Chilkoot Pass May 2008       Picasa Photo Album

On August 2, 2008 Gordon and Ross left the relative comforts of home in Nova Scotia for another backpacking adventure. This one was of shorter duration than the last, two weeks as opposed to six months; but was to prove equally appealing to the senses.

This description cannot begin without acknowledging the organizational efforts of Steve Moores who did the planning that made this trip come together. Many thanks are offered to Steve for allowing us crotchety old guys to join Richard and himself. Richard is a 15 year old whose enthusiasm kept us moving through some long days; unless it was 8 0’clock in the morning. Then someone; usually Steve, his dad, had to take responsibility for starting him up.

I think the Moores have gained converts to their respect and enjoyment of the Yukon.

Saturday August 2 – Waiting

Vancouver Airport is nice but after 9 hours Gordon and I were glad to bid it farewell. The sun was setting as we boarded for Whitehorse treating us to beautiful pinks and reds in the west. As we flew north I noticed the sky was brighter ahead as we flew into the midnight sun. Just a hint of things to come!

Steve and Richard were waiting at the airport at midnight with the rented Subaru to transport us back to the hostel that was our home for the next two nights before we headed off to Skagway, Alaska to begin the walk back to Canada. Immediately Steve had to explain that the crack in the windshield of the rented Subaru was there when he rented the vehicle and unless we had the misfortune of hitting another rock that created a hole in the windshield that would let air through it would be fine with the rental company.

Sunday August 3- Missed Opportunity

I learned from Steve that the Yukon Marathon and Half Marathon were happening that morning. If it were not for 18 hours in airports and on airplanes the day before I would have loved to have jogged through the Half. We went down to watch, ate buffalo burgers for lunch and gathered food for the hike we would commence on Tuesday the 5th of August.

Monday August 4 – Tourists

Shari-Lynn joined the foursome for the trip to Skagway. She had spent her weekend with Whitehorse friends and was now eager for the hiking part of her holiday. On the way to Skagway we stopped to explore the world’s smallest desert at Carcross. We surveyed the scene and concluded there is a smaller desert outside Kingston in the Annapolis Valley. Still it was fun to run downhill on the closest dune. We went to Skagway to register for the hike. There we found we were sharing this small town with the passengers from three cruise ships and the coastal ferry. There were lineups at the Red Onion the restaurant that started in 1898 as a house of ill repute and now continues that tradition for the benefit of tourists with wait staff who show a lot of bosom in the costumes of 1898. Skagway is surrounded by snow capped mountains and all land based ways into town are via steep passes through the mountains. Although it is now the focal point for tourists it was not the starting point for the trip in 1898.

So we journeyed across the head land to Dyea and found a cabin that could comfortably accommodate five and then went touring about the abandoned site of the settlement that was actually the start of the Chilkoot Trail. We drove down to the marshy waterfront and discovered it was easy enough to drive to the end. This was a fortunate decision because on the way we passed a couple fishing but on the return we noticed they had gone to their car. There were others in cars too and we soon learned why. A grizzly bear was ambling across the marsh 50 feet away to try his luck in the salmon stream. Nobody argued with his intrusion into the humans fishing spot.

It was nice to get that introduction to bears while we could be in the safety of our rental Subaru... This was our first lesson in bear safety that would hold for the trip. Essentially bears don’t like the presence of humans any better than humans seem to enjoy their company. They will stay away from you if they can. In fact the only bears we saw on this trip were from the car that approached fast enough that the bear could not get out of sight before we spotted him. When we could get out of the car we found artifacts that mark the beginning of the world’s longest junkyard that has been converted to a national historic site by two nations. The cabin had a bonfire that night and invited us to toast smores and chat with other guests.

Chilcoot Pass

August 5 – Into the Forest

The morning brought the first day with backpacks on but we were able to breakfast at the cabins in Dyea. The trailhead was 200 meters down the road and we were able to park the vehicle at the cabins. The first day was a walk through temperate rain forest. We meandered through old growth forest along the Taiya River. There were occasional glimpses of glaciers and snow fields across the river on our left. The trail was remarkably level all day to Pleasant Camp, 10.38 miles or 16.7 kilometers. At Pleasant Camp we were alone until late when another hiker arrived. By then four of our group had taken the easy way and laid out our sleeping bags in the cooking shelter. Shari-Lynn was diligent and pitched her tent at a designated site. Most other hikers were headed to the next site, Sheep Camp. We later learned there was a scout troop in Sheep Camp so we were pleased that we had made the right decision to stay at Pleasant Camp.

