Two lost hikers who survived three nights in rugged terrain thanks to supplies at a campsite of another hiker who vanished last year recounted their ordeal, saying they had “a real special thanks” for the man who is presumed dead.
The pair found a backpack containing clothing and matches at 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.
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.
Awakened by shivering
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.
Eerie journal discovery
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.
Start fire to get attention
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.”