David O'Sullivan

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

David O'Sullivan was 25-years-old when he left his County Cork home and boarded a plane for the trip of a lifetime.

David was headed for the Pacific Crest Trail, a five month hike from Southern California to Canada with over two and a half thousand miles of outstanding yet challenging terrain. But David never returned home from his trip, and two years later, an ocean away, his family are still waiting for answers.

David had spent a lot of time preparing for his trip, regularly tackling Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Ireland, with weights and transforming his parent's garage into a mini gym. He had been hiking for two and a half weeks when he found himself in Idyllwild, a small mountain town at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountain.

Idyllwild is a popular holiday spot, the air permeated by the sweet smell of pines, and the picturesque landscape a sea of leafy green; a town so wholesome its mayor is a Golden Retriever. David arrived there on April 5 and spent the night at the Idyllwild Inn, family-owned accommodation that boasts exactly the kind of cosy wood cabins you might expect from a mountain getaway.

We know from correspondence with his family that David had plans to hike on the morning of the 7th. He had been waiting for an adaptor for his Kindle to arrive at the post office, and was considering waiting until it opened until he set off the next day, but he was concerned that it may interfere with his schedule. It is not known whether he tried to pick up the adaptor or not, but it is certain he never received it as it ended up back at the retailer. An email he sent on that very same morning would be the last communication that David ever made.

There was unusual weather on the San Jacinto Mountain that year, with an unusual amount of snow for so early in the season. There are numerous trails up the mountain, with Devil's Slide being by far the most popular. But just one day before David was last seen, a hiker reported getting a mile into the trail before encountering snow and turning back around.

David had no alpine experience, but he had told other hikers he had no intention of hiking the snow, and he did not buy any snow equipment prior to his journey. He did make a $70 purchase at the local outdoor store Nomad's, but the item was not registered on their point of sale. According to the store, all their snow equipment would have been. David was also using a Halfmile map, a brand specially created for the Pacific Crest Trial. The map advised hikers to hike up Black Mountain Road when snow was present in order to avoid the most dangerous part of the terrain.

David had been working hard at a garage and saved for a year to go on his Pacific Crest adventure. He had visited an ATM before he set off up the mountain, but only withdrew enough to buy more food at his next stop. A sizeable amount was left in his account and has not been touched since that final transaction. At home, David's mother Carmel and father Con were becoming increasingly concerned.

David had warned them that there may be periods of several weeks where he would not be able to get in touch but, feeling that something was wrong, his parents contacted the Pacific Crest Trail Association in April. They were told to sit tight and wait to see if David showed up in Santa Barbara. He had arranged to meet a friend there in May, but sure enough he never turned up. Carmel and Con called back, only to be told that the association was not a babysitting service and that there was nothing they could do. As a result, David was not officially reported missing until June 30, 12 weeks since he had last been seen.

A search was launched in White Water Preserve, an area just north of the San Jacinto Mountain which would have been en route to David's next scheduled stop. Yet despite the use of helicopters, dogs and ATVs, the search and rescue team drew a complete blank. With no evidence of foul play, there has been little in the way of official investigation since then.

Several hikers have called in eyewitness statements, thinking they may have seen David at some point on the trail. But none of these sightings has been positively confirmed, with most vaguely referring to a hiker with an accent. It has since become known that there was a German man who bears a striking resemblance to David on the trail, and it is possible that some people may have got the two confused.

Carmel and Con have made several trips over the US in the year and a half since David disappeared. But they are all too aware of the fate that befalls most missing hikers. 22-year-old Jacob Gray went missing from Washington's Olympic National Park on April 6 2017, just one day before David was last seen. His remains were located in August of this year.

Despite the length of time that has passed and with little help from the authorities, there is one group of people who have come together, determined to bring David home. On an almost daily basis volunteers, largely from San Diego's Irish community, scour the mountain on foot and on horse, looking for any sign of the missing man. Drones are being flown over, grid by grid, while people on the ground comb through thousands of images for that one elusive clue.

As the months turn into years, and the glimmer of hope gets ever dimmer, the search for David is kept alive by the generous hearts of the group's volunteers. Because they know he is out there somewhere. And they won't rest until they find him.