One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: still Day 5

An installment in 6 episodes. This is the last installment, yippeeh.


“If I saw a hitchhiker wearing a tie-dyed shirt, I’d assume he’s been waiting for a ride since the 1960s. I think that kind of patience is groovy.”

Jarod Kintz


No kidding. I have been standing here for one hour and not a single car came by. In the summer the Klondike highway is a bustling road, boatloads of cruise ship passengers experiencing the second gold rush. Not today. At least it is a nice day. I can hear some crows gawking in the distance…

“Hélas”, the first car! Big pickup, Yukon license plates. Slows down for the train rails, not for me… Oh well. I was sure the first car would pick me up. Who let’s a stranger stand on the road in this god-forbidden wilderness…

Another 15 minutes go by, uneventful. Car #2. No luck.

The a big rig. Has to stop at the tracks. Passes me at 5 mph… What the heck.

A couple cars go by heading to Whitehorse, wrong direction, honking, Do they think this is funny? I am wondering. Don’t they know once you hit the road the hike is over. Nobody walks on the road for fun.

Ah, here comes my rescue. A WP&YR company van pulls into the parking lot. Just a driver in a crew cab van. He’ll pick up some crew and come back, he’ll let me squeeze in. I just need a little patience. 20 minutes go by. The van comes back, empty. Just the driver. Comes to a dead stop right in front of me! Pulls out of the parking lot. The driver is shrugging his shoulders.

WTF?

Company policy? I don’t get it. Do I need to get frost bite first before they pick up a hiker? My faith in mankind dwindles.

What’s that? 3 cars in one hour? At that rate I might not make it to Skagway today…

Three more big rigs rumble past me. Same company, so they won’t stop. I got that. Thank you very much.

Then two ladies with Alaska license plate drive by in a nice suburban, shrugging shoulders? What’s that, the new sign for “%$@ *&%”?

Two hours and 8 cars I begin to consider my options here. Weather, check. Food, well a couple bars and a can of fish, plenty of water. No tent! Just a sleeping bag. 4 km to Fraser, the Canadian border. Maybe nobody picks me up because of that frigging border. Maybe they don’t want to cross the border with a stranger? That’s possible. Alright, so how how about walking past  the border, maybe I get a lift after that.

I shoulder my backpack, which feels as heavy as on day one. Road hiking sucks. Shortly before the border a helicopter shows up and circles overhead. What’s that? Are the looking for me, or the two ladies? Don’t get your hopes up. They don’t rescue hikers from the road. No, they install some equipment in the mountains. Onward.

Crossing the border is mightily uneventful. No control, no guard, nada. I guess you can always leave a country…

Alright, now I am out of sight of the border station. Traffic is even less than before. I guess some folks just drove to border for work.

A couple more cars drive by. Nothing. Either no eye contact or the shrugging shoulder. I take a break and take note of the amazing landscape I am passing through instead of reveling in my misery. Summit Lake is almost mirror-like. I see reflections of islands and lone spruce trees. My mood lightens. I’ll try to find that hunting cabin near the pass today if I don’t get picked up. From there it’s a good 14 miles to Skagway. No sweat.

Then car #13 arrives, passes me slowly, comes to a halt. Is that possible? California license plate. White pick-up. Out steps a giant of a man in camouflage. Good lord.

 It’s Bob on a road trip from California. We find some space for my backpack and myself in the truck and off we go. Life is good. We get through US customs.I have been a regular here during the summer. Three times a day did I cross that border. They know me and are curious about my hiking adventure.

Not only gives Bob me a ride to Skagway, he even drops me at my car in Dyea. We have a couple of beers and a burger in town. My treat.

What goes around, comes around. Life is good. My faith in humanity is restored.

Thank you for reading. It wasn’t all that dramatic. Just a little fun thing to write.

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 5

Dispatch From The Couch:

Google Trekker Lets You ‘Hike’ the Chilkoot Trail


I made it to Lake Bennett in 4 days, the end of the Chilkoot trail. In the summer you can have a float plane pick you up and fly to Whitehorse for a good soak in Takhini hot springs or you take the White Pass & Yukon Rail train back to Skagway. Not exactly an option for me. The train stopped running for the season and I did not order the plane. So I have to hike out following the railroad tracks back to the Klondike highway. Not the most exciting finale.

Nevertheless, I get started prodding along the rails, secretly hoping that the maintenance crew comes by and picks me up. Good luck with that.
Every mile I pass an orange sign indicating how many miles to Skagway. I am walking in my inner boots, because these stiff plastic winter boots and railroads tracks just don’t play well together. My backpack feels like an anvil. 40 miles
The views are great. I start to recognize the mountains. They seem distant. 39 miles.

What’s that humming? I have been walking with my head down, counting my steps, looking at rusty nails, when I hear a rumbling ans squealing. Is that the maintenance crew? You bet. I tiny orange engine whizzes along the track. I jump of the track as fast as I can with my expedition backpack. Two railroad workers inside the crew cab seem to wear 4 or 5 layers of coats and hoods not even glancing once at me. That’s ok. They are going in the wrong direction anyway. But once they are done, maybe they’ll slow down and have a good heart. 38 miles.

