Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Category: Preparation

#findyourparkrangerandmarryher

My sis and her new hubby. Nothing like a small town stars and stripes wedding, complete with fireworks and parade!

At the Skagway 4th of July Parade!

At the Skagway 4th of July Parade!

At the Skagway 4th of July Parade!

She wears the hat much more naturally than me…

Happy Birthday Klondike-Goldrush!

Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park turns 40! There was some celebrating today at the visitor’s center.

Before the Artist's Talk

Before the Artist’s Talk

 

After the Artist's Talk

After the Artist’s Talk

The trail journal returns.

Trail Journal - 28 June, 2016

A beautiful day for a flight to Skagway. The glaciers were in fine form, as was the Lynn Canal. There will be a week of wedding hoopla before I hit the trail. My sister, a ranger for Klondike-Goldrush National Historic Park, is getting married, which is as good an excuse as any to return to Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail!

On the flight to Juneau, I reread all my trail journal entries from the 2012 residency. Back then, I was a mountain girl from Montana and Alaska was just an extension of my home environment. Now I’m a city-girl from Baltimore, and I have a feeling I will see the trail with new eyes.

Return to the Trail

This summer I’ll be back on the Chilkoot Trail from July 5-9!  I’m excited to revisit my memories 4 years later and see how the trail has changed and how it has remained unchanged. Even more, I am looking forward to meeting new travelers and maybe even running into some ghosts from the past.

While I will only be on the trail for 5 days this time (a much faster pace than my 2 week journey in 2012), the Klondike Letters Project will continue all summer with postcards at the top of the pass. If you are hiking at any point this summer, be sure to stop for a moment and record a memory for your future self. What will you put in this space?

KLpostcardsFULL2016

Hiking the Chilkoot next summer?

A short video about preparing to hike the Chilkoot Trail.

Summer is around the corner and permits are available for the Chilkoot trail. If you are considering hiking this year, check out this fun video, made by a couple of the Park Rangers (one of whom happens to be my fabulous sister!) to prepare visitors for the ups and downs of the trail. If you see Erica on the trail this summer, be sure to say “Hi!”

Packing List

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Everyone heading to the Klondike had to haul a year’s worth of food and supplies (weighing about 1 ton!) over Chilkoot Pass and down the Yukon River. I took a look at their supply list. I think I might leave a few things home. Probably the ½ lb. evaporated vinegar and 8lbs of pitch… and maybe the whipsaw, though that might come in handy. Hmmmm….

Actually, packing for an on-the-trail artist residency poses a few challenges. I did several backcountry art-making forays into the New Zealand wilderness while making Conversing with Aotearoa, so I’m used to packing up my camera, tripod and sound recording equipment with a bunch of art supplies. Luckily for this two week trip, I have the support of the National Parks Service and Parks Canada.  Lucky me, I  will have my own cache waiting for me at Sheep Camp and Lindeman, with most of my food for the journey. That’s a good 20-30lbs I don’t need to pack in, so I’m very grateful to the park rangers keeping it safe. There’s no chocolate in there guys, really!

Here are a few of the non-camping items I’m bringing with me:

  • My fabulous Canon 60D along with a couple fancy filters that make life fun.
  • A trusty tripod for those timelapse and long-exposure shots
  • a portable watercolor set – this little guy has seen a lot of epic scenery!
  • 200 postcards, pens and colored pencils for my fellow travellers to have fun with.
  • Donald, my handy little recorder.

I’ve been getting familiar with my equipment in the field during my stay in Skagway and am excited to start making art on the trail. Now the real question is if I’ll be able to fit it all in my pack!

Getting in Shape in Skagway

Skagway today is still a gold rush town, only these days the local sourdoughs are mining the tidal flood of tourists that wash in from the Lynn Canal. If it’s a “four-ship day” as it was when I arrived, you can be sure that the boardwalks on Broadway will be shoulder to shoulder with people filling their bags with t-shirts, gold nuggets, coffee mugs and magnets.

When the cruise ship blows the all-aboard signal at 5pm, summoning their passengers to the all-you-can-eat buffets, the streets become a ghost town. Slowly the town’s more permanent residents venture out to the local watering holes or head out to enjoy the 6 hours of lingering daylight on the many trails that surround the town.

Yesterday, since the sun was shining for the first time in weeks, I ventured up one of these local trails to see what I could see. I figured it would be a good chance to test out some of my gear in the feild and start getting my body used to carrying a pack up steep terrain, so I packed up my camera, art supplies, a few snacks from the local bakery and a full sack of water and headed to the trailhead. The trail started out pleasant enough, with a gradual incline winding through mossy woods spotted with wildflowers and the occasional creek. I soon came to a viewpoint overlooking Skagway where I could see the bustling cruise ships unloading their passengers for the day. I was glad to be out of the hustle.

