“Reality is merely an illusion,
albeit a very persistent one.”
St. Elias Mountains, Kluane National Park, Canada
“Love is the answer.
What was the question?”
since it is Valentines Day, otherwise “The Calm after the Storm” would have been a good way to describe today’s ski excursion into the Coastal mountains. Now, we are waiting anxiously for the clouds to disappear and giving way to the Northern Lights.
Can’t wait to see the aurora with this backdrop on a crisp night.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
“Guard the mind and protect the soul.”
That’s the Alaska Winter blues. Actually, this day we absorbed more color (and sun light) than during the average gray day in January. All the more reason to go out and play.
The Three Guardsmen are located in a tiny Western enclave of British Columbia, just opposite to the isolated Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. In 2011 BC dropped its famous “Best Place on Earth” motto. Why?
Now it is “Canada Starts Here” or “Super Natural British Columbia”. Oh well.
So much for today.
In the summer of 1899 the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway arrived at Lake Bennett. Almost immediately the Chilkoot Trail was abandoned in favor of this newer, faster and cheaper way of moving goods and people into the interior.
Another day of splendid weather, cold but clear. Well, cold. That’s relative, just below freezing. Nothing compared to what it will be in a few months (-40°C and colder). Smaller creeks and puddles have just a thin coating of ice.
I am in no rush today. Not sure how far I will push. Near Deep Lake I run into a major blueberry patch. They are as big as small grapes and so tasty. Where are the bears? I see none, so I have a healthy breakfast. They taste so much better out here…
With every step towards Lake Lindeman the trail becomes more lovely. Pine trees and a deep gorge, open views on the surrounding mountains, skeletons of boats. Within 3 hours I arrive at Lake Lindeman. What a beautiful location. A solid cabin invites to stay. There is plenty of drift wood on the shore. Wouldn’t be hard to have a sizzling stove going in no time. Time for lunch. I am feeling up for more so I keep walking.
Passing several smaller lakes and a trapper cabin the trail slowly turns sandy and wide. In the summer there must be traffic by day visitors coming up with the train. The train service has stopped a few weeks ago for the season, so all is quiet today.
I arrive at Lake Bennett. Happy. The end of my excursion. Sort of the end. The end for tonight. It is moving to see the lake disappear in the distance knowing this was a major accomplishment for the early miners if they had made it this far.
“The sky is already purple; the first few stars have appeared, suddenly, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world.”
In the summer of 1897, news of the Klondike gold strike turned the intermittent trickle of hardy prospectors into an uncontrollable flood of fortune seekers. More than 30,000 men, women, and children scaled the daunting Golden Stairs during the Klondike Gold Rush hauling one ton of supplies to sustain them for a year. The hardship and drama is very much unimaginable by today’s standards.
Today: the queen’s stage, or hors catégorie, as the French would say. From Sheep Camp to Happy Camp in about 8 miles and almost 3000 feet of climbing.
Another crisp morning. In the summer the ranger will kick you out of camp at 6 in the morning, because of avalanche danger. Not so today. The snow from last winter is gone, the new accumulation is harmless, and most importantly, there is no ranger. I am slowly getting into a rhythm. It takes me an hour in the morning to stow all my belongings into my backpack and get ready. Although it’s day 3 and I have already consumed some food, there is still not enough room for all of my stuff inside the backpack. So I am stuffing socks in my pockets, the camera bag houses the gas, waterbottle, sleeping pad, and raingear go on the outside of the backpack. I am looking like a traveling salesman, but it works. I also think, all the dangling makes enough noise to keep the bears away.
I make it above the treeline. It is pretty straightforward to follow the trail. Shortly before the Scales I run into snow. Luckily I see the footprints of Sam and his dog. The scales were used to weigh once more the gear of the miners. Packers would charge by the pound. At some point there was also a tramway heading up Chilkoot Pass. Until a couple of years ago a wooden tower from the tramway was still standing nearby. Now the towers have been reduced to a pile of rotting beams. Rusty cables on the ground are great trail markers. A couple more inches of snow and the cables will disappear. Around the pass turns out to be the most challenging section of the trail this time of the year. Big granite boulders are covered with a couple inches of snow. It is impossible to see where the rock ends and where the hole begins. I don’t want to twist my ankles here.
After a number of false summits I reach the top of Chilkoot Pass. It is winter up here. Most artifacts are hidden beneath the snow, except for some massive iron wheels. The Golden Stairs… Go look up the historic images of this place with a thousand miners crawling up the pass. Like an ant hill, simply amazing. I am sitting by myself at the same place almost 120 years later. Humbling.
I spend some time in the emergency shelter, which would be a great place to spend the night. No wood stove, no wood to burn, but a nice shelter. This would be an amazing place to watch the Northern lights! It’s too early to call it a day, and it is easier to stay warm walking than sitting around in the shelter. Who knows what the weather will bring tomorrow? So, I keep going, descending to Crater Lake. What a sight. Glassy surface! How often does this happen? Frozen waterfalls and creeks make for an interesting descent.
Passing a few piles lumber (Stone Crib), I finally make it to Happy Camp, another fine warming hut. “Happy to see you!”
I don’ t expect any other visitors, so I make myself comfortable attempting to dry out socks, boots and whatnot. There is a big poster on the wall showing Happy Camp during the Gold Rush. What a miserable place it must have been compared to today. Still, the miners called it Happy Camp for a reason: They had made it over the pass! In the flickering light of a candle they were served coffee, stale bread with some butter and a piece of canned beef – happiness.
Well, it’s freeze-dried Pad Thai and the last can of beer for me tonight and I call it a day.
At 3 AM in the morning I hear voices outside, flash lights flickering across the room. Two ladies and a dog made it across the pass, coming from I have no clue where. They have been hiking for 12 hours straight and are to put it mildly out of their mind happy to have found this place in the last glimmer of their fading head lights. An hour later it’s all quiet again. Everybody is settled in for the night.
This time for good. When I leave the cabin in the morning the two night walkers are stlll sound asleep. Only their company, Nugget, is growling at me.
Good bye Happy Camp!
“Look, when do the really interesting things happen? Not when you’ve brushed your teeth and put on your pyjamas and are cozy in bed. They happen when you are cold and uncomfortable and hungry and don’t have a roof over your head for the night.”
“Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes.”
Hello friends, I am still enjoying my sabbatical from wordpress, although I have not been lazy. I rafted parts of the Alsek river, hiked the Chilkoot trail, and moved…
All is well. I leave it with that.