The initial days of the 1st Relief journey after leaving Johnson Ranch on February 4th, 1847, were foreshadowing what lay ahead: hypothermia, near drowning, exhaustion, mutiny and despair.
They encountered a torrent of rain for 2 1/2 days accompanied by bitterly cold temperatures as they struggled their way through the muddy rolling foothills of the eastern Sierra. Unable to set up proper camp, they resorting to sleeping on their feet best they could, as they shivered around the evening fire, drying their clothing hung on their increasingly emaciated bodies.
40 miles into their journey they came upon Steep Hollow, a typically unremarkable narrow stream which drained mountain water from above Bear Valley into the Bear River north of Dutch Flat. The canyon narrows here and the walls are arduous. Instead it was a flood of icy snow melt, 40 feet wide and waist deep violently unearthing everything in it’s path. The men felled a tall tree and attempted to walk across, then cajoling the steeds to ford the deluge. One of the horses fell and went hooves up under the tree, washing to shore 100 yards below. Several of the men nearly drowned recovering the horse. It took the relief party a tremendous exertion and the majority of daylight to successfully reach the eastern shore. It was energy and time they could not spare.
After skirting along the narrow northern-facing ridge of Camel Hump, a 3,500’ protrusion amidst the Bear River canyon, the bedraggled band reached Mule Springs ten miles later and camped. Here they encounter their first snow. This flat meadow surrounded by forest situated at 4,000’ elevation with a large spring was an oasis compared to what the troupe had encountered prior. But they’d hoped the snow line would be higher and thus another omen of the rugged path ahead.
The men were frozen, soaked to the bone, exhausted and frustrated by their lack of progress. It had been 5 days since they departed Johnson Ranch and they’d only made 55 miles. Something had to change.