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Brandon Day’s Survival Story to Air on I Shouldn’t Be Alive

Loyal readers of the “print product” will remember Brandon Day as the cover boy for our December 2006 issue. He and his then girlfriend, Gina Allen, after dating for only about a month, took a trip together to Palm Springs. Then they rode a tram to the top of Mount San Jacinto to get some drinks at a bar — and wound up lost, spending three nights in the wilderness without shelter. Read their story. It’s truly amazing. And when they told it in the pages of D, I figured it would only be a matter of time before it became the subject of a made-for-TV movie. (Do they still make made-for-TV movies?) Well, that hasn’t happened yet. But this Friday, the story will be told from Day’s perspective on the Discovery Channel show I Shouldn’t Be Alive. The episode is titled “Date From Hell” and will air at 8 p.m. Set your TIVOs now. (Seriously. This cable TV thing is here to stay?)

  • sahil sash

    Brandon and Gina , last night i just saw your story in I Shouldn’t be alive on Discovery channel , I am from India. i LOve Ur story and i already watching this continuously from the last night , i respect your feelings , and can understand how difficult it was for u to get out from that situation , AND I PERSONALLY SALUTES TO THE JOHN DONOVAN < EVEN AFTER HIS DEATH HE SAVED TO LIVES < MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE !!!!!!
    Sahil SAsh

  • spud

    Wow, some of these comments are so laughable!
    Yes Brandon and his pal were pretty stupid to go off without finding their way back. buck really, carry a personal locator beacon??? Get real. All they needed was a compas, firestarter, and decent jackets. It not like they were lost in the artic tundra! And like someone posted, in 4 days they could easily have walked out to civilization on their own. They panicked and did not employ the most basic survival skills.

  • Cindi D

    I am so glad Brandon and Gina were found. Brandon you did great. starting the fire was your only choice and hope. my heart goes out to both of you. I wish you both well in your lives.

  • Debra L

    Today I’ve been feeling a little down about the things I don’t have that I would like to have — you know that feeling you still get even when things are just fine? It has to do with never being quite satisfied with what you have. It’s stories like this one of Brandon and Gina that bring me back to the basics of what makes life good. I was dismayed to read negative comments and criticism and concerns about blaming someone (an American past time it seems) but perhaps those are from people who still have important lessons to learn and positive character to build like Gina and Brandon possess.

  • Susan H

    Gina or Brandon: I have a question you dont have to answer why did you break up????

  • Stephen

    I just went on the Palm Springs Tram to the Mountain Station on Saturday (5/22/11) and wanted to comment to those who stated that the tram company should have taken a count. The tram runs fairly independent of tickets. Also, you can buy either one way or round trip tram tickets. Your tram ticket does not have designated times. Gina and Brandon, it was a blessing to see what you both were able to make it through.

  • Michelle

    I have to admit that this was the only “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” episode that I watched from start to finish. Your story was extraordinary, it must be have been so scary to think that you were trapped in those mountains just waiting to starve or freeze to death. I’m so glad you’re both alive and well, and like many people who have watched this documentary, I’m filled with admiration for your perseveranece!

  • Rose

    Wow… God is good 🙂 Instances like these are really eye opening and can change your whole perspective on things. God Bless you two and stay safe!!

  • Tammy

    Brandon & Gina
    Today (7/9/11) is my 2nd or 3rd time watching the episode and I’m always moved by the experience!! Your story was truly inspirational and faith building for me. I truly believe in the power of God and I truly believe God was there with the two of you and delivered you to safety!
    Yes, it would have been a more beautiful ending to the story if you all had stayed together and continued to build a wonderful life….but perhaps God has other plans for your lives..I’m also grateful you both were instrumental in bringing closure to Mr. Donovan’s family.

  • Shaun

    This was a unique episode of I Shouldn’t be Alive. I think what makes it special is that they did what many people would have done in the same situation. Following the river out, leaving some clothing to mark where you had been, and hiking down to get out are all things I think other people would have done in the same situation. I wondered why they felf “trapped” at the end but now I understand. They basically climbed into a hole surrounded by mountain face, cliffs, waterfall, etc. That is why John Donovan could not get out because he had the added problem of being injured during a snowstorm.

    What makes this episode unique is understanding that someone else died in that exact same spot. Finding a dead body, actually seeing it, would definitely put a sense of reality into the seriousness of the situation.

