one night before they reached Anza.

"He seemed OK to me," said Kagay, adding Donovan had a tarp tent instead of an enclosed tent

Donovan was expected to pick up supplies at the Cabazon post office several days after he was last seen, but never showed up. Donovan did pick up supply packages at the Anza post office on May 2, Meadows said.


Note: In the 1970's, as I recall, a young couple disappeared from the PCT, perhaps near this same icy section of the trail that confronted John Donavan. After many days, a search was conducted for the couple and it was found that one probably had slipped first and and slid down an icy chute to her death. The second had followed her, climbing down, but he too slipped and fell to his death. --Webmeister Speik


Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated



Read more . . .
Hypothermia, frost nip and frost bite  four pdf pages
How can I avoid, recognize and treat hypothermia?

Lost Olympian snowboarder looses feet to cold injuries

  About Alpine Mountaineering: 
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader 
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities 
  The Ten Essentials

  Lost and found
Hiking couple lost three nights in San Jacinto Wilderness find abandoned gear
Expert skier lost five days in North Cascades without Essentials, map and compass
Climber disappears on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Hiker lost five days in freezing weather on Mount Hood
Professor and son elude search and rescue volunteers
Found person becomes lost and eludes rescuers for five days
Teens, lost on South Sister, use cell phone with Search and Rescue
Lost man walks 27 miles to the highway from Elk Lake Oregon
Snowboarder Found After Week in Wilderness
Searchers rescue hiker at Smith Rock, find lost climbers on North Sister
Girl Found In Lane County After Lost On Hiking Trip
Search and rescue finds young girls lost from family group
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Rescues after the recent snows
Novice couple lost in the woods
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Ollalie Trail - OSU Trip - Lost, No Map, Inadequate Clothing

  Map, Compass and GPS
Map, compass and GPS navigation training Noodle in The Badlands
BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
Geocaching on Federal Forest Lands
OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
Geocaching into the Canyon of the Deschutes
Can you catch the geocache?
Z21 covers Geocaching
Tour The Badlands with ONDA 
The art of not getting lost
Geocaching: the thrill of the hunt!
GPS in the news
A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
Wanna play?  Maps show you the way
Cooking the "navigation noodle"

  Backcountry Navigation
How accurate is the inexpensive hand-held GPS today?
Can you get me a $30 rebate on your favorite GPS: Garmin's Legend?    pdf form
What are some good Central Oregon Geocaches?
What is the Public Land Survey Grid?   pdf
What is a PLB?
What is the UTM Grid?   six pdf pages
Which GPS do you like?    
Which Compass do you like?   
How do you use your map, compass and GPS together, in a nut shell?
How can I learn to use my map, compass and GPS?
Do you have map, compass and GPS seminar notes?   six pdf pages

  Mountaineering Accidents
Three Mountaineers struck by rock-fall in North Cascades
Solo climber falls from Cooper Spur on Mount Hood
Climber dies on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Climbers swept by avalanche while descending North Sister's Thayer Glacier Snowfield
Wilderness Travel Course Newsletter  this is a large PDF file
Runaway glissade fatal for Mazama climber on Mt. Whitney
Yosemite's El Capitan tests rescuers' skills
Climbers fall from Mount Hood's Sandy Glacier Headwall
Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Injured climber rescued from Mount Washington
Mt. Washington tragedy claims two climbers
Another Mt. Rainier climber dies on Liberty Ridge
Mt. Rainier climber dies after rescue from Liberty Ridge
Young hiker suffers fatal fall and slide in the Three Sisters Wilderness
North Sister claims another climber
Solo climber Aron Ralston forced to amputate his own arm
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Grisly find: hikers on Broken Top find apparent human remains
Once again, cell phone alerts rescuers of injured climber
Storm on Rainier proves fatal
Mountain calamity on Hood brings safety to the fore!
Fall into the Bergschrund on Mt. Hood, rescuers crash!
Paying the price for rescue
Accidents in North American Mountaineering
Goran Kropp killed while rock climbing in Washington