Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Month: July, 2012

Day 13 smooth(ie) sailing home

7 July

trailart020Car(ibou)Cross(ing) – a boom town turned small town. More of a locals place, locals who make room for the train-scheduled tourists. That shore-hugging train ride along Lake Bennett brought me and my fellow smelly trampers out of the wilds and into this civilization. The Caribou Cafe feels new and modern in a comforting IKEA sort of way – i.e. functional minimalism in wood. Open, airy with lots of art on the walls. I understand why Steph recommended this place to me. 3 ladies in matching green sweatshirts chatter in German with the owner, Heike. They are guides of some sort but where are their tourists? Having an ice cream in on Main Street no doubt. I am pleased with my purple smoothie. This is clearly the place just enough off the beaten path that the interesting people rejoice in discovering, as I have.

bestofchilkoot070And so the trail is over. A hotel and shower await me in Whitehorse. And hopefully a beer and something not cooked over a pocket rocket. I don’t think I will do any reflecting. That’s what the trail is for. And the art. We shall see what comes…

Read all the post from the Trail Journal.

Day 12 – a day of 3 lakes

Day 12
6 July
Beautiful Bennett

I will never forget my first view of Lake Bennett. After a hot, buggy 4 miles with a heavy pack, I duck down a spur trail to a rocky overlook and there she is – the perfect picture of Canadian mountains lining a shining lake graces with sun. All the colors of wildness – purples, blues and greens with accents of rust and ochre. Such an inviting place.


I am done drawing for the day. I had my fill of artmaking in the morning exploration down a secret trail from Bare Loon to Lake Lindeman. In the perfect stillness of Bare Loon, all the hikers having hurried off to catch a train and a bowl of stew, I read and lunched and had a nap until it felt like time to go. I realize I am emotionally drained from this journey. It is time for a sabbath. There is always more art to make- always another page to fill in the sketchbook. Always one more person to talk to on the record.


However, Bennett is a beautiful place to end. The lake erases my hot and sweaty journey in an instant. I chase a canoe up the river for a “magic hour” photo. I share my sketchbook with Dane and my watercolors with Maria, the girl allergic to everything but art. Father and daughter play hide and seek around the shelter. We talk about movies and fairies and spirit dogs and horses. I keep my peanut butter in the bag, but sneak some chocolate (how can an 11 year-old girl be allergic to chocolate?) And still the lake is massively beautiful. 2 gulls harass a bald eagle perched on a pine. The best defence is a good offence. And now, bed!

Read More: Trail Journal Day 13

Day 11 – Alohas and reflections at Bare Loon Lake

Day 11
5 July
Bare Loon Lake
A perfectly calm and magical evening.


I spent the morning around Lindeman catching up on my journal and painting the sunny lakeshore. Then the Parks Canada crowd showed up – three rangers with a crew of forestry guys ready for chainsaw safety workshop. Time for me to head out, but not before Rene showed me his map. It’s a passion project, meticulous research to find the exact route of the historic Dead Horse Trail over White Pass. He unrolls a large sheet of vellum with careful pencil lines marking the topography, possible routes and certain artifacts he’s found while wandering in the 1 mile stretch or Porcupine Hill. Hand draw from memory by candlelight – the way it was done back in the days when they piled corduroy road over the bodies of horses that dropped dead from exhaustion on the trail. It is a work of art.

A quick lunch and then I pick up my pack – my HEAVY pack! Having shared the load with my sister from Sheep Camp to Lindeman, I’m once again the sole pack horse for camera and camping gear and my remaining food. But it’s the home stretch.


The walk to Bare Loon reminded me so much of hiking in the Sierra. Pines widely spaced dropping their needles between granite boulders, views of blue lakes through the trees, sunshine and warmth! Maybe that was the trigger. The first day of legitimate sun-basking! I arrive at camp sweaty and seek out a private bay to dunk myself. Not as cold as Lower Dewey – still I was happy to get out of the water and tingle my way to warmth while the animals stared at me…


36 people! A full camp and I’m glad I met them all yesterday. After dinner I read them postcards and show off my paintings. Everyone seems so excited about the postcards. Maybe it’s the infectious enthusiasm of the high school girls (who shared their no-bake chocolate-PB cookies with me!), or maybe it’s because a shower and a beer are just a day away, but the mood in camp is buoyant. The wind dies down, cooperating for once, so I pull out Donald and we chat on the record. It is tiring work, being on the record, but I am excited to see how all these puzzle pieces will fit together into film language in the coming year.

