Albuquerque, NM—This past June, the youth in the Albuquerque New Mexico North Stake drove 13 hours to go on trek in Martin’s Cove, Wyoming. Trek is a wonderful experience because it gives people real life experiences to relate to while learning about church history. I was lucky enough to be able to go with my two sisters, Abby and Ava, and my parents who were a Ma and Pa. We girls donned our long dresses and picked up our handcarts to walk across the Wyoming prairie for a few days in remembrance of our pioneer ancestors.
In the winter of 1856, the Willie and Martin handcart companies were en route to Salt Lake City, Utah. Because of the lateness of the season and a terrible blizzard that raged for weeks, the pioneers camped while waiting for supplies and rescue. Almost one third of the members of the companies froze or starved to death before they were rescued. Though what happened on the plains was terrible, it has strengthened thousands of testimonies to read the stories of the incredible faith of the handcart pioneers. Francis Webster, a handcart pioneer, said, “We learned to know God on that trail. We became acquainted with Him.”
After arriving, we set up camp at Sixth Crossing. While setting up our tents, and the following day, the wind blew in great frigid gusts. No one expected it to be that windy. We were cautioned and planning for heatstroke the whole time! My numb hands could barely brush my teeth at night. I kept thinking about the Willie and Martin handcart companies. They got stuck in a huge snowstorm because of the lateness of the season. The snow fell for two weeks with temperatures reaching -6 degrees. Those people were starving and freezing to death and here I was with numb hands. I truly cannot even begin to comprehend what they went through. The low temperatures humbled me in a way that I will not forget.
Trek participant Abby Craig felt the same way. She said, “While we were trekking it was super windy. When we got back to our campground, we saw that some of our tents had fallen down because the wind snapped the tent poles. We were worried that we might have to leave because it was so cold and windy. This was the summertime, but the pioneers were here in the wintertime. I can’t imagine how cold it would have been. We said a prayer as a stake and asked God to help us be able to stay. The wind died down and we didn’t have any more tent problems. I’m grateful that we got to stay because I had a really great time.”
Martin’s Cove is a horseshoe-shaped valley. Camping there gave the pioneers a bit of protection from the snowstorm and wind. The Martin company camped there for five nights and four days. Over 50 people died there. While walking through the Martin’s Cove area, there was a feeling of sacredness about the land. We learned that President Hinckley dedicated Martin’s Cove in May of 1997. He remarked, “The memories of our forebears are deeply and indelibly etched, and this ground must forever hold for us a feeling of great sanctity, a spiritual feeling if you please.”
The second day we walked at Sixth Crossing. The Willie handcart company found shelter and were rescued from the storm in the brush near the Sweetwater River. In total they had to cross the icy river nine times. Walking that trail touched me because it was the original pioneer trail. I have ancestors that walked there over a hundred fifty years ago. Their blood runs in my veins and I want their strength and testimony to run in me too. My 4th great grandma Elizabeth Humphreys was one of seven children. At just twelve years old she left England with her family and crossed the plains in the Willie company. All nine members of her family made it to the Salt Lake Valley safely.
At night we square danced after a long day of walking. Trek participant Ava Craig said, “It was something we looked forward to. A source of motivation, just like it was for the pioneers. I loved the dancing because it was fun.” The pioneers show us that even in times of difficulty, there is always joy to be found.
Going on trek is a special experience because it gives people a deeper understanding of our heritage as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even if you aren’t a literal descent of the pioneers, you are a part of this church. And their story is your story. Their courage and testimonies are something we can draw on for strength when we are going through hard times. President Hinkley declared, “It doesn’t matter whether your ancestors came across the plains or whether they came into the Church yesterday, this heritage belongs to all of us. How grateful we are for it.”