You are currently viewing Day 1: Hope

Day 1: Hope

Following is the account of Day 1 of the Forlorn Hope Expedition-12/16/20

We traveled 20 miles in one day, it took Forlorn Hope 4 days to reach the same place. These were days of hope for the party. Stanton, their leader, was failing but still with them. They’d made 6 miles one of the days – very good progress. The sun was shining, skies clear. Oh how they must have been dreaming that in a few short days, they’d be at Johnson’s Ranch with warmth, shelter, food and people to help their loved ones back at the lake.

Little did they know in the next 48 hours it would all change…


We discussed how hard it must have been to trudge thru the deep snow, with crude snowshoes and scant provisions. We were on snowshoes 85% of today. It was exhausting!

The scenery was jaw dropping. A light fog settled over Donner Lake at sunup when we departed. As we ascended to Donner Pass, we turned around to see a magical sight of light, serenity and calm. The still lake with a layer of rising fog lifting to the blue heavens above. A few tears may have been shed.

We witnessed the same features and topography as the Forlorn Hope: Donner Pass, the snowy meadow of Norden, the boulder field with Devil’s Peak looming behind. Kidd and Cascade Lakes and the Yuba River where we camped. We camped next to the Yuba, where the Steven’s- Townsend-Murphy Party had wintered one year before. History engulfed us, swirled through the pines as the weather shifted from fair to stormy.

The cloud arrived in the evening followed by rain, then heavy wet snow which accumulated upon our tents. Everything was soaked, it was cold, miserable. As it should be since those were precisely the conditions Forlorn Hope encountered. But we had warmth, shelter and provisions – minimal suffering.

Around our fire pit we swapped stories of the Forlorn Hope and Donner Party for hours. Then, with our bellies full (we burn an average of 12,000 calories a day each) and tongues tired, we crawled into our tents for a long winter’s nap. And dreamt about hope, and what tomorrow would bring.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Pam Walsh

    Hi! I am very interested in your journey. I currently live in Wheatland, recently moved here from San Diego. Will you be having a celebration when you reach Wheatland? Will it be open to the public? I am fascinated by the Donner party and all their stories. I wish you all luck!

    1. Kathy

      Hi Pam, Thank you for contacting! Johnson’s Ranch, is located on private property and inaccessible except with permission from the land owner and coordinated with the Wheatland Historical Society. There will not be a celebration. The finish will be documented on this website and Forlorn Hope Expedition Facebook page. Thanks! Kathy T.

  2. Randy Seevers

    Good stuff! I look forward to your future posts. Stay safe!! ~ Randy

  3. Leslie Dunn

    I am following you all the way….best of luck!

  4. Nick Mackenzie

    Very cool! Wish I were with you in person. At age 10 I crossed Donner Pass on US 40 at night in a blizzard on 1 December 1960 helping my mother follow the tail lights of a propane truck as she drove a VW Bus to our new home in Squaw Valley. Attending 5th grade at Tahoe Elementary School, our teacher, Ms. Farr taught us all about the history of the Tahoe Basin including the Donner Party story. During the summer of 1970, as a USFS Trail Crew member, I returned to re-establish hiking trails off the Pass north of the new I-80 and placed signs marking the boundaries of the just established “Granite Chief Motor-vehicle Closure Area”. I returned every winter for the next 10 years to x-country ski past “Ice Lakes” now called Serene Lakes down to Rainbow Lodge as well as over to Squaw Valley. Then later I returned with my family to ski Sugar Bowl. Your inspiring trip is brining all of those magnificent memories back. Thank you and best of luck

  5. Dave Beeche

    Great stuff Bob – loving following this adventure and sounds incredible! Good luck tomorrow!

    1. Joanne

      You group is awesome!

  6. David Stryker

    Amazing research that you did to come up with the route. Are you going cross country and trail blazing, or using existing trails and/or roads when they follow the general route that you are following?

  7. Diane

    I used to manage a Visitor Center for the Forest Service at Big Bend, where the new fire station is now. The Visitor Center was torn down 10-15 years ago. We focused more on the Stevens-Townsend-Murphy party, who crossed close to the same route as Forlorn Hope did, but a few years prior. They camped where the Forest Service compound is at Big Bend today. We used to lead walks out onto the rocks just east of the compound where you can still see evidence of the many wagons that crossed there in the Gold Rush years. Look for rust marks on the edges of rocks where the metal wheel hub left behind its mark. There is( was) a pine tree on the edge of a drop off that had an unnatural looking bend in the trunk. It was used to lower wagons over this drop off with a rope. There were, maybe still are, a few interpretive signs out there. There was someone who had a cabin across the street who found traces of the emigrant trail continuing west from Big Bend that are probably still unrecognized to this day, he put small round signs on trees where he found what he thought were traces of the trail. What you are doing is bringing it all back, be safe everyone.

  8. Karl Ahlrichs

    Thank you so much for permitting us to follow along…

  9. Thor's Hammer

    Watching your progress. Have been interested in the route they took through that gorge for years! Understand why you stick to the roads as much as you do (legal, safety, and convenience reasons)… one can only imagine how difficult it was for people in the physical shape and with the backgrounds of the actual party way back when.

    Looking forward to browsing the photographs and hope y’all do a fireside chat event after the fact.

  10. Patricia L Rittenhouse

    Your words have transported me from sunny Florida to the breath taking vistas of Northern Nevada. I am with you in spirit! Bon voyage..

  11. Jeff Adams

    Everyone is watching!!!!! More pictures please.

  12. Laurie R.

    Good luck! Fascinating!

  13. Brenda Gillarde

    Just discovered the website and learned of this amazing journey you are taking. I am actually a descendant of the Graves family. My maternal grandmother was a Graves. Would love to get in touch to learn how I can find out more about my relatives. Please advise the best way to do that. I will be following you closely these next days. Stay warm! Be safe!

  14. Catherine Hendrickson

    I live in Springfield, Illinois and am fascinated by your expedition. Thank you for doing this and including all of us interested in this history. The Donner Party’s shear determination and undaunted spirit of survival is an element that needs remembered and preserved. Congratulations for helping us understand the Donner Party’s true grit. Thank you all and stay safe.

  15. Brenda Owen

    I have always been consumed by the pioneers. My cousin said I must have been one in a past life! I have watched you through this process and can only imagine the feelings you all felt while walking in their footsteps.
    Thank you so much!

  16. Colline Winters

    I have lived in Nevada my whole life. My history teacher in high school assigned us to read the book Ordeal by Hunger. For extra credit we had to track down all the history markers and take our picture with it. That was a lot of fun! I hope that a documentary is made on this expedition your on! That would be awesome!

Leave a Reply