One man came up to me after my little presentation and asked if he could write a postcard to someone else, because he knew he would not be alive in a year. I didn’t ask for details, but just took his postcard and placed it with the others. I have become a keeper of secrets, I hold in my hands a stack of confessions, fears, joys and sorrows. Such lovely people, even the grumpy family on their first ever backpacking trip, suffering together.


After everyone has gone to bed I climb up to the helipad and am rewarded with something like a sunset – pink clouds high in the sky at 11:30pm. I had worried that doing this residency might be a bad career move. I am stepping away from my nearly finished film and potential commercial projects knocking at my studio door to chase a vague new project that will probably consume a lot of my time with sorting, blogging and creating. But talking to everyone tonight, I do know that for the handful of postcard writers and talkers, the world is now a slightly more vibrant place. Their trek is a tad more meaningful, their lives a wee bit enriched. So, I guess that makes it all worth it? I’m still a poor artist who doesn’t make enough money to support myself. But there is something new and good in the world because of my existence on the trail. I think I’m glad that whatever it is, it doesn’t entirely belong to me.

Read More: Trail Journal Day 12

Day 10 – an O’Keefe of Blue

Day 10

4th of July!
Lindeman City

bestofchilkoot062The days are getting fuller as my residency is approaching its end. Today was a day for a long stroll. The canyon between Deep Lake and Happy Camp is open now, the trail skirting the river still choked with massive snow-bergs. Oh my! The snow! Deep does not describe it. Arctic might come close. It is not quite glacial, but the fissures penetrating into the mysteriously blue interior whisper with unseen currents and aspire to that ponderous word. Blocks of snow collapse into the water, moving slowly down river, dragging their toes against the bottom until they bump into the downstream traffic jam.

And then the people. Today is a 46-er: that is how many people will cross the summit today. I will pass them all as I backtrack to the pass, but first I run into the late risers from Happy Camp. A group from the Hawaiian Hiking Club greet me with “Aloha” and I chat with them a bit about the difference between hiking in Hawaii and Alaska (there are many differences).

The nice thing about hiking against the stream of traffic is that people notice you! I talked to nearly everyone coming down from the pass – the group of high school girls with red white and blue fireworks and star spangled banners tattooed on each cheek; 75 year old Frank hiking the trail for the 5th time with his daughter; two dudes from Spokane; a slightly grumpy family from back East. And it gave me great joy to hear that many of them had written postcards at the summit, despite me not being there to cajole them. By the time I pass the rearguard of the entourage, I could see the pass and I figured “Why not?”

bestofchilkoot061Headwinds and a barren landscape make me very aware that I am now alone. It is cold, but I sweat in my down vest, striding over snow churned to a buttery consistency by many feet. The pass seems to stretch away over each rise. Finally, I reach the bottom of the last steep pitch. This hill that we slid down in 30 seconds seems to last an eternity. At last, the shelter! And food and postcards! I flip through the stack as I munch tortilla and peanut butter, once again astounded at the range of thoughts filtering through my hands. But it is a long walk home and I don’t linger long. I slide down the steep snow hill, thinking how perfect it would be to have a toboggan and glide out across Crater Lake at breakneck speeds. And then more snow. I’ve been walking on snow forever! Eventually I start looking for detours on the rocky outcrops just to give my muscles a break. But the whipping wind is in my favor now and the sun hits the slopes farther down the valley drawing me on. I stop only briefly for a few photos, breezing through Happy Camp with its 46 tired residents, through the ice-choked canyon, up, over, down again to Deep Lake and break camp. Only 3 miles to go, thoughts of dinner and that double sleeping bag at Lindeman arguing with my sore feet and tired legs. After a 20 mile day, I finally feel some solidarity with those tired people at Happy Camp.

More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 11

Day 9 – 2 Frères au Klondike

Day 9
3 July
Deep Lake

Today I met an unusual pair of hikers. Mario and Jean, two brothers from Montreal, one a real estate broker, the other a civil engineer. Don’t they look like it?


These 2 Frères au Klondike are retracing the footsteps of one of their ancestors. As children they heard stories from their parents and grandparents about the relative that went off in search of gold in the Klondike, carrying his supplies wrapped in canvas on his back over the Chilkoot Pass. Now they are walking the trail in wool jackets, and leather boots, sleeping on folded blankets under a canvas shelter, cooking tinned beans and potted meat in a cast iron skillet. And I thought my pack was heavy!


