Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Tag: artist in residence

Photo Essay!

The winter edition of Mountain Outlaw Magazine just hit the stands here in Montana. If you manage to get your hands on a copy, turn to page 52. You might see someone you recognize – me! I’ve contributed a photo essay about my 2 weeks as Artist-in Residence on the Chilkoot Trail. It’s full of interesting historical facts and some of the artwork I created on the trail.

If you aren’t passing through Montana anytime soon, you can read the full article online here: Postcard from Chilkoot Pass  And you can flip through the entire magazine, an excellent read, at  explorebigsky.com

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 1 – Dyea to Canyon City

Day 1

25 June

The morning report on the radio warns of temps in the 50s and rain showers. Gray skies confirm the reports. Gone are the summer Skagway days and it is time to suffer through the trail.

Things I am nervous about:

  • a heavy pack full of camera and sound gear, stacks of unwritten postcards, radio and bear spray, art supplies
  • talking to people, getting them to talk to me, convincing them to talk to Donald.
  • getting wet – I mean really wet!
  • my problematic big toe and the muscles and joints that haven’t had to carry a pack for a long time.

But mostly it’s the pack and all the gear – there’s just so much more when I am A) solo hiking B) going for 13 days C) supposed to make art. The weight of my pack makes me feel very unorganized and unprepared for this trek compared to the time when I could throw a few things together and be on the trail in minutes. Last night I even contemplated leaving my camera here and just painting and drawing my way through the trail, but I knew I would regret it almost immediately. One day all these photos I’m stockpiling will find their place in my artistic repertoire so I continue to lug that heavy thing into wild places. So, then, let this rainy day unfold…

Canyon City

Hanging out with a bunch of Alaskans at Canyon City. We are a cozy little group – a family from Fairbanks and 3 women from the outskirts of Anchorage. This was my trip in:


From the picture you might note the drawing of a cracked UV filter. Yes, about an hour into the trek, as I was unbuckling my pack, I discovered I had failed to secure my camera properly to its strap because it fell and bounced onto the boardwalk. I thought it was probably fine, but opened it up just to check and aaaaack! There was broken glass all over! After a moment of panic, I saw that it was only the UV filter that had shattered* and the lens appeared to be fine, apart from some scary-looking glass dust sitting on the front element. I very, very carefully brushed and blew away the fragments, breathing a prayer of thanks as I snapped a picture to check the functionality. I promised the camera I would take much better care of it from now on and proceeded to baby it for the rest of the trip. And from what I can tell, it didn’t hold a grudge.

bestofchilkoot003And yes, there was water. The 5 days of sunshine did a number on the snowfields and the Taiya river overflowed its banks onto the trail. Yesterday hikers were going through thigh-deep water but by the time I got there it was just below my knees. So, wet boots for a few days. Things could be worse.


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

Read more: Trail Journal Day 2

*Photography note: There is a heated debate in photography forums about whether or not to use a UV filter to “protect” your very expensive lens. Many if not most pros walk around with their glass as bare as a baby’s bottom. You would think this incident would have convinced me that my filter saved my lens, but I have to wonder… is that cheap metal ring and glass more susceptible to impact than a well-constructed, sturdy lens? The camera fell about 3.5 feet onto wood in a soft case that has about 1 cm of cushion. I was pretty surprised when I saw all that broken glass – it didn’t seem like much of an impact. When I’m shooting I almost always have a lens hood on, which is a great shock absorber for those accidental knocks and bangs. However, the hood has to come off to fit the camera into the soft case, so had I not had the filter on it would have been the lens cap and the soft case absorbing the fall. My theory is that the lens would have survived where the filter did not. But I am NOT planning on testing that theory! However, if you have tested it, by all means comment below and let us know!

The Chilkoot Trail, an artist’s journey


Photos and drawings from 13 days on the Chilkoot Trail in Klondike-Goldrush National Historic Park

Off the Trail

Greetings from Canada! I’ve made it Whitehorse after 13 days on the trail and a gorgeous train ride along Lake Bennett. There is so much to tell I don’t really know where to start. I’ll be consolidating all the artwork, postcards, interviews and inspiration I found on the trail in the coming weeks, but for now, if you happen to be in Whitehorse, you can get a head start on all the stories and see some of my artwork in person. I’ll be giving an artist’s talk tonight, so come by if you are in town.

7:30 pm

Sunday, July 8, 2012

at the S.S. Klondike tent by the Yukon River

Packing List


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!

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!

Klondike or Bust!

The Scales and the Golden Stairs on the trail to the Klondike.

This summer I will be an Artist-in-Residence on the Chilkoot Trail in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site! Following the footsteps of goldrush prospectors, I’ll be hiking from Dyea, AK over the Golden Stairs (aka Chilkoot Pass) to Bennet, BC. During the 2 week residency, I’ll be collecting stories, images and impressions for an animated short. This trail has seen millions of footsteps from centuries of traders, miners and modern “pilgrims” wanting to relieve the historical journey. As a dual ambassador for the park and the arts, I plan to involve not only the people who will be walking the trail this upcoming summer, but those who have done it in the past, and in so doing, add layers of history to the story of the film. If you have hiked the Chilkoot at any point in your life, I would LOVE to talk to you. Please send me a note!!

The residency is an international creative journey generously sponsored by The Yukon Arts CenterThe Skagway Arts Council, US National Park Service and Parks Canada. Their logistical and financial support will get me on the trail to start the project. If you are a goldrush fan and patron of the arts, please consider making a donation, large or small, to help cover the cost of postage, printing, and animation to make the Klondike Letters Project far-reaching and long-lasting!