Chilkoot Trail, a Golden Opportunity
The Chilkoot Trail is a walk through history.
The first Yukon Gold was discovered in 1896, after that first haul of wealth reached Seattle it wasn't long before the whole world was abuzz about riches of the north. Stampeders from the States, from Argentina, Australia, Germany, England and various other points around the globe headed for the Klondike Gold Fields. For most, that journey formalized once they reached Seattle. Seattle, still rebuilding after the devastating fire of 1889 was a willing host for those steamship bound dreamers. It wasn't long before Seattle was bustling with supply houses and steamship companies at the ready to provide services to the Territory of Alaska and the Yukon gold fields of Canada. To this day Seattle remains a hub of supply and transport for Alaska. It was only fitting that we began our Chilkoot Trail journey in Seattle, the gateway to Alaska.
The Seattle unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was the perfect place to begin our exploration of the footsteps of gold seekers who went before us. This interpretive center is host to an amazing display of historical artifacts, interpretative displays as well as rotating exhibits and is well worth your time. An added bonus is that admission is free. Be sure and check out the 30 minute video which will give you a good understanding of the history and events that led to the Klondike Gold Rush.
One of the unexpected treats of our visit to this center was a display of art by Daphne Mennell who was the artist in residence in 2014 along the Chilkoot Trail. It wasn't until after hiking the trail that I truly appreciated her magnificent paintings of the journey.
Another don't miss opportunity at this center is the free one hour walking tour of the downtown area. This tour offers an opportunity to acquaint yourself with the history of downtown Seattle and how it relates to the gold rush. During your visit to Seattle be sure and stop by one of the eating and drinking establishments that allow you to enjoy some great food and drink in the exact locations where the original gold seekers partook.
We chose to stay at an Airbnb right in the heart of downtown to maximize our time in the great city of Seattle and to enjoy being in the very locations where the gold rush started. Even today businesses in Seattle celebrate and commemorate the events of the late 19th century.
We also enjoyed a visit to the newly remodeled Space Needle which now includes glass floors and walls. The view is priceless and includes a look at the vibrant modern waterfront where the steamships once berthed before heading north.
We averaged 10 miles a day in downtown Seattle. Seeing the sights on foot is our favorite pastime. Coffee shops, breweries, museums, shops and restaurants all make Seattle a special place for on foot living. With our time in Seattle done it was time to head north.
In our walking around Sitka we came upon another important historical site. This is where she said yes almost 25 year ago.
From Sitka it is a short flight over to Juneau. We overnighted with old Kodiak friends, who now live in Juneau and headed to the ferry the next morning.
We were greeted in Skagway by monster cruise ships.
We enjoyed our cabin in the woods staying at the Skagway Bungalows.
After a good nights rest we headed to the trail center to complete our orientation and pick up our trail permit.
The rangers from Parks Canada and the National Parks Service were very helpful and informative. Important trail updates and current weather forecast were displayed on the blackboard.
After orientation we enjoyed The Days of 98 Show.
After enjoying the show we headed out to pick up bear spray and fuel for the jet boil stove. The airport had both items available for us. Bear spray and stove fuel cannot be transported on airplanes as a result it is often available for free at the Skagway airport.
Once we had the last of our gear we stopped at the grocery store for a few fresh items to add to our menu and waited for the shuttle out to Dyea. We traveled out to the Dyea Campground with Dyea-Chilkoot Trail Transport. The one way fare runs $20 per person.
The Dyea Campground is just one fourth of a mile from the beginning of the Chilkoot Trail. We set up camp and then set out for an afternoon walk.
Our walk took us to the Slide Cemetery. On April 2 1898 dozens of stampeders were killed in a Palm Sunday avalanche. It is a somber place and a memorial to the hardships and risks that those seeking Klondike gold faced.
After our walk we enjoyed dinner, filtered water for the morning, and stowed our food and other items in the easily accessible bear lockers. This type of locker is provided at each of the campgrounds along the trail.
Throughout the evening I enjoyed watching a trio of sap suckers work over the trunk of a tree near out campsite. When the sap suckers would fly away the yellow jacket hornets would buzz in and feast on the sap made accessible by the birds. These types of symbiotic relationships are found throughout the natural world and are fascinating to watch.
