Body of British Hiker Esther Dingley Found in Pyrenees

Esther Dingley. Photo: Dan Colegate

The body of Esther Dingley has been found in the Pyrenees by her partner of 18 years, Dan Colegate.

Her family confirmed that Colegate found her body and equipment on August 9 in a rugged area around the Pic de la Glère, in the French Pyrenees near the border with Spain. Colegate has searched relentlessly for her since her disappearance.

Following the discovery, her family said that an accident is the likeliest explanation of what happened to her. A full investigation is underway.

Esther Dingley and Dan Colegate. Photo: Dan Colegate

Two weeks ago, two Spanish hikers came across a skull while walking in the mountains. DNA testing confirmed that it belonged to Dingley. The rest of her body could not be found, and French police told The Guardian that it appeared that an animal had moved the skull to that location.

Colegate and Dingley met while studying at Oxford University. After graduating, they moved to Durham, in northeast England. They lived a fairly normal life until Colegate nearly died after an operation in 2014. They then decided to go on a year-long campervan tour of Europe, filled with hiking and cycling.

Six years later, they were still on the road exploring. “We are genuinely happy now,” they told the BBC a few days before Dingley disappeared.

Over the years they lived in France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, and Lichtenstein. They hiked and cycled thousands of kilometres across Europe, spending many summers in the Alps or the Pyrenees. They spent most of the time together but occasionally went on solo trips for a few weeks. It was on her last solo that Dingley vanished eight months ago.

Photo: Dan Colegate

“Just one more hike,” she told him

In November 2020, Dingley was solo hiking through the Pyrenees while Colegate was house-sitting in a French farmhouse 160km away. During their month apart, they spoke most days. Dingley was about to come home but told Colegate, “Just one more hike because the weather is still so good.”

Dingley didn’t contact him on the day that she said was the absolute latest that she would return. It was very unlike her. He started to panic and reported her missing, trying to convince himself that she would be found quickly.

“As that first day ticked by, the prospect that she wasn’t going to be found so easily began to creep over me like a cold sweat,” he told the BBC. The last day that she was seen or spoken to was November 22, three days before she was supposed to return. Within that week, Colegate said, his world fell apart.

The routes Dan Colegate has taken in his search. Image: Dan Colegate/BBC

Unable to sit and do nothing, Colegate went to the Pyrenees and began to search himself. However, between December and March, deep snow covers everything and progress is impossible.

When spring came, he returned to the mountains. Since March, he has hiked 1,130km through the mountains and ascended 100,000m, trying to cover every accessible corner of Dingley’s route.

When his friends told him that it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, he disagreed. “You can find a needle in a haystack,” he told them, “if you’re willing to study every strand, one at a time.”

Nevertheless, this week he sadly found the needle he had been looking for. Some of her equipment was with her remains. However, her yellow tent was not there.

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About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK.

She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans and aims to dive and open-water swim in as many seas as possible.

Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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Marie
Marie
1 month ago

That is a heart-breaking story.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
1 month ago

Amazing determination on his part. May she rest in peace.

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