Just like the gold miners, they have had no word from their families in weeks, but as we go our separate ways, Mario hands me a slip of paper and asks me to send a ‘telegram’ to his wife with any pictures and a greeting. Deb has been posting these ‘telegrams’ on the facebook page so the rest of us on the Outside can keep track of them.

bestofchilkoot054By train, ferry, foot and soon, a hand-made raft floating down the Yukon, they will eventually arrive at Dawson City, gold pans in hand, but it seems they have already struck it rich along the way. Mario tells me his pockets are full of golden views, friendly strangers who want them to succeed. And to share such an adventure with a brother – sleeping close for warmth, lifting heavy packs off each other’s shoulders, retelling the stories they heard as boys of the man who went off to the Klondike in search of riches… I think of my own sister, who hiked out today to return to work, and am so grateful I got to spend part of this time on the trail with her.



bestofchilkoot059A night of solitude at Deep Lake. I hiked back up the trail to do some more artistic exploring and I am amazed by how much extra time I have when I am alone. With no one to talk to, no compromises to make, my efficiency doubles, my afternoon expands. I am also reminded that I personally do not go to the wilderness for solitude. Why do I go? I think it is for the landscapes – the grandeur, the bigness. For the crystal clear streams and the cold winds off snowfields. For the warm, sun-baked granite. For the physical exercise – climbing, swimming, scrambling, glissading down soft snowfields. For the way food tastes after a day of all that. But mostly for the views… and quite often the company. As CS Lewis observes somehwere in some book I read years ago, when we encounter the beautiful our natural instinct is to grab the nearest person and share it with them with our “Woah!”s and “Look!”s and “Cool!”s. I suppose that’s just what any of us artistic types are doing out here with our paintings and photographs. We’ve found a bit of beauty or truth (or both together, if you like Keats) and are saying to the rest of the world, “Wow! Would ya look at that!”

P.S. If anyone knows the location of that CS Lewis quote, please let me know in the comments!

Read More: Trail Journal Day 10


Day 8 – cold hands, warm heart: Lindeman City

Day 82 July
Lindeman City

Raindrops on the tent in the wee hours. Birds sing their varied songs. All of Deep Lake is quiet, no one stirs in the tents, sleeping off yesterday’s adventures. Eventually, I rise to a chilly morning and boil water from the river. The weather is not cooperative for a day of art-making, but we still linger a bit with our paints. The old wooden bridge we crossed yesterday is scheduled to be replaced next year and must be preserved in the memory of art. With chilled fingers and toes, I do my conservation work as the cold works its way under my jackets and long johns. It’s time to get moving. The last big group from Whitehorse are just starting to emerge. They had a late night, judging from the bursts of laughter we heard while drifting off to sleep.
bestofchilkoot056A gradual descent along the lakeshore and above a roaring canyon leads us to a glacial green lake of magnificent proportions. This is Lindeman. Once home to 4000 would-be argonauts, they razed the surrounding forest so thoroughly that wood had to be packed in from higher up. Now the forest is reclaiming its territory. The few shelters and canvas tents of Parks Canada nestle respectfully in the protective trees, all less than 100 years old. I chat with the hikers as they settle in. An older man and a young boy and two women from Portland restore my faith in the friendliness of the trail. The big groups are inward-focused, jealous of their family time, but the smaller parties are happy for external diversions.
Back at the warden’s camp, we are five girls – two Canadian rangers, a park biologist, me and my sister, who is happy to finally be off duty and away from the unleashed dogs. Steph cooks up a dinner of Thai curry and we laugh as only women can do when they are together in the wilderness. The wood stove is warm and there is a double sleeping bag waiting for me in the tent cabin. I’m so happy to be warm!

More pictures and drawing on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 9

Day 7 – Canada Day!

Day 71 July – Happy Canada Day!
Deep Lake

42 people, mostly Canadians spending their national holiday with family and friends, pass through the warming shelter. Finally, the last family group filters through. 7-year-old Lucas’ favorite part was scrambling up the Golden Stair though the older girls in the group “almost died, but not really!” I find the hubbub of people moving in and out of the shelters confusing. The elements are against me this time – people arrive tired and chilled, not inclined to think deep thoughts or talk to strangers with fuzzy microphones named Donald. They only want to get something hot inside them and hurry down out of the cloud. If only we had cake to offer them, it might differ… but rumor is, in Canada it is sunny…