Soon after, the trail began to steepen and my pack began to feel inexplicitly heavier. It wasn’t long before the trail turned into an intermittent creek and I was ducking through thick brush and pulling myself up by roots and rocks in some places. For a good while this is what I was going up (and down): no kidding.

I wasn’t too phased – from what I have been told, this is what most trails in Alaska are like. Why cut a bunch of switchbacks when you can just go striaght up the hill? I was regretting bringing all my gear though, and as drinking as much water as I could to lighten my load. Eventually, I got above the bush line and the trail opened up onto a long ridge. It was still steep and in places quite snowy, but at least the views were distracting. I continued on for another hour over what seemed to be an endless number of false summits. Over my shoulder, I could see some darkening clouds down the Lynn Canal. I figured I only had about an hour before they were over me, so I decided to leave the summit for some more hard-core hikers and stop where I was to take some photos. It was a good decision:

The troublesome thing about landscape photography is that the most interesting photos happen when the conditions are getting sketchy. Photographers are alway right on the edge of storm and I am no exception. After lasting as long as I dared, I headed down, stopping a few more times to capture a bit more of the moment. Here’s a short video of what it was like on the top with the clouds creeping over the ridge. I was a bit too rushed to pull out the tripod and mic for this so my apologies for the wind noise and slight camera shake – but you get the idea.


The rain started as I got to back to the bushline and after that it was just a matter of scrambling down the waterfall aka trail back to town. So in addition to testing my camera gear I got to test my new rain shell and quick-dry pants, both of which I can say are working brilliantly! After going up and down 3500ft with a fairly loaded pack, I was about ready to collapse when I got back to town. But I made it, and everyone tells me that the Chilkoot Trail is 10 times easier (imagine that!). I have a new appreciation for the stampeders shuttling their one-ton of gear over Chilkoot Pass, 50lbs at a time. I have to admit, I’m very happy that I will only have to do it once!

Painting Postcards

With 3 days to go before I head North, the packing has begun! I think my pack will be quite a bit different than most travelers on the Chilkoot Trail. More on that later. At the moment, I’m sorting through art supplies and trying to decide how much of my studio to bring.

my arsenal of color

Since a big part of this project will be letting other people create artistic memories on the KLP postcards, either through writing or drawing, I want to have a nice array of options. This afternoon I sat down on the back porch and made my first KLP postcards. the recycled kraft paper takes prismacolor pencils really well, and the sharpies and felt pens look brilliant, but I was also surprised how nicely the watercolor sat on the paper.

And interesting bit of personal history: My grandmother is a watercolor painter and as I was growing up, we often would hike out to some beautiful lake or meadow around Lake Tahoe and as the energetic kids scrambled up granite and swam in snow melt, Omi would be painting wildflowers and mountains. A great traveler, she would send us painted postcards from her trips around the world. When I went off to college, Omi gave me a little Windsor-Newton watercolor kit and a set of watercolor postcards, and I have carried on the tradition. This little trusty set of paints has seen a lot of the world and I think it will be happy to help me capture the road to the Klondike.

I interviewed Omi about painting outdoors when she turned 89 and turned the interview into an animated mini-documentary. You can watch En Plein Air on my website and see some of Omi’s paintings on her website. She is such a tech-savvy granny!

I’ve got 250 of these babies, so I will certainly be making more along the way, perhaps even using them as my own personal journal. And, of course, I can’t wait to see what other people will put in that blank space!

Testing, 1..2..3.. testing.

Hello, my name is Donald.

I’d like you to meet Donald. He’ll be travelling with me on the Chilkoot Trail. He’s very friendly and LOVES to listen. If you see him on the trail, feel free to tell him your thoughts, dreams, rants, or just sing him a nice little tune.

In all seriousness, this lightweight recorder is going to be a lot of fun on the trail. I’ll be asking some folks to read aloud their postcards and use that as the soundtrack for each mini-animation. It’s also really fun to record the natural sounds inthe environment – water trickling, bird calls, interesting sounds made by moving rocks, breaking sticks, sand trickling through fingers. And of course campfire stories.

For starters, here’s a little poetic sound clip Donald and I collaborated on during one of our wild Montana thunderstorms. Click on the photo to listen. We’ll see you on the trail!

Rain Bath

Oh, in case you were wondering, Donald’s hairdresser is taking on new clients…