Kwe Kwe Maya,
I am really proud of you for making this journey. I think you are capable of many things. Be confident! May this travel on the Chilkoot connect you to your inner strength and may you be blessed with a light load to carry.
I’ll be posting postcards throughout the winter as part of our memory archive. If you’d like to make a small donation to help me cover the mailing costs, please use the link at the side. We plan to keep this project going next year and hopefully for many years to come! Looking forward to next season at the top of Chilkoot Pass.
I want to introduce you to two Yukon artists Thom and I met at the top of Chilkoot Pass.
The first is singer/songwriter Kate Weekes, who was guiding a group of hikers up through the trail. When she’s not out in the wilderness, she puts on a dress and makes some awesome music. Check out more on kateweekes.com
Next is painter Stephanie Ryan. I met Stephanie in 2012 at the top of the pass and hung out in the warden’s hut for a few days. Stephanie is still patrolling the trail and finding inspiration for her prismatic paintings in the landscape of the Yukon and Alaska. Check out stephanieryanart.ca
9 July, 2016
There is no sleeping in with the boy scouts in camp. They are up at 6:20, breaking camp, worried about the last 4 miles to the 2pm train. We all have a deadline today and some are more hurried than others. Thom and I break camp, but we linger over breakfast, and I take my paints to the lake to catch up on the postcards. It is noon in Canada when we finally begin our walk. We poke our heads into a rustic log cabin at the end of Lindeman – a cozy hovel that would require a lot of shoveling if the 20 foot drifts came down this low. This time the long sandy hill is not so hot and endless because it is expected. The viewpoint beckons and Lake Bennett is just as impressive as I remember, the wide U-shaped basin with brilliant hues of reds, greens and purples flowing into the blue lake. There is not much time for lingering. The train pulls in and announces its 45-minute stopover with a echoing whistle, releasing its day passengers for a quick look around the old church and cabins. Thom and I have the last of our tortillas and peanut butter near the tracks as 82 packs are loaded into the baggage car.
At 2:15 AK time, the train departs and we feel like first class travelers, watching the scenery fly by without our feet pounding the rocks or our packs pulling at our shoulders. White Pass is beautiful, starkly alpine in its interconnected lakes and lumpy granite plateaus. This is no easy route. I would choose to haul my ton of goods over Chilkoot Pass as well.
The narrow gauge track clings to the cliff on the other side and I think about the tons of dynamite Mr. Heney used to make this route plausible. This is the one financial venture that outlasted the stampede. We glide into the station in Skagway and our good-byes are hurried as our trail buddies grab their packs and find their shuttles to Dyea or a local hotel. The trail has come to an end, here where we began. Like many of the stampeders, our bid for the Klondike became a loop. Or perhaps it is a spiral, seemingly circular, but rising upwards until sometime in the future we find ourselves shouldering our packs (hopefully with a bag of Tostitos attached) and heading out from Dyea to the Golden Stairs…
8 July, 2016
All obligations are over. We sleep in until almost 9am, then stare at the dozens of mosquitos waiting patiently on the screen door of our tent. We pack up with bug nets over our heads and cook breakfast in the same fashion, eating oatmeal as we move from rock to rock in hopes of eluding the pesky creatures.
As we finish up, Don and Bear arrive from Sheep Camp. Bear is 7 years old with curly black hair, a round belly, pink tongue, and a satisfied whine when you rub his tummy. Don is a lightweight backpacker in true Ray Jardin style. He has hiked this trail every year for the last 34 years. We talk about the John Muir Trail, which he recently completed with his wife, and the morning dissolves into noon. Some of the hikers from Happy Camp start filtering through. Finally Don’s light trail shoes go back on, Bear eats a stick of salami, the Jetboil is packed away, signaling it is time for us all to move on. There are rumors that the boy scouts are coming!
Thom and I head out at a leisurely pace, stopping to take macro shots of the waist high wildflowers and crouching down to get a good view of what we have dubbed to be “mountain coral” – the tiny intricate lichen that grow slowly into spindly ruffles and lacy orbs. Walking along the roaring canyon, we marvel at the depth of the chasm and the energy contained in the churning water. Does this unstoppable force really freeze and become a snow-covered highway with easy passage for stampeder sleds.
Lindeman offers a welcome lunch break, some education at the interpretive tent, and a quick chilly dunk in the glacial green waters. Then we are on our way to Bare Loon. As we hike the now sandy trails, in between granite boulders and widely-spaced spruce, Thom comments, “This reminds me of hiking in Colorado.” Funny how we attach our reference points to our home places – for me it is quintessential Sierra Nevada; for him it is clearly Rocky Mountains. In truth, it is its own place, the start of the “Interior” – a word used often enough by the Canadians on this trail that I understand it as a political geography. It is beautiful and familiar at any rate.
We arrive at Bare Loon, eager for a second swim, and most of the camp residents seem to agree as they are already in the water, splashing between the rocky islets near the shore. After our previous swimming adventures, the water is practically warm. It feels wonderful to sprint for the short distance to the rocks, hoping 4 days of trail dirt and sweat is loosening from our skin as goosebumps pop up. Finally, there is some time to brush hair, organize clothing, catch up on journalling, while the last few hikers arrive and hurriedly set up tents to the sound of approaching thunder. Everyone gathers under the cooking shelter as rain splats, then pours, from the sky. Dinner is a crowded, noisy affair, but full of more stories and conversation, shared chocolate and ginger and Jetboil magic shows. Eventually the crowd thins as the rain moves on. Across the lake we begin to hear the loons calling out the evening vespers. It is time for bed.