The railroad track is surprisingly winding. I never see more than 300 feet ahead of me. The bears apparently use the track as well. So I keep my eyes peeled. What is that? Something is standing on the track. It’s brown. Is it moving? No, just standing there. Hmmm. I keep getting closer making noise with my walking poles. No movement. That’s not a bear. It’s a human being. Looking at the track… Oh well. Am I in trouble? You are not supposed to walk on the track, how else are you going to get out of here? Turns out there is a whole crew of railroad workers around the corner redoing the tracks. They are all friendly, some taking a break from their hard labor. With picks and hammers they put in a whole new track. I wonder how many folks in the world still know how to do this kind of work. Now I am sure I’ll get a ride home at some point. They don’t spend the night up here, heading home to Skagway at some point. 37 miles

Plodding along. 36 miles

I can smell the road. 35 miles

Oh well. I just keep going. Getting a second wind. Once I am on the highway, I’ll get a lift, no problem. 34 miles

I start to hate these mile markers. Did they forget to put one in at mile 33? It just feels like eternity. No, there it is. 33 miles

I think I need a break. I am doing good time. Who needs the maintenance crew? Can’t be much further. Newly energized I tackle the next orange mile marker. There it is! 32 miles

WhitePassOh, I have been here before. That’s the Log Cabin area. I made it. Klondike highway. I know exactly where I am. 4 km to Fraser, the Canadian border. 16 kilometers to White Pass Summit. 15 miles to Skagway.

Hopeful, I toss my backpack to the ground, plant my hiking sticks in the ground, ready to hold out my thumb. It’s 11:45 AM AKT, that makes it 12:45 BC mountain time.

To be continued…


“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Terry Pratchett

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One Man's Paradise

Chilkoot Trail: Day 2

The Chilkoot Trail served as one of several trade routes into the interior for coastal Tlingit, who would trade eulachon grease and dried fish for fur and skin clothing. In 1880 the US Navy negotiated an agreement with the Tlingit to allow prospectors to use the Chilkoot Trail. Within short order it became the primary route for miners to make their way into the upper Yukon River basin.


What do I remember of this day? The amazingly great weather, fall foliage and berries, and a comfortable cabin at Sheep Camp.

I wake up to a perfect blue sky. No need for a rain jacket today. Nevertheless, the sun remains shielded by the mountains for most of the morning. I can see my breath walking for the first hour. Looking back I see the Chilkat mountains basking in the bright sun light. No clouds as far as I can see.

cranberry

I am still surrounded by coastal rain forest. Many leaves have already found their way to the ground. Highbush cranberries  (Viburnum trilobum) everywhere, a welcome refreshment on the way up. Plump, and tart. The berries remind me of the salmon roe I tasted earlier in the season. Once the outer skin pops, boom, an explosion of flavors.

cranberries

I am not the only one, who enjoys this treat. Apparently a squirrel had the smart idea to store some berries on a bed of tree moss. A week ago, we found mushrooms in the trees. Same idea… I guess the squirrels here know how high the snow can get in this valley.

The berries themselves can stay on the bush throughout the winter without dropping  to the ground. That’s why we sometimes see cranberry bushes in the spring that have berries from last year, and flowers from the new year at the same time. The fall foliage of this plant is also pretty to look at.

It’s a short walk from Canyon City to Sheep Camp. In the summer this must be quite a scene. There is a ranger station and a daily evening lecture. Not so in the off-season. It’s all quiet here, except for some distant water falls. Three warming tents to choose from. Mine has a wood stove. I collect some dead wood and chop it into pieces. Once the sun sets the temperature plummets pretty quickly. It’s a bit of a challenge to lighten the wood, apparently it’s not as dry as I thought. I read horror stories in the log about hypothermic hikers in the summer. Imagine being in here, wet and cold, trying to light a fire knowing that you have to spend the night in your tent. Rain and wind seem to be norm in the summer.

Well, my fire finally catches. It may not provide a lot of heat, but the crackling sound has undeniably an effect. I crawl into by Feathered Friend and call it a day. Tomorrow is supposed to be the biggest day on the hike. 8 miles or so to Happy Camp, across Chilkoot Pass. According to the park rangers the orange trail markers have been pulled on the American side. So far it was pretty easy to find the trail. It may have been covered with wilted leaves, but the opening in the woods gave it away. Tomorrow the trail will be above the tree line, so it may be a bit more challenging. Fresh snow may cover the trail…

As long there is good visibility, I am not worried.


“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

Sylvia Plath

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Inside Out

Waterfall ~ № 3

“The work of the eyes is done.

Go now and do the heart work on the images imprisoned within you.”

Rainer Maria Rilke


Excerpt from “Wendungen”.

Turning points.

Does it mean, once you have seen things from the outside it is time to look inside? You scare me René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke.


I am sticking with this week’s theme: Waterfalls. Today it’s an alder branch reaching into a gushing creek along the Chilkoot trail.

I like to explore the possibilities to see the world through the lens. Not aiming for an exact representation of what I see, but what the camera captures.

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