…and rumors are true! After a lunch of candied salmon and Havarti (yum!) we glissade down the snow. Snow, snow and more snow! Snow canyons 15 feet deep, carved by the river; cracks and fissures of glacial blue opening up. When the rangers came up at the end of May to open the trail they had to probe to find the warden’s hut and had 5 people digging for over an hour to reach the door! We walk on snow for most of the 4 miles to Happy Camp, where finally the sun comes out. Tired hikers are basking on the tent platforms, despite a chilly breeze. They revel in the first warm rays of the entire trail and moods rise with the barometer.
bestofchilkoot048Not tired, we decide to carry on to Deep Lake. The canyon trail is covered with dangerous collapsing ice blocks, which means we are rerouted over the top of the bluffs. A 10min walk becomes an hour of scrambling and bush bashing up 1,000ft of brush and snow, following little orange ribbons tied to trees. But at the top we are rewarded with an expansive view that few Chilkoot travelers get to see – a string of deep blue lakes shimmering in the afternoon sun, mist clinging to the upper peaks surrounding us. Well worth the extra effort (though we are glad we didn’t start the day at Sheep Camp like everyone else!). We pass another energetic group of Canadians and their dogs and glissade down some snowfields towards Long Lake. The trail picks up again, finally clear of snow, and it ambles along above the lake to an old wooden bridge. We have arrived at Deep Lake. Camp is full of hungry, happy hikers, thrilled to have made it this far. Dinner is a very social affair.

More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 8

Day 6 – The Ebb and Flow

Day 630 June

bestofchilkoot037Typical summit weather: 3०C and white, winds from the SW. Warden Steph says it’s like this 90% of the time up here. The stampede starts soon after breakfast. A shivering group of Spaniards are the first to arrive. We bring over thermoses of hot water and wine gums (a Canadian thing) from the warden’s hut to cheer them up. It’s much more inhospitable up here with the strong wind howling over the pass. The Canadian flag whips and snaps loudly as I talk to people. Over 40 hikers filter over, most staying just long enough to get warm and eat a snack before getting down out of this frozen cloud. 2 families from Juneau and 1 from Whitehorse are the last to arrive. 8 year-old Elin pulls pink gloves off her hands, revealing fingernails painted an array of blue, pink, green and black. Apparently a family trail tradition, the rest of them have similar decoration. With colorful bugs crawling up her purple fleece vest she chatters about Billy the Goat who takes kids packs and carries them up the Golden Stairs. Her mother corrects her, “It’s not a-bout, it’s a-booooout. We’re in Canada now!” Two teenage boys practice their penguin slides on the snowbanks outside.

It’s Day 6 and the halfway mark… I’m trying to decide what to do. Tomorrow 42 people cross over the summit, 20-something the next day. Should I stay here and try to collect all their stories and postcards, or is it time to move on down the trail? Erica is getting ancy here in this white cloud. This is why it’s hard for artists to hike with other people – we linger where others move on.


The Chilkoot is a very social trail. A high volume of hikers all travelling to the same place, camping at the same campgrounds, cooking in the same shelters. It is acceptable, in fact even expected, to strike up a conversation. We look out for each other, wonder how everyone is handling the stairs, ask each other about our experiences of the trail. This one was scared, that one thought it was adventurous… Finding a thread to bind all these mini-stories together will be quite a feat. Somehow, all this material will fold into itself and open up into a recognizable “something”, like oragami magic. It’s a strange place to be at the beginning of a project with no defined direction. Not entirely unfamiliar – too familiar perhaps. More planning might have been beneficial. I wonder where all these people will be in a year and who they will be when they receive their postcards. Judging from some of the handwriting, some of them may never get their postcards!

I am happy about the socialness though. Turns out I like seeing people in the wilderness, when they experience it authentically and respectfully.

I feel a cold coming on and hope I can kill it with extensive eating and sleeping before tomorrow’s big day.

More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 7

Yet another difference…

As one hiker observed on her postcard, “Americans provide toilet paper. Canadians don’t.”


Day 5 – Summit to Stay (or surprised by bacon)

Day 5

29 June

bestofchilkoot033Last night was a slumber party at Sheep Camp with Erica and Nicole hiking in from Dyea. I’m not sure if the public is supposed to know about the delightful outdoor shower near the ranger station, that’s probably privileged information. But I’m officially a park service volunteer so I didn’t feel even a twinge of guilt as I washed away sweat and mud from the first 5 days. We had a warm dinner of Lebanese Peanut Bulgar from the Bozeman Co-op bulk bins, hot drinks and ranger stories. After the best night’s sleep in the cozy loft on a real mattress, we awake to the smell of bacon! A cast iron breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes to send us up the pass today! I never expected to find such luxury on the Chilkoot Trail. It pays to have friends in the park service. We leave Sheep Camp for the last time, with heavy stomachs but warm hearts.


More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 6