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.