After a good nights rest we enjoyed breakfast and began our journey along the Chilkoot Trail.
Dyea to Canyon City
Day One- 8 Miles
The trail starts out with fairly level with a riverside meander. It isn't long however before you are greeted by Saintly Hill, a steep climb that gets the blood pumping and brings you up and through some stunningly beautiful temperate rain forest.
After Saintly Hill the trail drops back down to the river. Crossing a steel framed bridge brings you across the river and the trail serpentines through a series of beaver ponds. The engineering of these remarkable rodents is impressive. Some of their dams holding back two or three feet of water in acre size ponds.
At the five mile mark you come to Finnegan's Point. This campsite and warming shelter shows the greatest level of disrepair along the trail. Few people camp here as Canyon City is the preferred destination for day one of the hike.
Water features abound in this temperate rain forest and bring a feast for the eyes and ears along the way
There is a brief but steep descent before you arrive at Canyon City
Canyon City's warming shelter is a welcome site as you wrap up day one of the journey. We chose a riverside tent site and set up our tent.
While camping at Canyon City take the time in the evening to visit the historic Canyon City site. The massive boiler generated steam to power a tram that hauled goods up and over the pass.
Canyon City to Sheep Camp
Day two- 5 Miles
Distance wise this is a pretty short day. There are lots of ups and downs as you traverse the edge of the valley following the rivers path. Nearly every day on the path starts with an early steep uphill. It can be a bit discouraging but I like the steep starts as they quickly warm up the legs and the lungs for the rest of the day.
Much of the forest scenery through this section looks like the perfect setting for a fantasy adventure story.
From Canyon City onward the number of artifacts along the trail increases.
The trail is has a constantly changing foot bed. From soft forest track to glacier scoured bedrock.
At this point the narrowing of the river becomes more evident and as we continue up the gradient of the stream will quickly steepen.
Pleasant Camp is another nice respite along the way. This is another campsite that does not get much use. It includes some delightful sites and is in better condition than Finnagen's Point.
Devil's club is one of my favorite Alaskan plants. In the spring you can practically see the leaf growth from day to day. Don't grab hold of one of those stalks or you will quickly learn how the plant got its name.
Sheep Camp was a welcome site and our anticipation of going over the pass began to build as we set up our tent.
Most of the campsites are outfitted with platforms. Some short bungees looped at both ends are helpful for setting up your tent on the platforms.
Sheep Camp to Happy Camp
Day Three- 8 Miles
This is the big day. The night before we attended the ranger briefing at the warming shelter. The briefing covered important current trail conditions and a nice summary of Chilkoot Trail history. We were going over just two days before the end of avalanche season so we were advised and encouraged to be on the trail by 5am in order to be over the pass and passed the stone crib before the afternoon temps increased avalanche risk. The day started out overcast and we hiked into the clouds. Once over the pass we hiked down into better weather on our way to Happy Camp.
The footbed is ever changing on the Chilkoot Trail
It wasn't long before we transitioned into the alpine with the flora changing rapidly
Upon reaching the scales we took a break for some water and to recharge. The are many artifacts to be viewed at the scales. Be sure and take some time here to take it all in. I lover the detail on the ironwork from the late 19th century.
The Golden Stairs!
We spent and hour in the warming shelter here, celebrating the accomplishment of reaching the summit and resting up before the trek to Happy Camp.
At this point the journey the Chilkoot Trail changes socially. Prior to crossing over the summit most of the groups of hikers kept to themselves and exchanged pleasantries along the way. Once the summit was accomplished the commonality of the challenge broke through the barriers of communication allowing far more social interaction on the other side. This was in great contrast with our experience with the El Camino de Santiago where the commonality of the pilgrimage opened up opportunities for connection from the very first day.
Happy Camp to Bare Loon Lake
Day Four- 8 Miles
Due to frequent encounters with human habituated bears it was recommended that we hike in a group of 4 or more. Buoyed by the success of the previous day we ambled along at a quickened pace on our way to Bare Loon Lake. Bare Loon proved to be one of the most scenic of campsites along the way. Our stay there included a refreshing dip in the lake.