A gritty tale of wilderness survival

“If we can survive the night, we’ll survive the day.”

That was the motto that explorer Lee Bergthold told to photographer Christina Bowers as they made their way through their expedition through rough frozen terrain in an attempt to recreate the journey of the ill-fated Donner Party.

“To Walk Away from Battle
Mountain” is a visual narrative that relates the adventure that Bergthold and Bowers took
from Battle Mountain, Nevada to Death Valley, Calif. during the winter of 1996/97.

To prepare for the expedition Bergthold investigated migrants from the 1850’s, who traveled from Nevada to California. He planned this adventure to prove there was alternate route that the Donner Party could have taken that would have allowed them to survive and make it to California.

In the begining, he had planned the expedition as a solo journey, but Bowers convinced him to let her go along. She wanted to photograph the adventure.

They started in Battle Mountain on December 1996 and ended their expedition in Death Valley on January 1997. Their entire journey lasted for 35 days and was 350 miles long. After they accomplished their trek Berghold concluded that the route they followed was harder but better than the one the Donner Party had chose.

During their travels, Bergthold and Bowers fought against inclement weather, odd terrains and one of the most severe winters from the last decades. 

What started as an adventure, suddenly became a battle for survival.

They had to make their 10-day food supply last for 16 days because a storm delayed their arrival to the supply point. Bergthold and Bowers suffered frostbite in their fingers and toes. Bowers also began to show signs of hypothermia and plantar fasciitis.

The extreme weather also affected their camera equipment and supplies. They had to sleep with their cameras, film, and batteries to keep them warm and operable when they needed them.

Bergthold, a former U.S. Marine Corps survival instructor, recognized that this trek had been one of hardest he has experienced. While being besieged by blizzards and low temperatures, his main aim throughout the expedition became to keep Bowers and himself alive.

They concluded that the expedition was harder then they expected. Bowers also recognized that the expedition made her a stronger person however, she expressed that if she would have known how harsh it would be beforehand she would not have embarked on it.

The images that document their experiences of their voyage are being shown at Luxe Gallery, located on the fifth floor of the V-building, until Feb. 28.