Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Tag: chilkoot pass

Summit

Climbing the Golden Stairs…

Many different choices and different routes, but it will eventually reach the same destination.

“Summit”

Day 3 – Summit in the sun

Day 3

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 need 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.

Sunny Ice
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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.

sunnypass

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.

Read Trail Journal Day 4

Back to Day 1

Day 2 – Summit in the cloud

 

Postcard from the trail

Postcard from the trail

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.

Golden Stairs
Golden Stairs
I remember this view
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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.

ranger

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.

Read Trail Journal Day 3

Back to Day 1

An atom in the universe

Behind vs civilization... before us vastness silence grandeur - stand alone on the summit... and realize what an atom in the universe you are. But there is little time for resting... and none for dreaming.

Behind vs civilization… before us vastness silence grandeur – stand alone on the summit… and realize what an atom in the universe you are.
But there is little time for resting… and none for dreaming.

Klondike Mike and the Unfortunate Piano

In February, 1898 Mike Mahoney aka “Klondike Mike” made a deal with Hal Henry. He would escort the Sunny Samson Sister Sextette and their luggage over the Chilkoot Pass and down to Dawson city for $3000 plus a share of the musical group’s proceeds once they started performing in the Dawson Saloons. The six blonde and virtuous sisters were sure to be a huge smash in the rough Klondike frontier, where feminine charms were worth their weight in gold.

There was just one problem – the sisters insisted on bringing their accompaniment piano. Klondike Mike, a strapping Canadian farm boy and champion boxer turned stampeder, duly hoisted the entire piano onto his back and went step-by step up the Golden Stairs and into Klondike fame. Fortune eluded him, however, because the Canadian customs officer at the top of the pass, seeing the piano, asked what he was about. When he heard that 6 delicate, ill-equipt showgirls were coming his way, he was aghast (this was only his second day on duty – he had yet to see the sort of folks trying to get to Dawson). Certain they would die on the trail! He refused to let the party continue any further.

Fuming, Mike stormed back to Skagway and left the piano atop the pass, where eventually someone hauled it back down and sold it for a tidy profit.

Animation: Corrie Francis Parks
Banjo Pickin’ : Ranger Kyle Kaiser
“Saloon Piano Gem No. 1” by Black Keys Bob Stevenson
References: The Hougen Group – Yukon Nuggets and Klondike Mike: An Alaskan Odyssey By Merrill Denison

Interviews recorded at the top of Chilkoot Pass.

This is part of a series of animated postcards from Chilkoot Pass. Read more about the project here.  These mini-documentaries are rooted in reality, with live interviews and photos from the Chilkoot Trail providing a catalyst for my personal memories and playful reinterpretations of history. As an artist, this is about as fun as it gets!

Gold Trail

Greetings from the Gold Trail aka the top of the world...

Greetings from the Gold Trail aka the top of the world…

Mom, chocolate and hot tea

Hello!! So you just went up and over the Chilkoot Trail Golden Stairs!!! You are completely frozen but you are accomplished. You can't really write because your hands are frozen. It took five hours to get here and you still have to do four hours left, but its mostly flat or downhill. You are so strong! I'm proud of myself. Just keep thinking of Mom, chocolate and hot tea and you can do it! Be strong!!!! You can do anything.

Hello!! So you just went up and over the Chilkoot Trail Golden Stairs!!! You are completely frozen but you are accomplished. You can’t really write because your hands are frozen. It took five hours to get here and you still have to do four hours left, but its mostly flat or downhill. You are so strong! I’m proud of myself. Just keep thinking of Mom, chocolate and hot tea and you can do it! Be strong!!!! You can do anything.

Sourdough Zombies

Back in 1898, thousands of men and women arrived in Skagway with gold fever. They were headed for the Klondike goldfields over the Chilkoot Pass. Around their necks, they carried packets of fermented dough to make bread on their long, cold journey. If they made it through their first year in the bitter North, they were dubbed “sourdoughs”, after the bread that kept them alive during the endless night of winter.

Animation: Corrie Francis Parks
Banjo Pickin’ : Ranger Kyle Kaiser
Interviews recorded at the top of Chilkoot Pass.

This is the first in a series of animated postcards from Chilkoot Pass. Read more about the project here.  These mini-documentaries are rooted in reality, with live interviews  and photos from the Chilkoot Trail as providing a catalyst for my personal memories and playful reinterpretations. As an artist, this is about as fun as it gets!

Chilkoot Pass – Then and Now

when I stood on top of Chilkoot Pass, the vast, empty stretch of Canadian wilderness before me, it was hard to imagine a bustling, fluctuation community of thousands occupying the small saddle. Having a pencil in my hand, makes imagining easier! Here’s a look at some scenes from the first animated postcard from Chilkoot Pass. Soon I’ll have the entire animation up, but for now, scroll down and read some of the postcards travelers wrote on the top of the pass.

Chilkoot Pass then

Top of the Pass on a busy day in 1898.

Chilkoot Pass now

A wild, lonely day on top of Chilkoot Pass, 2012.

 

Extreme heights, horrible shoes

Dear Ben, I've just experienced the most frightening day of my entire life. Extreme heights, horrible shoes, and snowy hills have made me truly grateful to be alive. I love my life.  Sincerely, Ben

Dear Ben,
I’ve just experienced the most frightening day of my entire life. Extreme heights, horrible shoes, and snowy hills have made me truly grateful to be alive. I love my life.
Sincerely, Ben