    People do not realize how common getting lost is when you are unfamiliar with your surroundings. I once went to a place called the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and was surprised to find out it is a big place for cliff climbing. The place and what it is known for reminded me of that movie Wrong Turn. Every year it seems like someone either falls into the Gorge or people end up missing. In the forest there are these paper signs on trees that say the following:
    “Since (some year), over (some thousand) people have gone missing or been injured in this area.” Then the sign states that you are at least 50 miles from the nearest hospital so be very careful about not getting injured.

    The theme of this is that two people from Texas could not have known what to expect in California because I would never have thought that Kentucky, which I think of as being rolling blue grass hills with lots of horses is a place you go for cliff-climbing(I forget what the sport is called).

    One could say they should have gone this way or that, but the ironic thing is maybe the morale of the story is that hiking into a hole was the best way out. They got out of the gorge alive. Alot of people do not.

  • Mike

    First I wanted to say I am glad Brandon and Gina are safe, that’s the most important part. I watched the show and read their story which was very intriguing. They made it through class 4 climbs without a rope or any climbing equipment which is amazing. The class difficulty was confirmed by RMRU, which had a hard time recovering John Donovan’s body due to the terrain being so steep and all the brush. RMRU had machetes and climbing gear, but still had a hard time. Brandon and Gina had nothing but their clothes which were not suited for the mountain. And I realize how easy it is to get disoriented in the woods I have experienced it myself. I think Gina explained it well with losing your car in the parking lot. And from everything I have read about survival I would have done the same thing and started descending to a lower altitude to avoid hypothermia. And survivalists say follow a source of water out so you don’t become dehydrated, and the stream will lead to civilization. In their case they could see the lights from Palm Springs I am sure. So to all the skeptics I say don’t judge until you put yourself in someone else’s situation. I was so intrigued by the story I just wanted to know more. I found the route taken on Brandon’s link that led to Long Valley. But, could only find bits and pieces on how John Donovan ended up in the same location. So I researched and found information (from Backpacker Magazine, RMRU, and other posts on how he got to the same location which follows:
    John Donovan was and experience ultralight hiker, hiking 100 days a year and had been hiking for 20 years. His plans were to hike the Pacific Crest Trail which spans from Mexico to Canada . By the time Donavan began climbing Mt. San Jacinto on May 2, 2005, the signs of danger were real. Snow was 3 feet deep up high, and the weather report was predicting a heavy storm. Many hikers decided to wait out the storm in Idyllwild. These hikers feared the storm would hit as they were climbing Fuller Ridge, a steep, rocky spine rising to 8,725 feet about 5 miles north of Saddle Junction. Around noon on May 3, when 3 well-equipped hikers whipped down the ridge and encountered Dovovan, they warned him that they’d seen clouds sweeping in. “But we weren’t going to change his mind,” says one of the hikers Brian Barnhart. “He was emphatic about going up Fuller Ridge.” Duane Steiner, a photographer also remembered Donovan as overconfident.” He told Donovan that he would need to buy an ice axe to do Fuller Ridge, but he rejected the advice. As an ultralight hiker weight is always a determining factor and Donovan probably thought an Ice Axe would slow him down. Around 1:00 PM on May 3, Donovan likely began to have doubts. He climbed into Little Tahquitz Valley, just south of Saddle Junction, and found that the trail partly visible until then, was now concealed by snow. Donovan sought help from two other hikers Connie Davis and her son Alex, both of whom had extensive altitude experience. Connie an Alex didn’t take the most direct route staying around 8,000 feet (Marker C) See Map. Donovan stayed about 30 feet behind them. He’d put on crampons, but the spikes didn’t work well with the lightweight trail runners, and he slipped and fell repeatedly. Eventually the Davises followed a small creek uphill and turned northwest roughly half mile south of Saddle Junction (Marker A). “That’s where we saw him last” Connie Davis said. It was about 8,080 feet on the afternoon of May 3. “He was very close to Saddle Junction. There was patchy snow at this point, and you could see hints of the trails.” No one knows what Donovan did next. No one ever saw him alive again. Per Backpacker magazine
    Authorities now know from Donovan’s notes that when he parted company with the Davises on May 3, and tried to detour west down to Idyllwild. But no way to navigate he became disoriented. Donovan only carried a map, no compass or any other navigational tools. With 3 feet of snow in the mountains and a fresh 8 inches of snow there was no way to see the trail or any footsteps that might have been on the trails. In John Donovan’s notes he wrote “couldn’t find the trail to Idyllwild”. So instead he cut away from Idyllwild, drawn by the lights of much larger Palm Springs. Traversing about 3 miles northeast from the Saddle Junction area that night, he traversed skinny Willow Creek (around Marker E), then climbed a small ridge and plunged down into a steep gash called Hidden Valley (Marker B). As he dipped lower, heartier climate zones, the brush became nasty and thick, the talus rifle with scrub oak and Manzanita. Donovan’s journal places him in Long Valley; at about 4,300 feet (Marker D), 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. Donovan didn’t elaborate. But clearly the ordeal of the past few days had landed him in trouble. He wrote the he had already become too weak to climb up out of the canyon. Which would have been around a 4,000 vertical foot climb in a little over a mile. As for going down there was a water fall that was around 100 feet with vertical gorge walls that couldn’t be climbed. This is what Donovan was referring to when he wrote “NO WAY OUT”. This is what is referred to as a terrain trap. As you can see on the Topo map between Marker B and Marker D the contour lines become closer together as you approach Marker D. Each line represents a 20 foot drop in elevation. Therefore the closer the lines the steeper the terrain becomes. Also, note the TOPO lines right after Marker D become very close together in the creek. This could cause the water falls, with canyon walls which made it impassable. Too steep to climb out of, and too steep to go down means terrain trap. The terrain was so steep and filled with Brush RMRU had a hard time getting to the site to locate and recover Donovan’s body. Per Backpacker Magazine, RMRU John Donovan Body Recovery Mission
    Note while saving the link for the map the markers changed order. Donovan’s route was from the South moving North East approximate from above accounts, C to A to E to B to D. The approximate steps Donavan followed would be as follows on a TOPO Map  link to map.
    The reason it took so long to find Donovan’s body is because this is not a hiking route. It is extremely steep terrain, and I doubt search and rescue would have taken a chance going down this route unless they had evidence that he could be there.

