This weekend’s Donner Party Hike sells out
October 5, 2005
The 13th annual Donner Party Hike will kick off Saturday morning with nearly 300 participants – almost all of them from out of town – exploring eight different trails.Nearly 95 percent of this year’s hike participants are visitors from the Bay Area, Reno, and as far away as Southern California, which leaves event organizers wondering where the local interest has gone.”There are so many little Sierra jewels that many locals don’t even know about, and that can’t be found without a knowledgeable guide,” said event coordinator Kathy Hess. “I guess locals take for granted the history of their own backyard. Trails like the ones we cover might be on their to-do lists, but often get left for another day.”Guides will talk about the Stephens and Donner parties, teach the region’s geography and topography, and remind hikers of California’s unique history. This year hike participants will have the opportunity to explore the Pacific Crest Trail; railroad tunnels with views of Donner Lake; Roller Pass, where emigrants waited for days for their turn to winch their wagons up the granite slope; plus a handful of other historic and archeological hot spots. After a morning of emigrant exploration, survivors will be treated to a barbecue lunch and presentations by Leigh Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Truckee Trails Foundation; Frank Mullen Jr., author of Donner Party Chronicles; and a speaker from the Truckee Donner Land Trust. Even though 165 years have passed since the Donner Party forged its path, trails are still a vital element of Sierra living, and therefore much of the lunch-time discussions will stem from that topic, Fitzpatrick said.”We will be talking about where Truckee stands as a trail building town and what is on the horizon as far as new trails,” he said. “Slowly but surely our biking and trail infrastructure is growing and we are getting closer to completing Truckee Trail’s Mater Plan.”
Sunday’s activities will be less strenuous than Saturday’s with an interpretive session and walking tour that explores the encampment where the Donner Party spent its fateful winter. A presentation will be given about the archeological finds in the area and there will also be a viewing of the Murphy Cabin site and Pioneer Monument. Grab your bootsAlthough this weekend’s guided tours of the Donner Party trails are sold out, maps are available for hikers every day from the Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park. The museum can be reached at 582-7892 and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. DONNER PARTY TIMELINE
As told by Frank Mullen Jr. in his Donner Party Chronicles.”The Picnic”• March 1846: George Donner runs a classified ad in a Springfield, Ill., newspaper in search of people interested in joining his wagon train.• May 12: The assembled team crosses the Missouri River and heads into the wilderness.• July 12: The party arrives in Independence Rock, Wyo.”The Short cut”
• July 19: The fatal decision is made to try an unproved short cut to California. It was thought that the unproved route was going to save the travelers several hundred miles and two weeks of travel. But in reality it added 125 miles and more than a month of time. Separated and hungry, members of the party reached Reno through the last week of October.• Oct. 31: With snows already piling up in the Sierra, the Donner Party finally reaches Donner Lake. They have only 100 miles left to reach the Sacramento Valley.”The Disaster”• Nov 1: In the first hours of the night a huge storm hits the Sierra, blanketing everything in dense snow cover. For 20 days the group attempts different routes and methods to ascend the summit, but are finally forced to surrender and wait out the winter.• Of 81 people who arrived at Donner that October, nearly half died of cold, starvation, and illness.• The last surviving Donner Party member was rescued on April 23, 1847, more than one year after leaving the Midwest.