Forlorn Hope retraces Donner Party steps

Keith Sutter |

Four Californian ultrarunners left Donner Lake on Dec. 16, 2020, on snowshoes to cross the Sierra in a reprise of the 1846 winter journey of the Donner Party’s Forlorn Hope, according to a press release.

Recreating one of the most renowned journeys in American pioneer history, the team wanted to establish the route taken by the ill-fated group.

The story of the Forlorn Hope has captured the imagination of friends and trail runners, Bob Crowley and Tim Twietmeyer, for more than 7 years leading them to spend much of their spare time delving into every aspect of the story. With Elke Reimer and Jennifer Hemmen completing the expedition team, the group set off on the route researched by Crowley and Twietmeyer, starting with considerably less snow than faced by the pioneers, 174 years before.

In the winter of 1846, 80 or so members of the Donner Party became snowbound and trapped in the Sierra Nevada. On Dec. 16, 17 of the emigrants set out on snowshoes in a desperate attempt to reach a settlement 100 miles away and find help. After enduring punishing physical, mental and emotional hardship, only seven survived. The rest met a terrible fate. Together, this brave group became known as the Forlorn Hope.

Carrying cards featuring details and photographs of each member of the original Forlorn Hope party, the team aimed to spend time reflecting on the ordeal faced by the group.

The journey of 100.7 miles was completed by the team in 5 days, it took the Forlorn Hope group 33 days to reach help in 1846. The team today arrived at the trail’s end safe and well, holding the cards representing the members of the Forlorn Hope. The group held a short commemoration ceremony to the pioneers, after being met by a small number of family and friends.

The expedition members aim to further document their experiences using various media in the future including articles, exhibitions, possible material for schools, and plans for a documentary film. They are in contact with several descendants of the original pioneers and hope to meet with some of them in the coming year. |