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  • Nancy Herman

Hacking through the Wasatch: August 1846

Updated: Oct 19

It didn’t take long for Virginia Reed and others to realize that her father’s friend back at Fort Laramie, Jim Clyman, had been right when he warned them the Hastings Cutoff through the Wasatch Mountains was barely wide enough for horses, let alone covered wagons. After choosing one of several possible but unchartered routes, the party hacked their way through thick aspen forests and choked ravines, chopped down trees and rolled boulders aside, and double- and triple-yoked their oxen to get up, down and around the steep peaks. Yet many days the disheartened and exhausted pioneers cleared less than two miles.

(The canyon where the Donner Party began their journey through the Wasatch Mountains.)


By the time they reached the other side of the mountains, the “shortcut” had taken the Donner Party eighteen days to cover only thirty miles.


I criss-crossed the party’s general route through the Wasatch via Interstate 80 west to the valley, where Salt Lake City now stands. Because Mormon emigrants expanded the Donner Party’s route in subsequent years, it eventually became better known as part of the Mormon Emigrant Trail.


Today Salt Lake City stands below the western slope of the Wasatch Mountain, where the Great Basin begins.


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