Klondike Letters Project

Translating experience into memory through inspired creation.

Tag: Deep Lake

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.


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

Sluicing the Chilkoot paydirt

Back home at last in Big Sky, MT. It is a bit sunnier here than on the trail and I am soaking it up!

I am sorting through postcards and footage, feeling like an old miner beginning the long process of sifting through his paydirt, hoping to find a fortune hidden within the dregs of the river bottom. While on the trail I collected:

  • 130 postcards
    • 72 from the USA
    • 41 from Canada
    • 17 from the wider world
    • an unknown amount still coming from the trail
  • 1524 photographs
  • 3 hrs 20 min 34 sec of sound recordings
  • 0 blisters!

While I’m sorting, I thought I would share this beautiful bit of timelapse from Deep Lake.

Day 10 – an O’Keefe of Blue

Day 10

4th of July!
Lindeman City

bestofchilkoot062The days are getting fuller as my residency is approaching its end. Today was a day for a long stroll. The canyon between Deep Lake and Happy Camp is open now, the trail skirting the river still choked with massive snow-bergs. Oh my! The snow! Deep does not describe it. Arctic might come close. It is not quite glacial, but the fissures penetrating into the mysteriously blue interior whisper with unseen currents and aspire to that ponderous word. Blocks of snow collapse into the water, moving slowly down river, dragging their toes against the bottom until they bump into the downstream traffic jam.

And then the people. Today is a 46-er: that is how many people will cross the summit today. I will pass them all as I backtrack to the pass, but first I run into the late risers from Happy Camp. A group from the Hawaiian Hiking Club greet me with “Aloha” and I chat with them a bit about the difference between hiking in Hawaii and Alaska (there are many differences).

The nice thing about hiking against the stream of traffic is that people notice you! I talked to nearly everyone coming down from the pass – the group of high school girls with red white and blue fireworks and star spangled banners tattooed on each cheek; 75 year old Frank hiking the trail for the 5th time with his daughter; two dudes from Spokane; a slightly grumpy family from back East. And it gave me great joy to hear that many of them had written postcards at the summit, despite me not being there to cajole them. By the time I pass the rearguard of the entourage, I could see the pass and I figured “Why not?”

bestofchilkoot061Headwinds and a barren landscape make me very aware that I am now alone. It is cold, but I sweat in my down vest, striding over snow churned to a buttery consistency by many feet. The pass seems to stretch away over each rise. Finally, I reach the bottom of the last steep pitch. This hill that we slid down in 30 seconds seems to last an eternity. At last, the shelter! And food and postcards! I flip through the stack as I munch tortilla and peanut butter, once again astounded at the range of thoughts filtering through my hands. But it is a long walk home and I don’t linger long. I slide down the steep snow hill, thinking how perfect it would be to have a toboggan and glide out across Crater Lake at breakneck speeds. And then more snow. I’ve been walking on snow forever! Eventually I start looking for detours on the rocky outcrops just to give my muscles a break. But the whipping wind is in my favor now and the sun hits the slopes farther down the valley drawing me on. I stop only briefly for a few photos, breezing through Happy Camp with its 46 tired residents, through the ice-choked canyon, up, over, down again to Deep Lake and break camp. Only 3 miles to go, thoughts of dinner and that double sleeping bag at Lindeman arguing with my sore feet and tired legs. After a 20 mile day, I finally feel some solidarity with those tired people at Happy Camp.

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

Read More: Trail Journal Day 11

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