Beloved PCT Trail Angel, Donna Saufley of Hiker Heaven, Succumbs to Brain Cancer
At 6:30am this morning, Donna Saufley, the legendary PCT trail angel passed away. Per a statement by relative Floyd Saufley on the family’s gofundme page, “This ends a long and difficult battle not just for her but also for Jeff, Tommy and those friends and family that have been at her side these past 8 months. Please provide your thoughts of support and condolence to Jeff and Tommy on this difficult Day.”
This tragic news comes after nearly a year spent in treatment and recovery since cancer was discovered in February.
“On February 24th Donna was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. This condition came as a complete surprise, as Donna was healthy and active right up to that point. Within 5 days of the initial diagnosis, Donna had to undergo intrusive brain surgery to remove the tumor. Although most of the cancer was removed some could not be, typical of the difficulty with this type of malignant brain tumor. As a result of the surgery, Donna suffered a post-operative stroke. As a result of the stroke her speech and some cognitive capacities have been affected as well as her ability to move her right side. The stroke has left her unable to walk, dress, shower, or care for herself so she is now dependent on round-the-clock care from caregivers (primarily Jeff). Donna and Jeff are now engaged in the long and hard process of cancer treatment, which will involve many months of both radiation and chemotherapy. Donna is still in phenomenally high spirits with her characteristic optimistic attitude as they get ready for the long-term battle with this cancer.”
Later updates from relative Russell Anderson, painted a hopeful picture as Donna’s recovery progressed, even to the point of walking under her own power. Later, however, in September Anderson passed along the tough news that her condition had declined and that she had been put on hospice care.
With her passing, Donna leaves behind a legacy of what it truly means to be a trail angel. She was an example of true selflessness and generosity to the many thousands of hikers that she hosted in over twenty years of opening her home and life to PCT thru-hikers.
A gofundme page was started to help the family with expenses relating to Donna’s treatment, and as of writing, has raised over $105,000.
Donna Saufley: The Definition of a “Trail Angel”
For over twenty years, Donna and her husband, Jeff, aided by a rotating volunteer cast of cooky characters, hosted weary PCT hikers on their two-acre homestead located in the sleepy town of Agua Dulce in Southern California. What began as an accidental dive into trail angeling, gradually grew into a full-blown institution.
The desert community lacked many of the basic things that hikers needed, so Donna and Jeff filled in the gaps, creating a welcoming oasis where hikers could regroup after the rugged stretch of trail through the San Gabriel Mountains. By accepting resupply packages and giving rides into town, including an REI over 30 miles away, they turned a logistically challenging location into one of the most anticipated stops along the entire PCT. During the hot spring days in the SoCal desert, hikers would anticipate Hiker Heaven as much as other guaranteed highlights such as the High Sierra. After their visit, they would carry on renewed, ready for the final push to Kennedy Meadows.
Over the two decades since hosting their first hiker in 1997, Hiker Heaven had grown to accommodate up to 70 travelers per night during the brunt of NOBO season, though many estimate that there were sometimes more. Provided amenities included, beds, laundry, showers, cooking facilities, and ample places to hang out, rest, repair, and relax. With the ever-increasing popularity of the PCT, the Saufley’s were eventually hosting thousands of thru-hikers per year.
And so it is that the vast majority of the PCT trail community, and many more, mourn Donna’s passing and remember her kindness and selfless zeal for offering a helping hand. From before the age of the internet, when she and Jeff would host as few as a dozen hikers during a season, through the post-Wild explosion of PCT thru-hikers when the trail’s popularity grew exponentially year after year, Donna was there to greet hikers and welcome them with open arms into her home.
She poured her spirit into the trail community, contributing to the magic of the PCT and thru-hiking culture, to the benefit of everyone, whether they knew her or not. Donna’s generosity and love for the hiking community will not be forgotten.
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