Expedition Summary

In the winter of 1846, eighty or so members of the Donner Party, a group of men, women and children, became snowbound and trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. They were among the first pioneers seeking a better life in California, their Manifest Destiny

Hoping to find help, on December 16th seventeen of the emigrants – 10 men (4 were fathers), 5 women (3 were mothers) and 2 children – set out on snowshoes in a desperate attempt to cross the mountains and reach a settlement near Sacramento 100 miles away. After enduring punishing physical, mental and emotional hardship, only seven survived. The rest met a horrible fate. Together, this brave group became known as the Forlorn Hope.

The Forlorn Hope is a 33-day saga that has captivated historians and adventurers for nearly two centuries. However, little is known about their precise route or their physical, mental and emotional state throughout the ordeal. 

To the best of our ability, our goal is to provide a historically accurate map of the Forlorn Hope journey and explore the multi-dimensional persona of each member; their history, character and motivations. 

We will consider the human survival instinct and reflect upon the fateful 48 hours in which the Forlorn Hope crossed the thin veil of civility.

Details of Expedition


To honor the Forlorn Hope, a never before attempted 100-mile winter crossing on foot across the Sierra Nevada mountains from Donner Lake to Johnson’s Ranch, California, retracing their route.


 Pioneer Monument at Donner Memorial State Park December 16th, 2020 from the Donner Museum at the east end of Donner Lake, CA, exactly 174 years to the day of the commencement of the Forlorn Hope journey (December 16, 1846). [weather permitting]


Bob Crowley and Tim Twietmeyer, veteran ultra-distance trail runners who have been researching and field surveying the route for seven years, accompanied by Jennifer Hemmen, a versatile ultra-distance and adventure athlete and Elke Reimer, a veteran ultra-distance runner, backpacker and trail steward.


It is anticipated it will take the team 5-6 days to complete the expedition. The route will take them up and over the eastern Sierra at Donner Pass (7,057’), across the high chaparral, into and across the daunting North Fork American River canyon and down the foothills to the northern Sacramento Valley. Deep snow and frigid temperatures are anticipated, requiring much of the journey be done in snowshoes and wilderness arctic gear. Progressing 10 to 35 miles per day, the hikers will set camp each evening close to where they believe several notable camps including Starve Camp and the Camp of Death were struck by the Forlorn Hope.

Why and Deliverables

1. Appreciate the history, character and motivations of each Forlorn Hope member, the obstacles they encountered and insights into their psyche throughout their ordeal,

2. Share important new historical information and maps regarding the believed route of the Forlorn Hope,

3. Honor and reflect upon the seventeen souls who dared this selfless and desperate act.


The adventurers will keep a daily journal during their journey. A film crew will be embedded to capture the conditions, terrain and team interaction. A GPS tracking system will trace the team’s movements live over the internet. Anyone can follow the expedition beginning December 16th here: share.garmin.com/MTN200S

As an expression of respect, each team member will carry cards with each Forlorn Hope member’s photo and brief bio as a reminder of their struggle. Following the completion of the trek, team members will assemble a presentation of their journey, sharing observations and impressions regarding the trail, conditions and obstacles encountered, and insight into the Forlorn Hope members.