    The hyperlink didnt show up for the map so here is the link:,-116.62923&z=14&t=T&marker0=33.76861%2C-116.66835%2C1.0%20mi%20NxNE%20of%20Tahquitz%20Peak%20CA&marker1=33.79955%2C-116.63828%2C2.5%20mi%20ExSE%20of%20San%20Jacinto%20Peak%20CA&marker2=33.76506%2C-116.66330%2C0.9%20mi%20NE%20of%20Tahquitz%20Peak%20CA&marker3=33.79657%2C-116.60846%2C3.2%20mi%20NW%20of%20Agua%20Caliente%20Indian%20Reservation%20CA&marker4=33.78394%2C-116.65727%2C2.2%20mi%20NxNE%20of%20Tahquitz%20Peak%20CA

  • Day Early

    Just returned from hiking in the exact vicinity of where the couple was lost. Without knowing anything about hiking and just wandering around, the two are sooooooo lucky to have survived. Its an area that is tough enough for someone experienced. The area is rugged and dangerous. A search and rescue person told me that its common for lost hikers to see Palm Springs down below and try to head that direction BUT by headed that direction, the lost hikers enter into the most dangerous parts of the mountains. Cliffs, cliffs, and impassable terrain.

  • raluca

    hy….my name is Raluca from romania.I just watched the show and i was amazed by what you, brandon and gina had experienced….no one should have to pass throught what you both did…..brandon, you really impresed me,…you are a sensitive guy, noble, and your tears really maked me cry also….thank god you are both ok…I thought that this event maked the two of you to never be apart……but..thats the way life is…..god bless you both!……… live a message if you want to now me

    best regards,
    Gradinaru Andrei Raluca

  • David

    Brandon and Gina have got to be the dumbest two people on earth. They get lost when there are people so close to them that they can hear there voices. They don’t take there cell phones with them. I can go on and on. Oh, and Gina gives up her faith after only 3 days???? Come on. lol I noticed it came right back when they were rescued. HaHa

  • CJ

    Brandon & Gina, I’m curious to know if you guys “did it” while lost out there? Thinking maybe it would be the last time either of you would be able to do it again.

  • indiresha

    do any one know about how we can contact Gina Allen on Facebook or MySpace please let me know…

  • http://Yahoo.comorFacebook Eileen Deery

    I watched your Movie to-day “I Shouldn’t be Alive” What an amazing story.

    The thing that helped you both was Gina’s FAITH She prayed to St. Christopher, the patron Saint of
    all Travellers. That prayer she found in John Donovan’s wallet. She must have prayed really hard.
    I must say I have gotten almost everything I’ve prayed for, with the belief if its God’s will. If I didn’t get
    exactly what I wanted , it was given in a way I never expected. ThatSs what you call FAITH

  • http://Facebook Eileen Deery

    Please print my Comment on Facebook