Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Day 3 – Summit and Back

Day 3

27 June
Sheep Camp

4:20am
bestofchilkoot014I roll out of the tent to find most of Sheep Camp vacated. I guess they all took Ranger Matt’s admonition to be on the trail no later than 5am very seriously.

4:45am
I hoist a light(er) pack on my shoulder. The mosquitoes seem to know I am the only warm-blooded creature left in camp and they flock around me. I stride out of camp quickly. I have people to beat to the summit!

Soon I begin passing hikers (much to my relief) with a cheery “Good Morning!” Everyone seems awake and in good spirits. Getting up at 4am is not so bad when it’s been daylight for an hour already. We quickly leave the trees behind and walk through scrubby boulders, water gushing from every crevasse, rock and snow patch. Water everywhere! Waterfalls on all sides tumbling down sheer cliffs in white ribbons. It is a Dolby 5.1 waterfall soundtrack!

5:40am
The snow begins. I traverse across snowfields, over patches of rocks and back onto the snow, passing a few more groups. We all follow the orange stakes marking the safe path across the snow bridges, occasionally hearing the hidden rivers rushing under our feet. The mist closes in as I climb higher, obscuring the cairns and stakes ahead so I my only guide at certain times is the steadily rising terrain of Long Hill…

I pass bits of rusty iron, mechanical parts, an old tea kettle, rusted, twisted cables poking out of the snow. What else is buried underneath there?

bestofchilkoot015

6:45
The Golden Stairs – I catch up with the family from Fairbanks. The stairs have shed their snow faster than the rest of the trail and it is pure scrambling from here. Big boulders and smaller rock piles intermingle. The rocks are wet from the mist and soon my gloves are soaked. I love scrambling, so this is no big deal for me. Still, I test each foothold carefully. A loose rock could mean a nasty bruise or worse. Up, up, up! Soon I’m at the top where a rock monument lauds the brave souls that inspired all of us to come on this trail.

7:40
I find the summit shelter through thick fog and let myself in, a couple from Spokane on my heels. The empty warden’s cabin, 50 ft away, is barely visible, but there is no wind so the whiteout is more eerie than threatening. After morning report on my radio, I begin boiling water for the coming crowd. Soon the flood begins and in a matter of minute the hut is full of bodies still steaming from the exertion of the climb. Glasses and camera lenses fog immediately and become useless. Happily, people reach for postcards and pens, eager to put down their thoughts before the feelings of being “at the top” fade. The steady stream of people continues – hot drinks, snacks are shared. Worried wonderings about the slower members that haven’t shown up yet (Miles lost his gloves, Ben fell through a snow bridge) turn into adrenaline-pumped stories when their smiling faces come through the door. The trail crew breaks out a Nalgene full of “black tea” which looks suspiciously like whiskey. There is more snow melting over cookstoves. Others begin to head off downhill with a happy song.

11:30
bestofchilkoot019The hut is empty and I wait for the last 3 hikers – the 3 ladies from my first night at Canyon City. The clouds lift their skirts like a Dawson dance hall girl and I get a peek at Canada. I walk back with the camera and see my lady friends breaching the stairs with cheerful smiles. “A good attitude and lots of prayer,” gets them to the top. More hot water, chili chocolate and postcards!

12:10
Alone again – the snapping flag and vibrato notes of some unseen twisted metal singing in the wind on the crags above me are the only sounds. I am dragging my feet, finding excuses to stay in this forlorn landscape, which is opening up before me in a private beauty. Another warm meal, more photos and recording, eventually it is time to go down… it is sunny below the Golden Stairs.

As with any residency, what this provides is the gift of time – time to wait for the clouds to clear, time to experience change, time to sit still…
My understanding of the trail is utterly unique because of this.

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

Read More: Trail Journal Day 4

One ResponseLeave one →

  1. Bianca

     /  October 21, 2012

    Very well written & excellent description !