In this second article in 3 parts, DPMR member Bob Crowley digs into what it takes to mount an adventure such as the upcoming 100-mile Grosh Brothers Expedition. This trek will retrace the last route of one brother from Silver City, NV to Last Chance, CA, and perhaps reveal along the way the rightful claim of the Grosh Brothers to the discovery of the world’s largest concentration of silver. Read on and be inspired!
By Bob Crowley
We never imagined our shared passion for history and ultra-mountain adventure would have evolved into a hobby that, after many years, brings us such fulfillment, excitement and occasionally, a few tears. But here we are, preparing for our third History Expedition and the anticipation remains just as acute and exhilarating as our first time.
What is a history expedition, what goes on behind the scenes to discover, prepare and complete one of these journeys? And why has it provided as much, if not more, impact to our lives than our prior ultrarunning experiences?
In Part 1 we described how this all came about. Now, we’ll pull back the curtain to reveal what goes on behind the scenes of a history expedition. Tim and I were so naïve in the beginning, but as is the case with ultrarunners, we relentlessly figure stuff out. As we prepare for our third expedition, the Grosh Brothers, we’re finding our years of honing research skills really paying dividends in accelerating our ability to discover core clues, challenge the facts and solve some of history’s intriguing mysteries.
After we spent seven years researching the Forlorn Hope route, Tim and I were finally ready to reprise the fateful journey. We needed to have ultra-winter experienced women join us, since of the 15 members of the Forlorn Hope, only seven survived, including all five of the women. Clearly, the women of the American West possessed skills and grit. Elke Reimer and Jennifer Hemmen were ideal expedition partners, possessing the capabilities and passion for the history and the protagonists of our story. Our expedition team was set.
It takes a village to muster one of these adventures and we’ve been blessed with the finest assemblage of teammates: crew, historians, researchers, archeologists, academics, authors, family descendants, media management, landowner liaisons and photography.
DISCOVER, PLAN EXECUTE AND REPEAT
We began with the Forlorn Hope story and performed the expedition in December 2020. That naturally led to our curiosity about the path the Donner Relief parties took to save the survivors back at Truckee (Donner) Lake. We completed this expedition in February 2022, on the 175th anniversary of the relief party’s arrival.
During this time, we met many passionate people knowledgeable in America West history, who gave us leads to possible future expeditions. We’re focused on our backyard, the Sierra, an area rich with intriguing historical stories and mysteries to be solved. Since we spend half our time in the field researching, its important future expeditions be accessible.
Our third adventure, Grosh Brothers Expedition 2023, came about after a mutual friend shared the story. We were introduced to the Grosh Brothers by Auburn native equestrian endurance athlete and historian, Hal Hall. We invited Hal to join our team for this expedition given his endurance skills and tremendous knowledge of our region’s history.
We divide up the roles across our team of field and historical research, logistics, media, route planning, training, and gear. We play to each other’s complementary strengths.
Once an expedition topic is selected, it takes a minimum of a year to research and prepare, sometime multiple years. The time varies depending upon how much primary documentation (i.e., diaries, letters, first-person interviews and accounts, maps, etc.) is readily available.
For example, with the Forlorn Hope there were very little primary sources but a huge volume of secondary accounts (news articles, books, novels, documentaries, etc.) which offered incongruous accounts and conflicting “facts”. It was time consuming wading through the body of work and eliminating 90% of the information, vectoring in on the most plausible facts with corroborating evidence.
Simultaneously, we need to be in the field, seeing what the protagonists saw, following leads of described terrain, distance, and, to fill in the gaps, applying common sense when no other clues are available. We schedule several field trips and using our leads, aim to make discoveries and resolve questions about our conflicting or missing facts. This can be tedious and time consuming, but fun, as we slowly piece together the mosaic puzzle.
As the expedition date approaches, we shift gears into getting ourselves prepared both physically and with the apropos skills and gear. To date, all our expeditions have taken place in the winter, requiring us to practice our winter trekking and camping. Those muscles used for snowshoeing always need some extra attention.
We have Zoom calls and meet ups to discuss the chosen route, any issues with crossing private land, terrain risks (avalanche, side-hilling, exposure), where to camp each night, crew access, required gear, meal plan and daily mileage and pace.
In the last week prior to the trek, we finalize our expedition plan, coordinate logistics with our crew and photographer(s), constantly check the weather report for any last-minute adjustments to our route for safety, gear, and pack. Inevitably, our packs become too heavy and so we purge and repack, over and over, seeking winter trekking pack-nirvana (not sure it exists!).
When the big day comes, we gather and say a little prayer, then head into the wilderness, carrying with us the months and years of research, appreciation for our protagonist’s tenacity and grit and empathy for the hardships they endured. We each carry tribute cards which we make, with a picture of each person we have researched and their life history, a reminder of these heroic individuals and a way to connect as we follow in their footsteps.
So far, each expedition has been five days, four nights and approximately 100 miles in distance. That’s more a coincidence than hard and fast rule. We try to put in 20 or so miles a day, arriving at camp before sunset. Most of the time we are spending the night at a location accessible by our crew, who have set up a fire and begun cooking supper before our arrival. This year we will have two nights in the Sierra backcountry without crew access, so preparing full packs for those last three days.
We spend the evenings regaling stories from the day and reflecting upon what it must have been like for our heroes, traversing the same terrain over a century and a half before. We salute their grit and perseverance with a shot of Shackleton whisky, our chosen expedition beverage, then hit the sleeping bags as the winter night and chill sets upon us.
Each day we rise early, prepare coffee and oatmeal, pack our gear, and get back on the trail by 7:00 am.
As the journey’s end approaches, the emotions come to the fore. We plan a short ceremony at the end of each expedition to honor the men and women for which we have spent so much time with over the past year or so, and who inspire us. For the Grosh Brothers Expedition, we will end at the remote gravesite of Ethan Allen Grosh, located in an obscure part of the forest nearby Last Chance. There, we will reunite the young brothers, who unexpectedly and tragically died within 3 months of each other, with our trek, having traveled the 100 miles in-between, grave-to-grave.
ABOUT HISTORY EXPEDITIONS
History Expeditions a non-profit organization whose mission is to discover American West tales and trails which have been lost to time, solve mysteries through investigative research and honor inspiring pioneers by correcting the historic narrative and reprising their treks.
Next month, In Part 3, we’ll share stories and reactions after the Feb 27- Mar 3 Grosh Brothers Expedition. You can read more about the Grosh Brothers, the Grosh Brothers Expedition and History Expeditions at their website.
You can follow live progress of the Grosh Brothers Expedition starting February 27th.