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Time Traveling Hike Up Mount Spokane Helps Teens Recreate Migration Of Mormon Pioneers

Sun., July 30, 1995, midnight

(For the Record from Wednesday, August 2, 1995:) Brigham Young led Mormon pioneers to Utah in 1847. A story in Sunday’s Regional section named the wrong church leader.

Hiking up a rough road on the back side of Mount Spokane, Rachel Mackelprang didn’t complain Saturday about the tough beef jerky or the dry corn biscuits she was given to eat.

It could have been shoe leather.

Mackelprang was one of about 125 Mormon teens who took the identities of real pioneers who crossed the continent in the 1850s to join fellow believers in Salt Lake City.

Like the pioneers, the Spokane teens packed their food into wheeled carts they tugged through the wilderness. The trip was 1,000 miles in about 100 days for the pioneers - mostly poor emigrants from Europe.

It was 12 miles in one day for their contemporaries, South Hill teenagers who wore hiking boots and Reeboks under period clothes.

The hike from Spirit Lake, Idaho, to Mount Spokane was just enough to give the teens a taste for what the grueling migration must have been like.

Their trip on a logging road forced them to ford Bickle Creek in three places. They worked in teams designed to mimic actual families whose stories the teens learned by studying pioneer journals.

Mackelprang, 16, took the name of teenager Ema James, who became so hungry during the trip from Missouri that she boiled her sandals to make a broth. When her hunger finally became unbearable, James ate the leather without telling her parents.

“In her journal, she felt bad she didn’t share her sandals with her family,” Mackelprang said.

At least James survived. Other pioneer families, the teens learned, were ravished by hunger, illness, injuries or exposure. Some children finished the trip without their parents. Some heartbroken parents left children in unmarked graves.

“I died and they threw me in a well and threw rocks on me,” said Tia Hainsworth, 15, of her character, Aliza James.

“They had real babies, not dolls,” said Annie Metcalf, 15, who portrayed Christina Reese, a girl who lost three siblings and her father during the migration.

There were no grizzly bears, no hasty leg amputations, no sad burials on Saturday’s trip.

Instead, the teens parted to let herds of mountain bikes pass. They ate the dust of four-wheel-drive trucks and felt the curious stares of families picking huckleberries in overgrown clearcuts.

Their promised land wasn’t the Salt Lake basin, where Mormon leader Joseph Smith pronounced “This is the place,” on July 24, 1847. Instead, it was a picnic area where a modern-day barbecue awaited.

“It’s real food,” said Nathan Erickson, 14, as he anticipated the meal and rejected another biscuit. “I don’t think we could live off this stuff much longer.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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