7 July, 2016
Up and over the pass…
We are awake and heading out of camp before the big groups (mainly the 14 boy scouts) have organized their breakfast. Somehow the hike goes faster this time. Perhaps because it is a bluebird day and we see clear skies and sunshine at the pass. A rare day. We revel in it, finding the sun at the first push and stripping down to our base layer once we reach the shelter.
As hikers come over, they too are inclined to linger. there is no urgency to get to safety – safety is here in the sunshine, napping on a warm rock, eating lunch with a long view of Canada spread out before you. T-shirts and bare feet are the rule. There is no ned for hot drinks and extra layers today. We wait for everyone to pass over, chatting with Annie about working in New Zealand and Big Sky, sharing our extra fuel with Andrea, the girl with the broken arm. New friends on the trail.
Eventually, the boy scouts (Troop 82) and their entourage arrive. Satrina has so much to record she fills 3 postcards. Her friends and family in Miami will never believe she is up here. Her daughter Mackenzie vows to never do it again (but she is glad she did). An emotional moment for Tom, a heart-attack survivor, hiking with a pacemaker, two knee braces and his grandson. The postcards solidify the moment.
We have a quick lunch and then hit the trail ahead of the boy scouts. Crater Lake entices us for a 10-second swim at the edge of a snowfield (mostly for the sake of the pictures), then we cruise through the high alpine valley, soaking in the sun and water everywhere. Canadian warden Kim, who we meet on the other side, tells us she can’t remember a day so gloriously clear and warm since May 26 of last year! Such a beautiful day.
Late dinner at Deep Lake. Mosquitos join us, as does Andrea, and we discuss politics (Canadian and American) while eating pasta (us) and viking stew (Andrea). The bugs don’t seem like they plan to abate as the sun dips behind the mountains, so Thom and I dive into the tent.
6 July, 2016
To the summit and back with light packs. On the trail at 6:30 – a later start this time but we seem to be on track with the rest of the camp, passing a few groups and making it to the top ahead of nearly everyone in just shy of 3 hours. The white cloud is here to welcome us, ebbing and flowing with the 39 hikers and day runners (this must be a new fad) coming up the Golden Stairs and through the pass.
After our arrival a familiar face comes through the door. It is warden Stephanie with thermoses of hot water for the coming hikers! Canadian hospitality abounds. We hang out and talk to hikers. Hot cocoa and tea is welcomed and postcards are written in return. Thom and I learn about bear bangers and the recent rogue bear issues at Lindeman. Soon the last group of hikers has hurried off into the mist, but we linger, hoping for a break in the weather.
At 2:30 the cloud breaks and Canada apprears. Lo! There is a lake below! Blue and extending in long fingers with little rock islands and secluded swimming spots – if you can brave the icebergs! We linger a while longer, enjoying what the hikers did not have the luxury to wait for. Then down the golden stairs. How many people in modern times have walked down these stairs. A handful of rangers and trail crew. The occasional runner or hiker going salmon-like against the flow. A bear, heading to the coast. Not too many see these views of waterfalls and hanging glaciers on both sides of this steep valley. The way up is always looking forward to the top of the stairs. But going down, the valley expands on all sides.
Back at camp at 6pm to meet Annie, the ranger, and a flurry of preparation and activity from those who are going into the unknown. We get lots of questions and try to set at bay the worst fears with fresh information from the trail ahead.
Over dinner, Thom and I peruse the journal of a 19-year young man from Chicago who joined the stampede in 1898. Travelled by rail through the great state of Montana ending in Seattle where he and his buddy bought their kit and booked first class passage to Skagway for $50 (“avoid steerage at all costs”). Gear hauled by wagon and tram to the Scales, then packed over to the lakes… rugged work for a city boy. They arrive at Dawson City on July 26 to find “no employment of any kind, no claims to be had, nothing can be done without a permit, not even cutting a tree to build a cabin.” With no prospect of surviving the winter, much less make his fortune, by August 14th he was working his way home as a cook on a steamboat down the Yukon and back in Seattle safe and sound by September. Smart cheechako. It is nice to have the luxury to go home, even if you end up in steerage on the way back.
5 July, 2016
14+ miles! The trail is drier thhis time around. No wet feet and dive bombin bugs either. The little green things still grow but seem a little crispier and many of the flowers I remember from last time have already faded. In theri place are ripening berries, oblong ones that hang under leaves and trun from white to deep burgundy, tasting like watermelon. And sour blueberries, that tempt only the bears. Judging from the fresh scat in the middle of the trail, they have been feasting.
Without an overnight at Canyon City, Sheep Camp is far away. My joints are a bit more worn and unconditioned for such a pounding, but my pack it lighter and i have company! Thom makes me sit on a rock step in the middle of the trail and take off my boots for a 5 minute foot rub that is heavenly – and gets me the last 4 miles of up and down. Plus he brought Tostitos! We arrive late after most of the camp is in bed and find our cozy spot in the thick undergrowth. Erica has left me some tastily items in her food box at the ranger station so we have our own feast on indian curry before sleep overtakes us.
My sis and her new hubby. Nothing like a small town stars and stripes wedding, complete with fireworks and parade!