The Washington Post has an excellent, in-depth account of a story that broke over the weekend, when two people got lost in the Southern California wilderness and stumbled upon the last campsite of John Donovan, a 60-year-old Pacific Crest thruhiker who disappeared on the trail a year ago.

He was down to his last three crackers … he knew that nobody was looking for him. And he expected that here, alone in this treacherous gorge in California’s San Jacinto Mountains, he was about to die.

His last entry was May 8, 2005. He packed his maps into his new orange and yellow backpack, along with his navy blue fleece and the Ziploc bag containing the Virginia driver’s license that identified him as John Donovan, 60, of Petersburg. And then he vanished.

The people who found him were a couple out on a nature walk with a large group; they got separated, then got lost and eventually made their way down the gorge that doomed Donovan. In a case where their ignorance of proper outdoor decorum may have saved their lives, they used matches left in Donovan’s pack and lit a signal fire that led rescuers to their location.

On Saturday, Day and Allen, who were attending a convention in Palm Springs, took a tram up into the mountains, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. It was about 2 p.m. “We weren’t planning a hike,” Day said by phone from California. “We were just there for a one-hour little nature walk.”

But they soon became lost, and without food and appropriate clothing, wandered deeper and deeper into the wilderness. They huddled together at night for warmth and got little sleep. On Monday afternoon, tracing a stream, they spotted Donovan’s last camp.


The reality of what Day and Allen found hit them hard.

“We definitely knew that we were looking at somebody’s grave,” Day said. “The thought was, ‘Is this going to be our grave?’ ”

I’m always amazed at how many good people I meet on the trails, how they’re always willing to help another hiker out of a jam. John Donovan managed to do it despite having presumably perished many months before. As legacies go, that’ll do fine.