August 6 – The Pass

The walk through rain forest continued for the 1.37 miles to Sheep Camp. Then the climb started to become more aggressive. No sighting of the pass until the afternoon but lots of warm-up rock scrambling before the Golden Stairs, the final assent to the Chilkoot Pass where Canada waited. The first view of the Golden Stairs in summer tells you immediately why most of those early photos of men climbing the Chilkoot Pass were in winter because the snow filled in the rocks and with the aid of fixed ropes the ascent had to be easier. We on the other hand had to scramble over rocks seeking all four points of contact. I was in the lead for a brief period when I heard Steve say to Richard: “Wait for me at the top.” Quickly those 15 year old legs bounded past me and it was not long before he vanished over the lip of the first stage of the ascent. The rest of us continued to the top at a more sedentary pace befitting our years. We found Richard again at the ranger station that marks the entry into Canada contemplating the descent across the snow field toward Crater Lake.

We learned from Rebecca the Parks Canada person at the border that we had been treated to a rare clear day on the Pass. So to honour the occasion Gordon took out his kite and flew it at the border. The response from Rebecca the person responsible for Canadian security at this outpost border crossing was to run to get her camera so she could record her own photo of this person flying a kite at her crossing. The climb over and the rainforest behind us we descended through snow fields to Happy Camp 10.12 miles 16.3 kilometers from where we started. On the Canadian side the views open up and there is little in the way of vegetation other than the annuals that patiently wait to poke through the snow. Crossing snow fields was a new treat particularly for young Richard who would slide on his hiking boots on the downhill in the crystallizing snow. When we arrived at Happy Camp it was crowded. We were now in camp with the large group including the scout troop. As we were setting up our tents a young woman in flannel pajamas from the neighbouring site approached to ask that we keep the noise down because she had a really hard day. Those flannel pajamas must have been really heavy? The tents were tied to the wooden platforms and supper cooked for the five of us without further incident.

August 7 – Creatures of the Evening

Gordon and I were the first of our group out of Happy Camp for the shorter journey (5.5 miles or 8.8 kilometers) to Lindeman Lake. There was a bit of a rise to the bluffs overlooking Long Lake where we stopped and Gordon flew the kite again at the top of this bluff. We waited long enough to dig jackets out of our backpacks and Gordon discovered that his faithful Frog Togs jacket was no longer in one piece. We sort of viewed this kite flying as a memoriam that was interrupted by four hikers that included the lady from the previous night with the flannel pajamas. They were drying on her backpack. Even she half smiled at the kite high over our heads. I think we have discovered that kite flying is a giant step to peace and harmony. Shari-Lynn, Steve and Richard arrived and we pressed on together to Deep Lake and the falls/rapids that commence the 3 miles – 4.8 kilometers to Lindeman Lake. The roar was constant by this torrent that in August is fed by the glacial/snow melt. We are now getting back into boreal forest of spruce and lodge pole pine. We arrive at the Lindeman City campsite to find it is actually two separate sites with separate cookhouses. We eventually chose the one that is the greatest distance from the warden for the illicit purpose of sleeping in the cook house. Before committing to that strategy we explored the site and found obvious remnants of the block layout of the 1898 settlement where craft were constructed for the voyage to Dawson City.

After supper Warden Steyd came by and built a fire for us in the stove. We were ready for a warm comfortable night. Then the invaders struck. Mice were everywhere. The crowning touch was when one invited himself into my backpack causing me to violently toss the bag across the room so that he would know he wasn’t welcome. The little varmint scooted across the floor and the five of us scooted to respective tent sites. Ever since the Appalachian Trail I have respect for the insatiable appetite of these little monsters. A Virginia mouse ate my favorite long sleeve shirt.

August 8 – Restaurant Food

Gordon and I were out of Lindeman first. There was a train to catch in Bennett and we were aware that many folks from the crowd at Happy Camp had pressed on to Bare Loon Lake so that they would have a short hike to the train – 4 miles – 6.4 kilometers compared to our 7 miles – 11.3 kilometers. It was not a problem as many of the Bare Loon campers were still at breakfast when we passed through. On the way we noted lupines in bloom in August showing us that they are just now getting what in Nova Scotia would be considered spring flowers. The final walk into Bennett was on sand. That emphasizes how arid the land is here at the end of the trail despite the roar of the rapids downhill from where we walked. When we arrived we discovered a large train station with a restaurant that offered all-you-can-eat beef stew and pie. Shari-Lynn, Gordon and I adopted the hiker’s rule – never prepare your own food when someone else will do it for you.

The train ride was spectacular through the White Pass – a completely different route than the Chilkoot. We passed over scenic trestles and tunnels and it was a lot less work. Coming into the Skagway station we passed by the Skagway River that was teaming with salmon on their way back to the place they were spawned to die. Some were obviously not completing their journey as carcasses lay on the bank. Later we were able to get seats in the Red Onion as the cruise ships had left for the day and then headed back to the hostel in Whitehorse and Shari-Lynn’s friends’ house.

Text by Ross Mitchell
Photos by Gordon Warnica