Greg Palmer has been leading Donner Party Hikes for twenty-six years . . . exactly the same number of years that these history hikes have been offered. Greg retired to Truckee, California in 1988 after a career in medical sales. In 1992 someone recruited him for a new event being offered in Truckee, the Donner Party Hike. Greg said “yes”, read some books on the Donner Party, and led a successful hike. Now 26 years later, he hasn’t missed a hike. For his historical interpretation over the years, Greg has received awards from the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, been given a key to the Town of Truckee by the mayor and has been recognized by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. More importantly he has turned into an avid local historian and shares his knowledge and presentation skills with groups at various state parks in the north Lake Tahoe area including Donner Memorial State Park. He has also expanded his historical expertise to include construction of the transcontinental railroad, the first transcontinental automobile road (the Lincoln Highway) and historic Donner Pass Road (Highway 40.)
During the sesquicentennial (150 year) Donner Reunion at Donner Memorial State Park, Greg suddenly saw a face he recognized. It was a nurse whose office he had called on for over twenty years as a medical supply representative. He asked her how she came to attend this Donner event. She said, “My husband is a Donner descendant. He’s the great grandson of George Donner Jr!” Greg has met many descendants of Donner Party members over the years and these encounters continue to motivate him.
Besides the Donner Party Hike, Greg has been fortunate to attend major historic events in the Donner Summit area. In 1994, he was present for the naming of “Mount Stephens” just north of Donner Summit. Elisha Stephens had successfully led the first wagon party over Donner Summit in 1844. Yet this pioneer achievement was the “forgotten journey” as all of the fame and notoriety became attached to the Donner ordeal, two years later, in 1846. Greg was also present for the centennial celebration of the Pioneer Monument at Donner Memorial State Park this past summer in 2018. The monument (40 feet tall) was built to honor all of the hardy pioneers who traveled by wagon to California, including the Donner Party. Greg was very excited that in the commemorative poster, there is a picture of his father and grandfather standing in front of the Pioneer Monument in 1922, just four years after the construction of the monument. As a historical note, the Pioneer Monument was built on the site of one of the cabins used by the Donner Party, but the cabin had burnt down.
A pioneer that Greg has come to greatly admire is Caleb Greenwood. Caleb was a mountain man and fur trapper. He hired on as a guide for the wagon party led by Elisha Stephens in 1844. Most likely, Caleb did the majority of the route finding over rugged Donner Summit . . . and he was 81 years old! Caleb and his two sons were part of the rescue efforts to save the Donner Party two years later.
On Donner Party Hike day, Greg leads the Summit Canyon hike. The participants walk in the footsteps (and wagon wheel routes) of the early pioneers crossing Donner Summit. They also learn about the construction of the transcontinental railroad as well the Dutch Flat commercial wagon road that was in operation at that time. Participants walk on the abandoned Lincoln Highway and learn about the story of historic Donner Pass Road as well as the iconic Rainbow Bridge.
The Summit Canyon Hike is just one of seven guided hikes that depart on Donner Party Hike weekend (September 14th & 15th). In addition to the history, all hikes take place in the beautiful high Sierra of Donner Summit. Hikes vary in length from three to four hours and finish with a great lunch at Sugar Bowl ski area. Ethan Rarick, author of the Donner Party history book, “Desperate Passage” will be the lunchtime speaker. For more information on the 2019 Donner Party Hike offerings, visit the website at www.DonnerPartyHike.com. The Donner Party Hike is sponsored by the Donner Summit Historical Society.