Sunday, June 24, 2007

Chilkoot Trail
More Than History - A Real Backpackers Delight

The Chilkoot Trail provides one of the best backpacking treats ever. It is a well known Heritage trail and most everyone is familiar with the history. What surprised us the most, aside from the historical significance, were the artifacts strewn along the route and the infamous Chilkoot pass, it is an excellent backpack trip in its own right. During the 33+ mile hike, you experience rain forests at sea-level and trek over the top of Chilkoot pass on icy snow to a sub alpine wonderland with grand views of glaciated mountains and glacier fed ponds, alpine flora and great opportunities to see wildlife. Waterfalls abound everywhere and the climate changes from a coastal rain forest to a dry piney eco system as one treks towards Bennett. The historical artifacts and interpretive signs at each of the significant points along the trail are a bonus. Carrying a full pack on your back gives you a hint of what it must have been like for the goldseekers of the era.

“Yukon” Johann and “Moose” Lee prepared to leave the ranger station. The lower portion of the hike was wet as we traveled through the lowland rain forests, not unlike what we have done numerous times in the North Cascades of Washington. There is one major difference though, the trail was littered with bear scat. At times, very deliberate steps had to be taken to avoid stepping in it.

As we ascended from the rainforests into the sub alpine zone we saw many artifacts. Many pack animals were treated harshly and left for dead.

The area known as the “Scales” was perhaps the most dramatic of these scenes.
Only 50 people are allowed on the trail at any given time and folks must camp in designated sites. Each site contains a very nice enclosed cook shelter. This is a nice touch as the weather is usually damp, windy and cold.

A small group ahead of us ascended the pass first. The picture here gives a hint of the steepness of the legendary “Golden Stairs”. It was a bit daunting from a distance and we were told that the day before we left that two packers slipped on the ice and had to be medi-vac’d out to Juneau. An ice axe and cramp-ons would have be an extra layer of safety. A side benefit of following this party was the fact that they scared some Mountain Goats over towards us. We saw Nannies, Kids and a couple of Billies acting as sentries.
“Yukon” Johann made the climb without incident and I was the proudest papa in all of the world when we reached the summit.
At the border, just before the summit, there was a monument. We were told that there are numerous remains of buildings and artifacts here, but the snow covered them.

Crossing into B.C. at the summit was refreshing and a sense of accomplishment.

The landscape quickly changed into an arctic-like environment. It was quite surreal.

As we approached “Happy Camp” the arctic scenery gave way a bit.
…well so much for dry land. We had to climb back up over a ridge in the snow to reach Deep Lake.
This picture of Long Lake was typical of the lakes we encountered. They had just thawed out. There were many little icebergs still in many of them.
Seeing a molting Ptarmigan in all its colors was a real treat.
Deep lake was the site where the miners could finally start floating their gear in boats.

From here the weather got warmer and warmer as we descended into deep lush forest.

"Yukon" Johann wasn't really that tired. "C'mon papa, let's go"
As we left Lindeman towards Bennett, we had incredible views down the valleys of Lake Lindeman and Bennet Lake. The forest began to get “piney” as we were now in the rain shadow of the coastal mountains.
About 2 miles form Bennett, we came across this rugged heritage cabin.
We finished the trail on day 5 and had a refreshing lunch at the Bennett train station.
The train ride back to Skagway across White Pass was incredible.
It is a train ride unlike no other and really worth doing once. The nice weather was a bonus.
Along the way we saw the remnants of less traveled trail #98, alternate route across the mountains over White Pass.

Overall the trip was impressive and we had excellent weather...a rarity we've been told. The trail provides for a very scenic pack trip. The historical significance provides insight as to how this country was settled. We didn't see any bears, but signs of them were all over. We were told that the day before we arrived in one camp someone was pepper sprayed by accident as moments before a black bear was investigating a tent and screams were heard.

This was truly one of the best backpack trips ever. However, I would not recomend it for beginners.

Did I mention we are experiencing 19 hours of daylight now!

Until next time... "Moose" Lee & "Yukon" Johann