Donovan was the guy who disappeared in a snowstorm on the Pacific Crest Trail in May of 2005; a year later a couple lost hikers found his campsite and used some matches in his pack to light a signal fire that led rescuers to the site. Eventually Donovan’s body was found about 50 yards from the campsite.

Seems Backpacker Magazine’s October issue has an article that sheds more light on Donovan’s ill-fated attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The article isn’t online, but a discussion at the magazine’s website. shares some interesting details.

I just finished reading the story. From what I understand, John knew he was in trouble when he encountered heavy snow. His crampons worked poorly, and with the trail obscured by snow, he had nothing to navigate with. He sought help and tagged behind a pair of Canadians who were experienced winter hikers with an altimeter to help with the navigation.

The three had shared a campsite the night before, but did not hit it off well. Connie (the Canadian) saw that Donovan was struggling, but told him, “We’re not going to take the most direct route”. I take that as her attempt to shake him off. Donovan tried to follow anyway, falling and cursing the whole time because of his ill-fitting crampons… until eventually, the Canadian pair made a turn and Donovan separated… never to be seen alive again.

The gist of the story seems to be that Donovan was a happy-go-lucky type who had a tendency to ignore other people’s advice. A thread at has more debate on the article, with a rather spirited exchange in regards to Donovan’s presumably self-destructive tendencies. The most telling details come from those who know something about hypothermia, which can cause its victims to behave so irrationally that they’ll take off all their clothes because they feel hot. It’s not unusual for their bodies to be found naked in the snow. Donovan was found far enough away from his campsite to make an educated guess that hypothermia was the culprit. Nevertheless, one poster called him a “bull-headed idiot,” which sparked the following reply:

America exists because folks didn’t heed warnings. It was dangerous for folks in the East to wagon-train across America to the west. Scores of folks died because they didn’t heed warnings while countless others made it. Spaniards didn’t think Columbus would make it because they perceived the world to be flat. “You’re going to fall off the end of the world”… But he went anyway.

We’re a people of exploration. We like to see things beyond the confines of our homes and neighborhoods. For tlbj6142 to proclaim Donovan to be “a bullheaded idiot” is absolutely reprehensible and he owes us a retraction/apology for making such a retarded statement.

Benton MacKaye was called a bullheaded idiot as well, yet here we are, enjoying the fruits of his labor. Nothing worth having has ever been gained without extreme personal sacrifice. At times, those sacrifices include the loss of human life. However, that doesn’t stop the indomitable human spirit from continuing onward, striving to go beyond the boundaries.

I’m saddened to learn of Donovan’s death. However, his death isn’t in vain. It serves as a reminder to us that nothing worth having doesn’t come without some cost, and if future hikers aren’t careful, and don’t learn from his mistakes, then history will repeat itself.

I thank God for all of the “bullheaded idiots” who disregard warnings and go off of the beaten path. If you want pleasure without risks, then stay home.

Well said.