Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

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