The journey that four athletes are making from Donner Lake to Johnson’s Ranch near Wheatland to honor a Donner Party expedition in 1846 has been in the making for the last seven years.
Bill Oudegeest is a member of the Donner Summit Historical Society (DSHS). He said two of the athletes Tim Twietmeyer and Bob Crowley have been researching the journey known as Forlorn Hope made by 17 members of the Donner Party to a settlement near Sacramento for years.
In the winter of 1846, about 80 members of the Donner Party became snowbound and trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains and sent 10 men, five women and two children on a 100-mile journey to find help. Seven survived the 33-day trip.
Crowley, Twietmeyer, Jennifer Hemmen and Elke Reimer began their re-creation of the Forlorn Hope Journey on Wednesday, 174 years to the day after the original journey.
Oudegeest said two years ago, Crowley and Twietmeyer approached the DSHS with their idea of recreating the Forlorn Hope.
“We jumped on board because it sounded like a wonderful idea to tell the little-old story and to celebrate their feat, sacrificing themselves for their friends and families back at Donner Lake,” Oudegeest said in an email. “It’s also a ‘man bites dog’ kind of story that will attract attention.”
DSHS began thanks to the collection of historic photographs of longtime Donner resident Norm Sayler. Margie Powell started the society to make use of the photos. DSHS has a museum in Soda Springs, a monthly free newsletter about local history so people can access stories, lead hikes related to Donner’s history, according to Oudegeest.
He said the logistics to make the journey possible involved dozens of people to provide equipment, food, publicity, photography, filming and support.
“The biggest issue was divining the route of the original group,” Oudegeest said.
The team is expecting to complete the trip in five to six days. The route will take them up and over the eastern Sierra at Donner Pass, across the high chaparral, into and across the North Fork American River canyon and down the foothills to the northern Sacramento Valley.
“The route is as close to the original as it is possible now to figure out,” Oudegeest said. “There are modern issues of reservoirs and private property but the laid out 2020 route is pretty close. Keep in mind no one made a map in those days.”
Oudegeest said the team will be going 20-25 miles a day and have 15,000 feet of elevation gain and 20,000 feet of elevation loss.
“It’s some of the most rugged parts of the Sierra,” Oudegeest said. “Since there has not been much snow, fighting brush, some with thorns, will be a problem. These are extreme athletes, though, who like hundred-mile ventures.”
The plan is for the team to do a marathon distance of 27 miles on Sunday.
“The accomplishment will be completing the trip, validating their research, bringing attention to a little known story, and paying tribute to those long-ago pioneers who sacrificed themselves and had to make terribly hard decisions,” Oudegeest said.
On Wednesday, the team covered 20 miles of the 100-mile trip, doing 85 percent of that distance in snow shoes, according to Forlorn Hope Expedition public relations representative Judy DePuy.
“The 1846 Forlorn Hope party was exhausted and starving,” DePuy said in an email. “They took several fateful wrong turns, one of which took them into the American River canyon rather than Bear Valley. They kept taking what they thought was the easiest route only to face unimaginable hurdles.”
The team camped overnight next to the Yuba River. It took the original group four days to do the distance the 2020 team did on Wednesday. DePuy said there will be a small and short ceremony when the team reaches its destination. Johnson’s Ranch is on private property so only a few people with permission will be on hand.
“We also think the team will be exhausted and will want a shower and a good meal,” DePuy said.
To follow the team’s progress visit, forlornhope.org.