Trip Report September 24/26, 2002
The Chilkoot Pass is the most famous of all trails in the North, and perhaps the most famous of North America. Of the 1,600 miles from Pioneer Square in Seattle to the gold fields of Dawson City, only the 26 miles from the 1897 boomtown of Dyea, Alaska, over Chilkoot Pass, 3,789, to Lindeman City in British Columbia had to be completed on foot. From Lake Lindeman, the Stampeders could build boats, and float a series of lakes to the Yukon River, and then float all the way to Dawson City.
Originally an ancient Tlingit Indian trade route, the Chilkoot Trail begins at the ghost town of Dyea, Alaska, at the head of Lynn Canal. Dyea was once a rival of Skagway, but lost favor when the railroad was built from Skagway. Little is left of poor Dyea except pier piling stubs and the Slide Cemetery.
The trail follows the Taiya River, steeply at first, then going up and down over ridges. We saw hundreds of salmon, many Bald Eagles, and more bear tracks than hiker footprints. There was plenty to eat for the bears and they were busy trying to put on a few pounds before the winter. We didnt see any bears although we did see warm, steaming scat.
Our weather was mixed and cool. Doerte and I hoped we would have a good day to cross the pass and see warmer, dryer weather on the Canadian side. We passed the old ruins of Canyon City, once a bustling town of 5,000, and pushed on past Camp Pleasant at mile 10 to Sheep Camp at mile 13. Sheep Camp was partly under water due to a change in the course of the river, but we found a nice warming hut.
Each camp had a warming hut with a wood stove, but the problem was getting a fire started with the wet wood. We warmed up and dried off and had a restful night. The clouds had dropped even lower overnight and we surmised we would be in for a wet day. Doerte and I donned gaiters, rainpants, and rain jackets. We had glimpses of the glaciers above and good views of many waterfalls coming down. It seemed to be too much water for September.
From Sheep Camp we slowly went up Long Hill above treeline. There was lots of historical artifacts: tramways, wood, cables, wheels, shovels, bones, boots, and cloth. We entered the clouds just below the Scales, where the Stampeders supplies were weighed before the Pass.
To our surprise we found a tent, and then two strange figures appeared from the fog. Billy and Carl, two Texans, were the first humans we had seen in two days. They had tried the pass the day before but could no find the route and had to return to the Scales to a windy and wet camp. One fellow was desperate, so we said we would go slow and make sure they made it. Visibility was about 10 and the wind and rain howled. Doerte and I worked our way up the steep wet slippery boulders covered with black moss. I would call it hard Class 3. The Stampeders mostly crossed earlier in the season when the pass was covered with snow and called it the Golden Stairs from the boots of many hundreds of miners climbing the Pass each day.
On April 02, 1898, Palm Sunday, a huge avalanche came down the Pass and as many as 70 fortune seekers lost their lives in a couple of minutes. Most are buried in the cemetery at Dyea. Most were from Seattle and Tacoma. Beware of warm weather after a big snow.
Finally we made the summit of the pass, a good 500 higher than we thought it would be. The wind and rain did not let up on the Canadian side. We could not find where the trail started down again, so I traversed 30 minutes to the right and back looking for the cairns or the trail. I found only cables, and bones of horses. Returning, cold and wet, Doerte and I decided that if we could not find the trail we would have to return the way we came. I looked to the left and found the Trail in 3 minutes! Rats! If I would of only gone to the left first! We also found the two crazy Texans again, and the summit hut, all within a 100 of our position in the fog.
Billy and Carl immediately fired up their stove for a hot chocolate and smoke, while Doerte and I continued down the trail through the mist and fog to Crater Lake. Crater Lake has no outlet. Old timers say that if you have poor visibility, wind, and rain on the Chilkoot Pass then the weather is "normal". Then we were there on a "normal" day.
It was such a pleasure to be on the trail, walking through miles of Alpine Lakes, streams, and waterfalls. The scenery was absolutely stunning as we slowly descended from the Pass and clouds. 5 miles beyond the Chilkoot Summit and Canadian Border is Happy Camp and the first of the sub-alpine firs appearing again. We had a hot tea and soup to warm up and then continued on.
Deep Lake, 2 miles farther on is one of the most beautiful spots of the entire trail. At the top of the trees, Deep Lake is huge with raging streams flowing both in and out of it. We saw a Mountain Goat with his new winter coat above the camp.
Lake Lindeman was our stop for the night. There was a nice log cabin overlooking the lake which we chose as our warm and dry shelter for the night. A few minutes after I sawed and split some wood, Doerte had a fire going in the wood stove and the cabin was warm. Almost everything had to be dried out. On the shore of Lake Lindeman was once located Lindeman City. At this point the Stampeders would build a boat and float their gear the rest of the way to Dawson City. One hundred years ago all the trees were gone. The trees have returned, but many reminders of the past remain, including the cemetery on a hill overlooking the lake with 12 graves.
Early Thursday we did the last 7 miles to Lake Bennett and the Yukon White Pass Railroad Station closed since August 29. Closed? Most people would arrive here by noon, and take the train back to Skagway. We would have to find another way. Bennett was once claimed by the United States, and still has a big wooded Presbyterian Church overlooking the Lake. There are also a couple of private cabins and a campground.
After a hot lunch, we started the 8-mile walk down the railroad track to its crossing with the Yukon Highway. We saw 3 Bald Eagles, and a ghost along way. From the highway we just had to hitchhike to Skagway.
41 Miles, 4,500 of elevation gain total over three days. A tough trip. June, July, and August are the most popular months and the Park Service will allow up to 50 people a day to cross the pass. 4 to 5 days is recommended for the 33 miles to Lake Bennett. We saw only the 2 Texans, Billy and Carl, in the fog on the Pass and the ghost on the railroad tracks. Doerte and I were some of the last people to complete the trail this year.
We traveled very light! To learn what they carried in 1897 click here:
Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site, Canada
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
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