John Joseph Donovan, 59, was hiking near Southern California's Mt. San Jacinto on May 6, 2005. That day a blizzard dropped 8 inches of snow on and he was trapped on the mountain.
John was a veteran hiker who was a notoriously bad navigator and reckless with it. He had strayed from the Pacific Crest Trail, which he was thru-hiking. He carried no compass and no useful maps, nor a compass and only carried a tarp instead of a tent and socks in place of gloves, and he had few provisions. He always traveled Ultra-light, so if things went wrong he was in trouble.
He was an active member of the Old Dominion and Tidewater Appalachian Trail Clubs and had just retired from 20 years as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with Central State Hospital. He served 15 years in the United States Navy.
Around 1 pm, on May 3, 2005, he climbed into Little Tahquitz Valley, just south of Saddle Junction, and found that the trail was now concealed by snow. John sought help from two other hikers, a Canadian nurse named Connie Davis, 46, and her 20-year-old son, Alex, both of whom had extensive altitude experience.
When Donovan began following the Davis’ through the snowfield, Connie told him, "We're not going to take the most direct route." He stayed about 30 feet behind them and he put on crampons, but the spikes didn't work well with his lightweight trail runners, and he slipped and fell repeatedly. Eventually, Connie and Alex followed a small creek uphill and turned northwest roughly half a mile south of Saddle Junction. "That's where we saw him last," Connie Davis later wrote in a letter to the PCT community. It was at about 8,080 feet on the afternoon of May 3.
That was the last time Donovan was seen alive. Twelve days passed before anyone realized he was missing.
Many hikers believed that Donovan headed toward Fuller Ridge and then froze to death in the blizzard on San Jacinto's west side, near Saddle Junction. On Memorial Day weekend, 2005, Riverside County Rescue Unit personnel combed the area with dogs. After 2 days, with no clues. the authorities called off the search for good.
After leaving the Davis’ on May 3, he tried to detour west down into Idyllwild. But with no way to navigate, he became disoriented. In a journal written in the margins of photocopied guidebook pages, Donovan scribbled, "Couldn't find the trail to Idyllwild." So instead he cut away from Idyllwild, drawn by the lights of much larger Palm Springs. Traveling about 3 miles northeast from the Saddle Junction area that night, he crossed skinny Willow Creek, then climbed a small ridge and plunged down into a steep gash called Hidden Valley.
Donovan's journal places him in Long Valley, at about 4,300 feet, the night of May 3. On May 5, still camped in the same ravine, he took a fall. How badly he was hurt is unclear as Donovan didn’t write detailed notes. He wrote that he had already become too weak to climb up out of the canyon.
He tried to signal for help and built a few weak fires that quickly smoldered out, but no one saw him. A 100-foot waterfall lay directly below, and the canyon's walls were virtually sheer. He was boxed in, and he likely knew that it would be days, maybe a week or more before anyone noticed he was missing.
At one point on May 5, Donovan took an inventory of his supplies. He was down to 12 cheese crackers. In his last entry, dated May 14, he scribbled that he was going down to Long Creek for water. "Goodbye and love you all," he wrote.
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59 years old
Foul Play Suspected: No
Suspected Suicide: No
Cause of Death: Undetermined / Unreleased
Reported missing on May 3, 2005 - 6264 days, 13 hours, 17 minutes ago
This case file was posted on
May 17, 2021 at 18:00
This case file was last modified on
May 17, 2021 at 18:23
This case file has been assigned the Missing Persons ID 4159
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