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Lost Va. Hiker's Point of Despair

Jim Manues, left, and Pete Carlson of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit search through John Donovan's backpack, the contents of which helped lead to the rescue of Brandon Day and Gina Allen.
Jim Manues, left, and Pete Carlson of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit search through John Donovan's backpack, the contents of which helped lead to the rescue of Brandon Day and Gina Allen. (By Rodrigo Pena -- Press-enterprise Via Associated Press)

He was also a spiritual man, she said, although not a churchgoer.

Last spring, he decided to hike the bulk of the Pacific Crest Trail, a majestic, often mountainous 2,650-mile route that goes from northern Mexico to Canada. He planned to start in Mexico and hike to Oregon.

"It was just like, 'I'm retired. I'm turning 60,' " Kenny said. "It was just a dream. . . . As a long-distance hiker, it's 'Can I do it or not?' "

Before he left, he gave Kenny, who was to be his contact while he was on his trek, a San Cristobal candle that bore a prayer for travelers. He asked her to light the candle and pray for him on his journey. "I did it a few times," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Glen Allen, Va. "I did keep him in mind. I didn't always light the candle, but I always prayed for him."

Donovan began hiking the trail in northern Mexico on April 22, 2005, investigators said at the time, and was last seen May 3, 2005, near a remote spot in the forest called Saddle Junction, where the northbound Pacific Crest is crossed by the Devil's Slide trail. He had covered 178 miles.

The area is about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles and about 30 miles south of Palm Springs.

"Through" hiking the Pacific trail can be tricky, according to Patrick McCurdy of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, which searched for Donovan. Leave too early, and you can encounter spring snow, he said. Leave too late, and you can encounter bad autumn weather.

Last year, there had been record-setting snow in the San Jacinto Mountains, and an early May snowstorm struck just as Donovan was passing through, McCurdy said.

When word reached Virginia in mid-May that Donovan had not been heard from in a while, Kenny phoned several rural post offices along the trail where she knew Donovan had mailed packages to. When she learned that he had not picked them up, she alerted authorities.

Searches were launched, McCurdy said in a telephone interview Wednesday, but no trace of Donovan was found. Back home, his hiking friends mourned for him and held memorial services. Summer, fall and winter passed. And in California, whenever members of the Riverside rescue team headed into the area, they were always told: "Keep an eye out for John." A broad-based search for Donovan is planned for this weekend.

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. Day said they had not been aware of his disappearance.


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