In a sign of the troubles to come, the Donner party finds a note warning the emigrants that their expected route through the mountains ahead is nearly impassable.
The two leaders of the Donner Party persuaded the pioneers to leave the trail and take one that was allegedly shorter. The leaders were told of this trail by a guide called Lansford Hastings. Hastings was not actually with the party but he left a note telling them that he would meet them and guide them on the new shorter trail. He would also leave marks for them on the trail until he could meet them and guide them in person.
The Donner Party was delighted and the 89 pioneers were more than willing to take the shorter route. As they were anxious to get to California.
However, on this day in 1846, they reached a ravine and they found a note from Hastings, the guide, he now warned them not to proceed. He asked the group to make camp there and wait until he could return to show them a better way.
The group decided to wait for Hastings and they sent a messenger ahead to meet him.
The messenger returned several days later with orders from Hastings to follow another trail. Hastings was wrong and there was not any shortcut or an easier trail and the pioneers had to cut their way through the wilderness. The managed to get their covered waggons through only with great difficulty.
They eventually made it to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. However, they had been critically delayed and they were going to have to cross the Sierra Nevada out of season.
Heavy snowfall blocked the high mountain passes and as aa result, the migrants were trapped on the mountain and were forced to make camp for the winter in a pass. They had no supplies and they were not used to the wilderness. Even native Americans would have had trouble surviving in such an environment. The group grew hungry and desperate and many began to die. There was even cases of cannibalism. It was only in the Spring that they were able to get down off the high mountains. Only 46 of the original group of 89 reached California the following year.
The Pass were the group were trapped is now known as the Donner Pass.