Sunday, September 4, 2011

Legendary Chilkoot Trail

One of the last "adventures" Bernhard and I made during our Alaska trip was to walk the 33 Miles of the Chilkoot trail.
(All pictures still raw and without post processing - this will take some more time).

If you don't know what it is: take a minute...
The Chilkoot Trail is a real American legend of the time of the great Gold Rush at 1898. The trail is named after the Chilkoot Pass, a 1067 m high mountain pass through the boundary ranges of the Coast Mountains of Alaska, US, and British Columbia, Canada. The trail was a major access route to the gold fields of the Yukon in the 1890ies. It became most famous because as it became apparent that many of the prospectors arriving to Canada from Alaska couldn't survive the harsh weather and terrain, Canada declared that all of the prospectors should a least on the gear and food they'll need for a whole year. This supply weighted more than a ton and most of the adventurers had to carry this ton on their backs over the mountain pass and onwards to wherever they were headed. That meant, that the men (and women) didn't have to go the trail once, but about 15 to 20 times, carrying their one year supply from cache to cache. The real rush was in the year 1898 were hundreds of prospectors came over the pass.

The representative picture of the time is the line of miners climbing up the "Golden Stairs" at the last part of the Chilkoot pass.

In fact, you see this picture on some Alaskan car number plates (yes, this is a number plate):

The prospectors went in winter so that they were at the gold fields in summer. The men caught stairs in the ice and snow of the pass and carried their load over the pass - in fact, the stairs of ice and snow made it easier to climb the pass than climbing it in summer, were the hikers have to scramble of large boulders at a incline of 45° and more.

Today, the old route can be followed on the original 33 mile (53 kilometer) trail. Most hikers follow the route from south to north, starting at the ghost town of Dyea near Skagway and walking to severel camps until they reach the summit of the Chilkoot Pass. Then the trail goes up and down through boreal tundra until Lake Bennett is reached, were the stampeders loaded their gear on boats to access the Yukon via waterways.

Bernhard and I also followed the route from south to north, so that we had to climb the pass up which is more strenous, but better for my knee ;) Stampeders during the gold rush usually carried 40 to 80 pounds per load, we carried less than 40 pounds each, which feels okay with our new fancy backpacks with theyr hip belts and whatever they have, but we experienced growing discomfort after about mile 5 every day. Thankfully, we could store some luggage in Skagway, otherwise we would have had to carry far more than this...

This was at the trailhead in Dyea.
About our gear: you have to carry everything you need for a week (we went the trail in 4 days, but you need a 5th day to get back by train, and depending on the weather it can happen that the summit is not passable). Weather can be harsh, wet, windy and cold, the trails can be (and were) slippery. Usually there are no rivers to cross, but the terrain is likely to be flooded, so light wading shoes can be fine - and a few pairs of socks to have a least once a day dry feet.
Water can be found almost everywere, so we did not have to carry all the water (what a great pleasure, believe me!) - but Giardia occured in the park and all water has to be treated. Black bears and brown bears live around the area and often use the trail themselves, so all hikers must wear bear spray and know how to use it in case of an attack. Bernhard and I did not see a bear on this trail, but bear tracks and scatter, we heared something in the bush that could have been a bear moving away from us, and other hikers even had closed encounters with a black bear that roamed the area shortly before we passed.... so the best thing is to make noise during hiking.

To the trail: the trail starts in boreal rainforest. A lush green, very humid wonderland! Full of old trees, green shades of color, bogs, water coming down everywhere...

August 2011. Chilkoot Trail, day 2 Canyon City - Sheep Camp.

Sometimes there are suspension bridges...

And all the way to Bennett you find artifacts along the way... like this old steam boiler that powered a tramway to carry loads over the pass (however, it was finished after the real gold rush).

And then, the vegetation starts to change, it becomes more and more alpine until you reach the slopes of Chilkoot Pass.

And that's what the pass looks like - in fact, it's a huuuuge lot of fun (but a bit exhausting with the heavy backpack...) to scramble over the boulders!!! But I really enjoyed the climb!

Icy snowfields on the upper part.

A saw somewhere on top.

Down again - after the pass, walking through almost alpine terrain with lots of lakes (and less bears).

And then we reached the tundra of Canada again, which is very different to the rainforest of the coast where we started.

Finally we made it to Lake Bennett.

At Bennett, there is a railway station of the Yukon and Whitepass Railroad which was completed just a few years after the stampede of 1898, making it unnecessary to walk the Chilkoot Trail any more.

At Bennett station.

Hiker pick up.

Riding the train back to Skagway.

Bernhard being hungry after the hike.

1 comment:

  1. Great pics! Looking forward to more from the East Coast :)